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preceding weeks, which are published in
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#44 - 29th June 2003
There is a religion with a strict moral code, and an
excessive interest in sex. No sex before marriage, no sex outside
marriage. If you are not happy with your spouse, you can leave
him/her but cannot set up house with someone else, much less marry someone
else. If you do, the religious authorities will ostracise you and
deny you full participation in religious activities, and you will be disgraced
in the eyes of many worshippers. And if you are a homosexual, the
religious authorities will consider you have a curable
disease, such as leprosy, and will demand that you remain celibate
until cured and married to someone of the opposite sex.
Sound like Islam ? Actually, it's Roman
On recent talk-shows in (formerly theocratically Catholic,
now aggressively secular) Ireland, people have been phoning in,
in outrage, at
being denied the sacraments - Communion in particular - just because they
are living in
sin. They generally get a very sympathetic response at the
Church's uncompassionate behaviour, conveniently forgetting that marriage
vows are entered into freely and are for life. But such people have three simple
the relationship and stay with the Church
with the relationship and leave the Church
with both the relationship and the Church, but break the rules
you go for number 3, the worst thing that will happen to you (in this
life) is that some of your co-religionists will look down on you and if
the priest knows you he may embarrass you. But you will not be
arrested, tortured or stoned to death, by either Church functionaries or
here, in what happens when you don't conform, lies the crucial difference
between Islam on the one hand and Christianity and Judaism on the
contrasts between these three mighty religions (and their various
offshoots) are not great in the
demands they make of the individual. In any of them, you must
only one Supreme Being,
out a prescribed minimum of communal praying and other religious
certain ethical rules (such as no stealing, murdering,
if you are a citizen of an Islamic state you are obliged to be a Muslim
and to practice as a Muslim. If you are caught flouting the
rules, or trying to change your religion, terrible punishment will follow,
administered by the State on behalf of the religious authorities.
This is the essence of Sharia Law, which inextricably binds the secular
into the religious. The result is things like women forced to wear
the chador in Iran, forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia, stoning
for an adulterous woman in Northern Nigeria, the excesses and
limb-chopping of the Taliban
simply do not have the option of not toeing the religious
a Christian or Jew, this is almost incomprehensible. Yet I believe
it is largely an evolution thing.
Judaism is thousands of years
older than Christianity, and when the Jew Jesus Christ appeared on the
scene, it was a
pretty brutal faith that didn't hesitate to get the
Romans to** torture him to death for
disobeying its rules. Modern Jews would not recognize such a form of
corrects me - it was the Romans that did the deed, but at the behest of the Jewish High
Priests and mob, and only because Roman Law forbad the Jews from doing
it themselves. See Letters.
Christianity - specifically Catholicism - was, in turn,
years earlier than the Prophet Mohammed founded Islam
you look back at Christianity, you see a trail of blood, as Catholics
killed and tortured in the name God, all the time
believing (mistakenly, I hope)
that this would speed their passage to eternal paradise.
only of the eight Crusades
from the 11th to 13th centuries. They were sponsored by no fewer
than 25 Popes
as Holy Wars (jihads ?) to eject Muslims and other infidels from the
Holy Lands and elsewhere, and promised all kinds of heavenly rewards
for the Catholic warriors. Catholics were sometimes urged to
fight against impossible odds with the near-certainty of being killed
as martyrs - these look awfully close to fedayeen-style suicide attacks to
Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries whose Pope-approved
purpose was to purify Catholic Spain by
out Jews, Protestants and other non-believers,
2,000 Spaniards for heresy in just the first
15 years, and
many others to obtain confessions of heresy
and betrayals of colleagues.
people were tortured as witches or heretics for merely failing in
their religious observances or for - horror - living in
sin. It was a wonderfully effective form of social
control, which today's proponents of Sharia law would feel
pretty comfortable with.
similarities of the extremes of Mediaeval Catholicism and today's Islam
are indeed uncanny. But it is important to remember that during all the mayhem,
the vast majority of religionists were and are humble, honest, God-fearing folk just
trying to feed their families and raise their children to be good
and Judaism, in all their forms, are today religions whose sole purpose is
to do good in the world and to provide guidance on lifestyle choices
that will lead believers to heaven. Of course there are plenty of bad
Christians and bad Jews, lay and clerics alike, but their behaviour is no
longer endorsed by the religious authorities. It took thousands of
years for the religions to reach this sublime condition; Catholicism was
still manifestly barbarous just 500 years ago.
The point of this
comparison is, therefore, to conclude that Islam will, in time, also calm
down and become a rational movement that claims adherence, voluntarily, only by the
demonstration of faith and the good example of existing practitioners. The only force will be force of
argument, not of arms.
let Islam not follow the Catholic example and take another 500 years to
come of age. I
believe that most of today's Muslims are a lot smarter than that.
Tony Blair and His Dossiers, continued
Before the war I wrote a couple of times about the dossiers that were
being produced by Tony Blair (and Saddam Hussein). In particular I recommended
reading two British ones, which I personally
found made a very compelling case to go to war.
