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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search


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

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June 2003

ISSUE #42 - 15th June 2003


ISSUE #43 - 22nd June 2003


ISSUE #44 - 29th June 2003

ISSUE #44 - 29th June 2003 [95]


Violent Religions


Tony Blair and His Dossiers, continued


Ireland Flatfooted in Palestine


Lucky Indeed


Why Europeans Love the €uro


He's Back !


Quotes of the Week

Violent Religions

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 Catholicism.  

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 choices.  

  1. Leave the relationship and stay with the Church

  2. Stay with the relationship and leave the Church

  3. Stay with both the relationship and the Church, but break the rules

If 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 the State.  

And 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 other.  

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 


worship only one Supreme Being, 


carry out a prescribed minimum of communal praying and other religious observances and 


obey certain ethical rules (such as no stealing, murdering, adultery).  

But 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 in Afghanistan.  

You simply do not have the option of not toeing the religious line.  

For 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 Judaism.  

**Lynn-B 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, founded 600 years earlier than the Prophet Mohammed founded Islam   

If 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.  


Think 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 me.   


Or the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries whose Pope-approved purpose was to “purify” Catholic Spain by 

driving out Jews, Protestants and other non-believers, 


executing 2,000 Spaniards for heresy in just the first 
15 years, and 


torturing many others to obtain confessions of heresy 
and betrayals of colleagues.  

Often, 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.  

The 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 adults.  

Christianity 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.  

But 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.  

Back to Index

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 from a 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 investigated.  

A US-born son of Iraqi immigrants, the young man's 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 documents to 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 Postgraduate School

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 readable.  

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 himself.  

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 made public.  

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.  

Back to Index

Ireland 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 system.  

So Brian 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 Mahzen's appointment.  

The reason is plain - Mr Arafat demonstrated his inability and/or
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 followed.

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 matter.

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 tricolour.  


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 ?  

Back to Index

Lucky Indeed

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 ...  

  1. In 1962, a train plunges into an icy river, killing 17 people, but you manage to crawl out with hypothermia, shock, bruises and a broken arm; 

  2. 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; 

  3. 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; 

  4. in 1970, the car you are driving catches fire and explodes; 

  5. In 1973, another car you're driving also explodes, and burns off all your hair; 

  6. in 1995, you get knocked down by a bus - more cuts, bruises and shock; 

  7. in 1996, you escape from a car that's plunging 300 ft down a ravine, by leaping out and landing in a tree; 

  8. 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 !

Back to Index

Why Europeans Love the €uro

Britain would not be so vehemently opposed to adopting the €uro if they knew why their European brothers and sisters were so keen on it.  

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 especially easily.  

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 placings.  

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 notes.  Celebrity Daniella Westbrook demonstrates what snorting too much cocaine can do to your septum

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.  

Meanwhile, you Britons, stick to your beloved sterling and eat your heart out (instead of your septum).  

Back to Index

He's back !

Comical Ali - in civviesThe 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 Comical Ali.  

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 !

Back to Index

Quotes of the Week

Quote 1 : The 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 2My father told me as a boy, Whales 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 called reptiles

Back to Index


ISSUE #43 - 22nd June 2003 [128]


Aaron Barschak - Comedian, Linguist, Footballer, Paint-Sprayer


The Unratifiable EU Constitution


French Leadership Still Protecting Tyrants


Conflict of Whose Interest ?


Leopold Bloom and Artistic Incomprehensiblity


Virtual Valley of the Kings


Honda Fails to Work - 605 Times


Quote of the Week

Aaron Barschak - 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 Jew.  

So here are a few titbits : 


He 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).  


He 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 of Creativity, was on show.


Last March he performed as the “Comedy Terroristat 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 August.  

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 !

Back to Index

The Unratifiable EU Constitutional Treaty

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 is.  

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.  

But 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 : 

  1. 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 home,  


    need to make way for your Chancellor, and


    are therefore seeking a new more sexy job abroad.  

  2. A new foreign minister to run the EU's common foreign and security policy.  

    Yeah right.  If only we already had that, France and Britain 
    would have snapped into line and Iraq would have 
    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.   

  3. A charter of human rights, including social things like the right to work, to strike, to be consulted about big company decisions.    

    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 provision.  

  4. 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 Ireland's 
    steadfast refusal to contemplate harmonising taxes.  The 
    EU would simply calculate EU taxes such that 
    nationals in low-tax countries would contribute more.  
    Tax harmonisation via the back door.  

  5. 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 
    five “bigs” two-to-one -
    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.  

Ray responds on 3rd July in TechCentralStation

Yes, and writing the constitution, even getting it ratified (assuming, arguendo, that it can be) is the easy part.