But the one that's been in the news this week is a third one which I
didn't know existed. Called Iraq, Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation,
this is the one containing stuff plagiarised
PhD student's out-of-date thesis, as the newspapers would have
it. It's fascinating reading, by the way, almost like a spy
novel. But it puzzled me that the
student was hardly ever mentioned and never interviewed, so I
US-born son of Iraqi immigrants, the
name is Dr Ibrahim al-Marashi and he lives in Monterey, California. He wrote his thesis
not long after the 1991 Gulf War and used 30,000 pages of seized Iraqi
describe Saddam Hussein's then security apparatus. Today he works
as a Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS)
of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. His research focuses
on the diffusion of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and missile
technologies in the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Iran. He
also lectures in Middle Eastern politics at the Naval
In September of last year, he published an article entitled, Iraq's
Security and Intelligence Network : A Guide and Analysis
in the journal of the Middle
East Review of International Affairs. (MERIA is a think tank
owned by a Barry Rubin which publishes a monthly journal free on the
internet. From its web address, .il , it is located in Israel).
Dr al-Marashi's article is lucid, pertinent, well-written, with over a
hundred references, but at only
ten pages is far too short to be a student thesis. What he has
clearly done is take his thesis, bring it up to date, compress it and make it more
In short, his article has all the makings of having been well
researched by an expert in the field. It is a serious and
authoritative piece of work.
The British Government was probably right, therefore, to copy great
chunks of it into its dossier. Its mistake was solely that it kept
the source secret (and it wasn't too smart to copy the typos). MERIA indicate
they would have been quite happy for the paper to have been used - all they would have asked for
was an attribution. The same goes for the good doctor
And you will notice that there has been no material criticism of the
dossier itself. Only the manner in which it was put together and
It is extraordinary how people will practice deceit, when telling the
truth is so much easier, less stressful, and in fact enhances your cause.
But tell that to Tony Blair's spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, who put
the dossier together and tried to make it look like the British
intelligence services had done so.
Flatfooted in Palestine
Ireland is very excited at the prospect of taking over the
Presidency of the EU from January to June 2004. For possibly the
last time, if the proposed
2½-year presidency replaces the current six-monthly musical chairs
Cowen, the foreign minister, made a tour of the Middle East last week
to acquaint himself better with the situation.
An admirable and appropriate project. But it was
very disappointing that his first stop was a sycophantic meeting with the Palestinian
Authority's President Yasser Arafat, rather than restricting
himself to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu
Mazen), whom he also visited.
Israel recently made it clear that its officials will not sit
down with any foreign leader who talks to Mr Arafat; this also accords
with declared EU policy. Therefore Mr
Cowan heard only one side of the argument, while the (subscription-only)
Irish Times described
Israel's decision as petulant
if not intransigent.
However, the four sponsors of the Middle East Road Map, being the UN, the
EU, the USA and Russia, together with the Palestinian Authority itself and
Israel, are all in agreement that Abu Mahzen, not Mr Arafat, is the person
to deal with in respect of the Palestinian interests.
Indeed, this was a pre-condition for launching the
Road Map in the first place,
and is why it took over six long weeks to confirm Abu
The reason is plain - Mr Arafat demonstrated his inability
unwillingness to negotiate peace during President Clinton's failed talks at
Camp David in 2000, and in the nearly three years of Intifada that have
Mr Cowen's meeting with Mr Arafat was therefore a public affront to the
international efforts to find peace in the Middle East, and to the four
eminent sponsors. It has also ensured Ireland's irrelevance in the
Someone so intimately involved with the difficult Northern Ireland peace
process at home should know better. So should his boss.
Incidentally, I wrote to the Irish Times along the
above lines, twice, but they declined to publish.
For some people, there is a more cynical interpretation of
Mr Cowen's behaviour. If you drive
around parts of Northern Ireland,
you will occasionally see the
Palestinian flag flying in Republican areas, alongside the
And in Loyalist areas the Israeli flag sometimes
flutters, alongside the union jack.
Was Mr Cowen trying to send a covert message of support to
Irish Republicans, and two fingers to the Loyalists ?
You know when someone ends up in hospital with, say, a
broken leg, and people always say, you're
very lucky, it could have been worse.
It doesn't sound very lucky to me to have a broken leg.
So how lucky would you have to be to suffer and survive,
over a period of 40-odd years, all this ...
In 1962, a train plunges into an icy river, killing 17 people,
but you manage to crawl out with hypothermia, shock, bruises and a
in 1963, you are sucked out of a DC-8 aircraft when a door
flies open, but though the plane crashes
killing 20 people, you land on a haystack and walk away with cuts,
bruises and shock;
in 1966, you are travelling in a bus that plunges into a river, killing four
passengers, but you swim free with more cuts, bruises and shock;
in 1970, the car you are driving catches fire and
In 1973, another car you're driving also explodes,
and burns off all your hair;
in 1995, you get knocked down by a bus - more cuts,
bruises and shock;
in 1996, you escape from a car that's plunging 300 ft
down a ravine, by leaping out and landing in a tree;
And through it all, you find time to marry and
divorce no fewer than four wives.
Well, that's the exciting life of 74-year-old Croatian
musician, Professor Frane
Selak - nicknamed Lucky.
But that's not all.
With his first ever lottery ticket, this good-looking guy
has just won Croatia's jackpot of 875,000.
So Lucky's going off to buy a house, a car and a speedboat
and marry his new young girlfriend.
Expect more fireworks !
Why Europeans Love
Britain would not be so vehemently opposed to adopting the
uro if they knew why their European brothers and sisters were so keen
For within just seven months of being launched in January
2002, some 90% of all uro
bank notes were found each to contain an average of 0.4 microgrammes of cocaine
particles, according to Prof Fritz Sögel and his team of German
scientists from the Institute for
Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research in Nuremberg.
It seems rolled- up banknotes are often used to sniff cocaine.
And because uro notes are made from environment-friendly pure cotton, cocaine crystals stick
The concentration of cocaine apparently correlates with
the national the usage of cocaine.
The Finns, Greeks and French are a backward lot who don't
know much about the joys of cocaine, so notes originating in these
countries show the least contamination. The Belgians, Dutch,
Italians and Luxembourgois are doing their best but are nowhere in the
However the bronze medal for dreamland uro notes goes
to Germany, while Ireland takes the silver.
But to collect gold, step forward you fun-loving
Spaniards, for your notes register no less than one hundred times more
cocaine than even the bronze medallist. The
researchers said they were knocked
flat (?) by this finding, if not by the Spanish uro
The German government and the European Central Bank, who print the
currency, were asked for their comments, but no
comment was all they would shyly comment.
you Britons, stick to your beloved sterling and eat your heart out
(instead of your septum).
He's back !
army fatigues are gone, he's lost weight, his hair has mysteriously turned
from black to white and he's now being called Baghdad Bob. But,
appearing last week on Abu Dhabi TV in Dubai, there's no mistaking our old friend
Though he does look a bit bemused. I don't think he
realises what a popular icon he has become in the West. He needs to
click on www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com
Quotes of the Week
information I received from the governorates was more precise and
comprehensive than the information I got from the Baghdad area. I was
sincere in everything I said, even just before the fall of Baghdad
International Airport. The information was correct, but the
interpretations were not. I did my duty up to the last minute.
Former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf,
aka Comical Ali, aka Baghdad Bob,
being interviewed in Arabic last week on Al-Arabiya TV in Dubai
* * * * *
Quote 2 : My father told me as a
don't get killed unless they spout
Sir Denis Thatcher, Bt, who died on 26th
June aged 88,
explaining his extreme reluctance
to deal with the press, whom he
THE ARCHIVE BAR AT THE TOP LEFT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
#43 - 22nd June 2003 
Comedian, Linguist, Footballer, Paint-Sprayer
We've all enjoyed the spectacle of Aaron Barschak, dressed up as a camp
Osama bin Laden, gatecrashing Prince William's 21st birthday party at
Windsor Castle on Solstice night.
What gall, what courage to parade
audaciously in front of the TV cameras, in his trademark peach
dress, women's shoes, false beard and - ugh - false pubic hair,
before sneaking round to some school at the back to climb and
wheedle his way into the castle.
No-one knows much about him, other than he calls himself a comedy
terrorist, and from his name that presumably he's a
here are a few titbits :
is an avid fan of fellow English Jew, Sacha Baron Cohen, otherwise
known as Ali
G, whom he regards as a rôle model. (Weird how their
alter-egos are both Muslims).
speaks French and Spanish fluently, the latter honed during a period
living and doing business in Bolivia.
Besides Williams' bash, he has gatecrashed
events involving, to their bemusement, Ken Livingstone, Graham Norton,
Monty Python's Terry Jones and Eddie Izzard; he's also done Ascot.
He is a keen footballer. When studying acting in New York in
1995-96, he played
in goal for the first team of Barnstonworth
Rovers, Manhattan's top amateur soccer club.
Earlier this month, he
appeared at Oxford Magistrates' Court to face a count of criminal
damage after paint was thrown at the Modern Art Oxford museum where a
notable new work, the Rape
was on show.
Last March he performed as
Terrorist at Birmingham's Cheeky
Monkey club, where the audience were told, presciently, Remember
you saw him here first !
He is scheduled for a 55-minute show, Osama
Likes It Hot,
at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival throughout
With all the hullaboo he has caused, you can be sure his Edinburgh gig
will be a sell-out. Also expect to see him on every talk show lucky
enough to get its hands on him.
His career is made ! Good luck Aaron !
The Unratifiable EU
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing last week presented his draft EU
Constitutional Treaty to the EU summit at Thessalonika. He and it are to
be commended for the open manner in which, over the past sixteen months, it has been produced with the
help of 105 delegates from the current and future EU member
states. It is also wise to rush it through before the phalanx of new
members join, as it will be exponentially more difficult to get 25 members
to agree it compared to the current fifteen.
So, top marks for process.
What a pity it's such a dog's breakfast that it hasn't
a hope of being ratified.