Then comes the fun - making it work!

I 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 unglued.

Can 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 this.  

Where are Gilbert & Sullivan when we need them?

Back to Index

French 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 well known.  


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 -  what's 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 of Togo.

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 The Death of France ?” organised by Front Page Magazine, he remarked 


It’s 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. 


It’s the fault of the politicians who have no courage and explain nothing. 


It’s 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 personal honesty.  

Back to Index

Conflict of Whose Interest ?

Two pathetic stories have been doing the rounds in Ireland for the past week or so, under the rubric conflict of interest”.  


Ciaran 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 to €1.3m.  

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, collection.  


 Bryan 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 Broadcasting Company).  

They're right to a degree - the BBC forbids its journalists to take on “nixers” as moonlighting is known in Ireland.  But RTÉ doesn't.  

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 hadn't.  

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.  

Sanctimonious 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.  

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Leopold Bloom 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, 


clothed in Edwardian dress, 


sip foaming ebon ale, and 


partake of Bloom's famous breakfast of  grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.  

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 flighty head 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.  


As well as Ulysses' unreadable Chapter 18, there are -


Pablo Picasso and Vasily Kandinsky painting incomprehensible if beautiful abstracts, 


Sculptors like Jean Arp producing elegantly shaped carvings that represent nothing recognizable, 


Acclaimed musicians such as  Arnold Schönberg composing atonal music with no rhythm, no key, no harmonics.  


And poetry even stopped rhyming !  

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 clothes.  If you don't understand my art, that's your own fault because it shows you're an ignorant boor, or worse still an engineer”.  

Anyway, that's the view of your blogger, who is a boor and an engineer.  

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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 3-D 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.  

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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 detailed commentary, 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 almost crazy. 

But on the successful, 606th take they cracked open the champagne.  

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 properly ?

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Quote of the Week

Quote : I 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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ISSUE #42 - 15th June 2003 [134]


Chicanes in the Middle East Road Map


Fatness - A Matter of Education Not Poverty


Spanish Train Crash - The Sham of Human Error


First Picture of Earth From Mars


Of Pacemakers and Tattoos


Quote of the Week

Chicanes in 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 mockery,  


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 fellow-Israelis. 

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 available.    

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 opponent.  

He will find himself defending the position of his opponent, trying to make the case that his opponent's demands are sensible and acceptable.  

And his own organization will often not accept his arguments.  

This is exactly the position that Messrs Mahzen and Sharon both find themselves in, but Mr Sharon has made a major tactical blunder.  

Hamas's chief spokesman, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, quickly declared that all 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 Hamas, 


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 promises.  

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.

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Fatness - A Matter of Education Not Poverty

Through 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 hoi-polloi.    

On the other hand, thinness (think Ethiopia) has meant poor - dirt poor. 

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


taxing fatty foods.  

Wails 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 health.  


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.  

Unit Prices, Tesco

Typical poor man's diet


Cheaper alternatives


Chips, per kilo

€ 1.45

Potatoes, per kilo

€ 0.67


Pizza, per kilo

€ 6.80

Pizza constituents, per kilo

€ 2.27


Tinned spaghetti, per kilo

€ 2.70

Spaghetti, per kilo

€ 1.58


Baked beans, per kilo

€ 1.50

Carrots, per kilo

€ 0.99


Crisps, per kilo

€ 11.94

Potatoes, per kilo

€ 0.67


White bread, per kilo

€ 1.22

Wholewheat bread, per kilo

€ 2.20


Burgers, per kilo

€ 5.03

Burger constituents, per kilo

€ 3.88


Fizzy drinks, per litre

€ 0.85

Water, per litre

€ 0.00


Brown Ale, per litre of pure alcohol

€ 94

Wine, per litre of pure alcohol

€ 51


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 overdrinking.  

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 the converse.  

At this school-examination time, it would be as well for youngsters to remember this.  

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 overindulgence.  

For instance, tobacco taxes far exceed smokers' extra medical costs.  The story is similar for alcohol.  

Late Note (30th June 2010)
This post has formed the basis of a letter to the Sunday Times
in response to a rather foolish column by Minette Marin

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Spanish Train Crash 
- The Sham of Human Error

Whilst I was on a break near Malaga on 4th June, a horrific train crash occurred near Albacete in south-eastern Spain, which killed 22.  

spaintraincrash.jpg (133859 bytes)
Click to enlarge

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.  

Human Erroralways 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 story.  

But it actually does nothing to solve the underlying problem that caused the accident - and usually makes recurrence more, not less, likely.  

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 collide ?


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.  


The human error” of the captain led to the disaster, and so Exxon fired him.  


But 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.  

That's why “human error” is always a sham.  

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First Picture 