The original, admirable idea was simply to tidy up all the existing Treaties since
the Treaty of Rome in 1957 to produce a single document containing
everything that's already been agreed. In business, such a
cleaning-up mechanism is common practice when you have a long-running
contract with countless amendments and side letters, because it gets
increasingly difficult to understand what the overall agreement actually
Of course, sweeping all existing clauses into a single document would
give anyone pause for thought. As the (subscription-only) Economist so engagingly
expressed it, It
is rather as if, having happily consumed factory-made sausages for 30
years, consumers are now being asked to read the ingredients on the side
of the packet and consider carefully if they want to keep eating
reconstituted udders. No matter; there would be no reason
for rejecting such a document and it would certainly help all EU citizens
understand their Union.
tidying up contributes only 75% of the new Constitutional Treaty (which is both
and neither a constitution and/or a treaty).
For Valéry and his merry men just couldn't resist inventing new stuff,
which will be the rock on which the document fails. The new stuff
includes these five jewels :
A new 2½-year appointed president to replace the
rotating 6-monthly presidents that currently give each country a turn. It
will probably fail because it will disappoint nearly every EU prime
minister present and aspirant. Nevertheless, the greater
stability this would bring is not a bad idea in principle.
Especially if your name is Tony Blair and
you're getting tired of listening to the whingeing over hospitals
and schools at
need to make way for your Chancellor, and
are therefore seeking a new more sexy job abroad.
A new foreign minister to run the EU's common foreign
and security policy.
Yeah right. If only we already had that, France and
would have snapped into line and Iraq would
been sorted out long ago ! And George Bush would be
apologising to Old Europe.
How, in light of recent events, anyone can think that EU
members will ever be able to agree on a single common
policy to adopt in regard to serious foreign issues, is laughable.
A charter of human rights, including social things
like the right to work, to strike, to be consulted about big company
These are the kind of anti-enterprise positions that
have contributed so heavily to Old Europe's sclerotic
labour markets and as a result has pushed them into the
economic doldrums. No-one who cares about the well-being
and prosperity of EU citizens is going to accept this
The EU raising its own budget. This is just code for
the EU collecting taxes from EU citizens, instead of (or more likely
as well as) being funded by contributions from national governments.
And it's a Trojan horse to get round Britain's and
steadfast refusal to contemplate harmonising
EU would simply calculate EU taxes such that
nationals in low-tax countries would contribute more.
Tax harmonisation via the back door.
Redistribution of EU parliamentary votes and EU
commissioners away from the small countries in favour of the big
ones. Currently it
takes 832,000 voters to elect a
German MEP but just 74,000 for a Luxemburg one.
A redistribution makes both democratic and administrative
sense. But can
anyone see the smalls
who outnumber the
approving it ?
So, in the months that follow,
expect lots of wrangling and bad temper, with Valéry and Tony, for
their own (different) reasons, leading the Yes brigade.
Watch the increasing desperation as the date approaches that the
ten new countries join.
And observe the project finally crashing into oblivion at the EU's
June 2004 summit in Dublin.
Then, perhaps after a further year to lick wounds, a more modest
Constitutional Treaty whose sole purpose is to tidy up, will emerge and be quickly ratified.
Proposed changes to the arrangements between EU States need to be
negotiated on their own merits and not smuggled in via the current draft
(or should we say daft ?) Constitutional Treaty.
and writing the constitution, even getting it ratified (assuming,
arguendo, that it can be) is the easy part.
comes the fun - making it work!
do hope it gets passed and ratified, for implementation will, from this
(American) perspective quickly become a comic opera of epic proportions
that will go on for decades . . . or until the whole thing comes
any sober person imagine trying to get thirty-some European countries on
the same page (or the same 260 pages) to actually DO anything
substantive? World wars have been fought over less than
are Gilbert & Sullivan when we need them?
Leadership Still Protecting Tyrants
It can't be true. French leaders seem unable to shake their
reputation as friends of tyrannical dictators everywhere.
President Jacques Chirac's love of Saddam and attempt to protect him from America are
So is his admiration for that racist thug Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe
- witness his
shameful welcome to Paris last February with the
bloodiest handshake of the year.
The love also seems to extend to the mullahs of Iran. At their
behest, he has had members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran,
located in Paris (because they would not be safe in Teheran), rounded
up. This has provoked demonstrations by dissident Iranians in Paris
and outside French embassies in Berne and London.
And not just
protests but appalling self-immolations
as well. The last time I remember this tactic being used was when saffron-clad Buddhist
monks used to douse themselves with petrol and set themselves on fire
in Vietnam in the 1960s to
protest the suppression of Buddhist rights (which provoked a sick joke
yellow and goes well on Shell) .
France also seems to be helping Hamas, the suicide-favouring Palestinian faction most
virulently opposed to President Bush's Roadmap and the ceasefire it
entails. Its charter states
that There is no solution for the Palestinian question except
through Jihad, yet France is opposing
moves to designate it a terrorist organization.
You have to wonder whether there might be something dysfunctional in
the DNA of French presidents when you look both at these examples and at the
support that former incumbents gave to the despots of their day. To
name but a few :
In the 1970s, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (yes, the same) was
delighted to sup with his friend the human-flesh-eating Emperor
Bokassa of the Central African Republic and to receive from him lavish
gifts of diamonds.
In the 1980s and 90s François Mitterand, provided succour to Baby
Doc Duvalier - scourge and ruiner of Haiti from 1971-86 - and also
asylum in France when a popular uprising forced him from power.
In 1994, Mitterand was rebuked
at a French-African summit at Biarritz for his support of the tyrants
Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Omar Bongo of Gabon and Gnassingbe Eyadema
So the question I end up asking myself is, will Kim Jong Il, North
Korea's enigmatic and brutal suppressor of his own people, be the next dictator
that the French president will try to defend ? Are France and North
Korea involved in secretive trade deals in arms and other nasty things
that have yet to be revealed ?
I hope I am proved wrong.
In the meantime, I imagine most French people must cringe with
mortification at the behaviour of their leaders.
Yves Roucaute, a
philosopher, writer, and professor of political sciences at the University
of Paris evidently feels this way. At a recent symposium entitled
Death of France ?
organised by Front Page Magazine, he
Its not really the fault of the French people; they
receive very bad information and almost all the books they can find in
bookstores are anti-American.
Its the fault of the politicians who have no courage and
Its the fault of journalists who prefer Islam to America
because the majority of them have been leftists in the sixties when
they were young. They have not changed, they are just older.
But why do they keep electing such people as presidents ? And we
haven't even started talking about their difficulties over matters of
Conflict of Whose Interest ?
Two pathetic stories have been doing the rounds in Ireland for the past
week or so, under the rubric conflict
Cuffe is a member of Ireland's parliament and the Green
Party's spokesman on Environment. His grandfather made the family fortune and invested in
shares. On his mother's death three years ago, 1m-worth
passed to lucky Ciaran and he began to enjoy regular infusions of
dividends, as well as doing a bit of trading that swelled their value
But here's the kicker.
They include ChevronTexaco, BP Amoco, Exxon and Sara Lee, and the
Green Party has decreed that anything to do with oil, chocolate cakes
or international operations is necessarily evil. How right they
are. We all know that the only interest of multinationals - and
oil companies in particular - is the subjugation of black and brown
natives while propping up dodgy foreign dictators. If such
corporations happen to
provide fuel, food and medicines that meet human needs and create
wealth for their customers and shareholders, that is just an unfortunate
byproduct that certainly doesn't fool the Greens one bit.
So our Ciaran has had to apologise to the nation, resign his
Environment spokesmanship and shift his
portfolio of shares into a Green-approved, preferably wealth-reducing,
Dobson is a well-known TV journalist and news presenter, who is
under contract to RTÉ, the state broadcaster.
His sin was to provide
training, on a private basis, to a group of
health board executives to help them deal with tricky questions from
journalists. It is said that this stripped him of journalistic
impartiality, and would never happen at the famously impartial BBC
(now known by many as the Baghdad
They're right to a degree - the BBC forbids its journalists to take on
nixers as moonlighting is known in Ireland.
Many people are also sniffing at the idea of someone, who is paid
partially by the State, making extra money on the side. But the real complaint,
that dare not speak its name, is that Mr Dobson gave away journalists'
secrets of the trade, so it will be less easy to catch the executives
out with clever questioning. Yet is it bad that the executives
should want to get such training ? Surely they would be remiss
if, knowing they were to be interviewed by highly trained and
experienced journalists, they did not try to improve their own
interview skills ?
If anyone is guilty of dubious practice, it's probably the
journalists themselves, who by means of chicanery and smarmy questions, hope to
trap their interviewees into saying things they wish they
Meanwhile, the impartiality charge just doesn't stand
up. The fact that Mr Dobson told the health executives how to
deal with tricky questions probably means he will be even tougher on
them than he otherwise would.
individuals with too much time on their hands and who are too keen to tell
others how to behave are getting too much prominence. They should
get a life.
and Artistic Incomprehensibility
Last Monday, 16th June, was the 99th Bloomsday, which celebrates the
fictional day in 1904 that Leopold Bloom, an Irish Jew, walks pretty
pointlessly around Dublin, in James Joyce's seminal novel, Ulysses, a book
which, incidentally, does not mention the word Ulysses even once.
In Dublin on every 16th June,
people wander around the route taken by Bloom,
in Edwardian dress,
ebon ale, and
partake of Bloom's famous
breakfast of grilled
mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented
On street corners,
people make speeches about Joyce, sing songs of the period, quote lengthy
and incomprehensible chunks of Ulysses from memory.
In the realms of literary incomprehensibility, nothing in the English
language matches chapter 18. Just one paragraph long, it rambles on for fifty pages without a
single punctuation mark, recounting random unconnected thoughts going through the
of Leopold's wife Molly, something psychiatrists today call stream of
consciousness. But impossible to read more than a couple of pages of. There
are other portions of the book that appear to be no more than a jumble of
real and invented words arranged in random order on the page.
Why would an author deliberately choose to discourage 99% of his
readers from persevering with his book ?
At a time when industrial innovation was booming and becoming ever more
coherent (such as Henry Ford's invention of the automated assembly line), perhaps the artists felt it was time to explore beyond the
limits of convention. Consider.
Perhaps the artistic world, after thousands of years of trying to
perfect a form of ever-purer communication with its audience, felt
threatened by the democratic embrace of technology. Perhaps the
artists' answer was to try to create a new artistic universe by breaking
all the rules of the old, and irritating the majority of their customers,
appealing only to a narrow and superior group of cognoscenti.
Perhaps it was - and remains - a giant con job, like the emperor's
you don't understand my art, that's your own fault because it shows you're
an ignorant boor, or worse still an engineer.
that's the view of your blogger, who is a boor and an
Virtual Valley of the Kings
If you have any interest at all in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, you
should visit the extraordinary Theban Mapping Project website. With
maps, drawings, photographs, video-clips and commentary, it allows you to use
your mouse to explore the tombs of Pharoes such as Rameses, Sety,
Merenptah, Ametahep more easily and more clearly (and more comfortably)
than if you were actually there. Dating from the half-millennium
1500-1000 BC, 62 such tombs have been discovered, of which the most
recent, nbr 62, is Tutankhamen's found in 1922. The site
describes them all.
There are more than two thousand exquisite images, and models of each tomb
where you can measure, pan and zoom over 250 detailed maps, elevations,
and sections. Also included are 65 narrated video tours and a
re-creation of Pharoah Setnakht's tomb KV 14. And it's all completely free, and free of
advertising. I cannot imagine who is paying for it.
So switch on your speakers and click here.
Honda Fails to Work - 605 Times
I don't know who else has been watching a curious but
rather elegant two-minute advertisment for Honda that's been on our TV screens (in Britain and
Ireland, anyway) for the past couple of weeks. Named Cog,
It shows a a lot of car parts effortlessly bumping into each other no
fewer than 43 times in a pre-choreographed ballet which ends with a Honda
Accord rolling off a ramp, while a voiceover says, Isn't
it nice when things just work ?.
I'm grateful to Andrew Sullivan
for providing this link
so you can replay it at will, though it takes about ten minutes to
download in full.
Apparently, the ad was filmed in one continuous take without
any trick-photography (ha !). The Daily Telegraph has provided a
which most memorably reveals that it required an incredible 606 takes before
they got all the bits to work right, and this drove the film-production crew
But on the successful, 606th take they cracked open the
It's a truly remarkable sequence, but if I wasn't already
an enthusiastic Honda owner, I would say choose another car. Do you
really want to have 605 false starts before the thing finally works
Quote of the Week
walked into the kitchen crying and ... said, I've
just killed the person ... you need to be a ruthless killer.
JK Rowling, creator of Harry Potter,
on the need to eliminate a prominent but unnamed character
in her latest blockbuster Harry
Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
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#42 - 15th June 2003 
the Middle East Road Map
Attempted implementation of President Bush's Middle East Roadmap for
Peace began on 4th June with his peace conference
in Aqaba, Jordan, where Prime Ministers Abu Mahzen of Palestine and
Ariel Sharon of Israel pledged to do their best to move forward along
it. Their respective first obligations are to curb Palestinian
attacks on Israelis and to dismantle recent settlements. Delight
reigned for two days as both sides contemplated what peaceful coexistence
might feel like.
Then all hell broke loose in both Palestine and Israel, with civil
war threatened in both entities.
For if both leaders had encountered only sweetness and light when they
went back to their respective peoples with what they had agreed at Aqaba,
you would have to conclude
either that the past 55 years of conflict had been nothing but a
or that the Roadmap was itself a mockery that would do nothing to
bring the two sides closer together.
The internal conflicts however are testament to the fact that the
Roadmap has real teeth, for only by hurting factions on both sides, has it
a chance of bringing closer that elusive peace.
Abu Mahzen agreed to try and stop Palestinian attacks on Israel. Over
the past several years, he has repeatedly
preached the futility and counter-productivity of Palestinian
violence. He has reasoned that Palestine cannot possibly compete
militarily with Israel, which could defeat every Arab country
simultaneously if it chose to. But it most certainly can and should
compete diplomatically, politically and in the arena of world opinion.
Hardliners in Hamas, the Al Aqsa Brigade and so forth hate this message of
reality, as does Yasser Arafat sniping from the background, for it shows
up their own impotence. Abu Mahzen´s task is therefore to convince
the wider Palestinian community that their best long-term interests are
not in dead-end attacks, but in peaceful negotiation that embarrasses and
out-manoeuvres the hated Israelis.
Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon has outraged many Jews by removing a few
caravans, many of them empty, the first of the so-called illegal outposts
set up in Palestinian territory since he became Prime Minister. He will
infuriate them more as he continues with this Roadmap obligation, and has
had to beef up his personal security in light of assassination threats by
This is all typical of a normal negotiation process, albeit with
higher and bloodier stakes than when, for example, two corporations
negotiate a major contract, or union and company representatives hammer
out a pay deal. For in negotiations, there is a curious dynamic.
The two negotiators sit down together and argue for hour on hour trying
to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of their respective
organizations. They may hate one another, and rant and curse at each
other. They may still feel very cross over the agreement they
eventually initial, each feeling that he has been shortchanged, yet each
believing he has secured the best deal that was
What then happens is what is curious.
Because each then goes back to his own organization to try to sell
the agreement. To do this, he has to assume the side and arguments of his
opponent to explain why this is a good deal. Sometimes, he will find
himself ranting, raving and cursing to persuade his own organization to
accept the very clauses that caused him to rant and rave and curse at his
He will find himself defending the position of his opponent, trying to
make the case that his opponent's demands are sensible and
And his own organization will often not accept his
This is exactly the position that Messrs Mahzen and Sharon both find
themselves in, but Mr Sharon has made a major tactical
Hamas's chief spokesman, Abdel
Aziz Rantisi, quickly declared
Palestinians reject the Aqaba summit,
and in particular that Hamas would not accept the Roadmap obligation to
halt attacks on Israelis. He also cut
off further ceasefire talks with the Mr Mahzen's Palestinian
Authority. This was a challenge not to Israel but to Abu Mahzen as
part of the Palestinians' internal negotiations. But
instead of leaving it to Mr Mahzen to try and change the minds of
instead of concentrating on persuading his own recalcitrant Jews on
the merits of Israel's Roadmap obligations,
Mr Sharon interfered. He tried (and failed) to assassinate
Mr Rantisi, which led, predictably, to the current appalling cycle of
Israeli/Palestinian attack and counter attack which has left over
50 people dead.
A worse and even more cynical interpretation, however, is that Mr
Sharon is playing a double game. By provoking the latest bloodshed,
perhaps he hopes to generate an excuse to backslide on his own Roadmap
In either event, one thing is sure. Mr Sharon's actions are
steadily elevating the status and respect of Abu Mahzen as a serious
statesman in the eyes of President Bush and the other sponsors of the
Roadmap, even as his own standing is dropping. And this will
really annoy Mr Sharon.
If Mr Mahzen can hold his nerve, and stick to his demands that his own
side desist from further pointless attacks on Israelis, the Roadmap still
has a chance.
Fatness - A Matter of Education
history and, to this day in many parts of the developing world,
being fat has meant being rich. A gargantuan appetite, an
enormous belly and swollen jowls were the badge of wealth and
prestige. It distinguished you from the
the other hand, thinness (think Ethiopia) has meant poor - dirt
In today's developed economies, however, the positions have
switched. It is the poor in society who are fat and the well-off
thin. Moreover, struggling health services - and governments - have
begun to note that fat people use their services more than the thin.
Therefore some have suggested :
charging the fat extra for health care, or
denying it, or
making them sign get
thin pledges, or
of protest have greeted such proposals, which indeed would put the added
costs onto those - the poor - least able to bear them.
But why do the poor get fat and not the rich ?
In the developed world poor is a relative term that does not mean no
money to buy food. But it does mean you have to buy cheap food,
and this has largely led to a diet of chips, pizza, tinned goods,
crisps, white bread, burgers, fizzy drinks, beer. Combined with
long hours in front of the TV, the result is often obesity and poor
Meanwhile, the rich are dining on parma ham, fresh vegetables,
fillet steak, new potatoes, French cheeses, water, wine, and spending
their spare time in the gym or doing laps in their Caribbean swimming
pool. And they're certainly too vain to get fat.
I'm exaggerating of course, but you get the drift.
But the explanation in any case lacks logic. The poor man's diet
is not cheap, he just thinks it is. In fact a healthier diet will
save him money. I did a little check at the local Tesco.
poor man's diet
constituents, per kilo
spaghetti, per kilo
beans, per kilo
bread, per kilo
bread, per kilo
constituents, per kilo
drinks, per litre
Ale, per litre of pure alcohol
per litre of pure alcohol
With exception of the bread, not only are foods
on the right noticeably cheaper, but they're generally healthier as well,
though preparation requires a bit more work.
So the explanation is not, in fact, poverty. It is
education. For no-one seems to have taught the poor
to work out how to buy food cheaply,
to eat healthily,
to prepare delicious food from base products,
to take exercise.
And that's not to talk about the craziness of smoking and
Want of education is at the base of poverty. It means you lack
not just the skills to get a well-paid job, but how
to manage your finances,
to moderate your drinking and smoking, and
to understand about food and health.
The result : poor, fat and an earlier death. Education produces
At this school-examination time, it would be as well for youngsters to
In the meantime, I am all for a fat-tax, as indeed Sri
Lanka has introduced. This would either
discourage me from eating too many fatty products, or
provide funds to treat me if my health suffers from
For instance, tobacco taxes far
exceed smokers' extra medical costs. The story is similar
Late Note (30th June
This post has formed the basis of a
letter to the Sunday Times
in response to a rather foolish column by Minette Marin
76% of Spain's 11,800 km of
railway lines are single-track, with tracks occasionally doubled up,
such as at stations, to allow opposing trains to pass each other,
with the help of traffic lights.
It seems that on that fateful day, green lights were
showing simultaneously at two stations just 2½ km apart. As a
consequence two trains, travelling in opposite directions at 100 km/hr,
suffered a head-on collision somewhere between the two stations. It
was Spain's worst rail wreck for 30 years.
At a press conference shortly afterwards,
Miguel Corsini, president of Renfe (Spanish Rail), no less, blamed human
error. One of the trains had made an unscheduled stop at
Chinchilla Station and the chief of rail traffic failed to change the
lights to red to allow the opposing train to pass.
always gets my attention, because it is always a sham, a
refuge for the lazy and uncommitted. Its beauty is that it brings a
nice clean conclusion to an investigation and a decisive remedial action -
get rid of the person(s) who committed the human error. End of
But it actually does nothing to solve the underlying
problem that caused the accident - and usually makes recurrence more, not
In this case, though it might be true that the chief
of rail traffic was derelict, other more fundamental, more uncomfortable
questions should be answered. Here are a few.
76% of lines are single-track - is this acceptable ?
How robust are the traffic-lights procedures to ensure trains don't
How well known are they by the people that need to know them ?
Are training and supervision of the chief and his peers adequate ?
Are their work schedule and work content appropriate for maintaining
alertness and interest in the job ?
Was the chief at Chinchilla Station tired, stressed, drunk, drugged,
and if so why ?
What rôle did his supervisors play in ensuring an ongoing high
level of job performance ? Was it enough ?
Is there an adequate system for auditing railway management
processes, people, activities, maintenance and hardware ?
It is only these types of questions that will reveal root causes and
hence lead to an effective action plan to reduce future risk.
You will recall that to this day, blame for the Exxon
Valdez, which ran aground in 1989 in Prince William Sound off Alaska
spilling 232,000 barrels of oil, is placed squarely on the drunk
captain. Yet he was such a known drunkard that the local police had
confiscated his car driving licence. Even so, Exxon put him in
charge of a supertanker.
error of the captain led to the disaster, and so Exxon fired
surely Exxon's system of appointing drunks to drive tankers was the
more fundamental cause with the potential for many more such disasters
if not corrected.
why human error is always a sham.
of Earth From Mars
National Geographic last month published the
first-ever photograph of Planet Earth and of the moon, taken from
another planet, namely Mars.
Here it is on the right, top and middle, and
you are among the first in the entire history of mankind to view
The lower image is a digitally created
reference to show the Earth's position.
More details here.
If the stars interest you, you may also like to view these
of the night sky recently taken in Oman by my friend Samir Kharusi
using his computer-controlled astronomical telescope.
They are fully explained in easy language and annotated as
appropriate. You will also get a quick history of
anthropocentric thinking from pre-Galileo to the present. How
one star became billions times billions.
Of Pacemakers and Tattoos
That fun-loving body, the Danish Crematorium Owners' Association, have
worked themselves into a lather
because their ovens occasionally blow up when a body is cremated with
pacemaker installed, which takes 13,000 uro plus three days of lost
cremating to repair. And even when it doesn't explode, it leaves a residue
of gold, silver, platinum and copper at the bottom which has to be scraped
They therefore want doctors to remove your pacemaker before your body
is delivered to them.
The main cause of the problem, however, is that the doctor who signs
your death certificate often isn't aware there's a pacemaker installed and
can hardly ask you as you lie on the slab.
According to Private Eye's
print edition, the Medical Officers Association want
legislation that ensures pacemaker is tattooed on your
chest. That way your doctor will know to rip it out before handing
you over to the crematers.
tattoo expert Albert Jeffers points
out that a tattoo machine contains an electromagnet whose magnetic
field can affect your pacemaker, and you already, of course, have a heart
problem. So you could well die of a heart attack half way
through the procedure leaving you, appropriately, with pace
emblazoned across your chest.
getting your tattoo ends up killing you, I suppose it does solve problems
Quote of the Week
you think I give a f... what Carrickfergus Council thinks. In
Peterborough we do not wish to get involved.
troubles in Northern Ireland have been of your own making, there have been
enough English soldiers killed in Northern Ireland to fill a doomsday
book; the Irish should learn to live in peace and bloody well get on with
are quite happy for Northern Ireland to f... off and run its own
affairs. If you have a dispute do not involve us. I want an apology
from Carrickfergus Council for trying to involve us in this.
has it got to do with me if someone wants to commit suicide ? We
have no jurisdiction over that. If these people are unionists they should
have more bloody sense.
you join the armed forces it is tough and you have to be prepared to deal
with a bullet. Anyone who commits suicide must have a lot of f......
courage and I would not question that.
Carrickfergus, wherever it is, that their whole bloody scenario over there
has killed a lot of Englishmen. If you do not want to be part of the UK
then f... off. I am fed up paying my taxes to cover for lazy b....... in
don't want to get involved in your mess. Who the bloody hell do they
think they are trying to blacken my name in this way ?
someone commits suicide then that is their right, it is nothing to do with
you want to fight each other in Ireland then do not include me in it.
was in the Navy before and it was tough. He was not forced to join the
whole thing is preposterous, I do not even know where poxy Carrickfergus
is; tell them to stop wasting my time. This is an infringement of my civil
rights, tell Carrickfergus Council that I am demanding an apology.
wish they would just p... off.
Neville Sanders, Conservative leader of Peterborough City
explaining why his council has declined Carrickfergus Council's invitation
to contribute to the cost of an independent investigation
into the suicide of a young soldier under Lt-Col
Tim Collins' command
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Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
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Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics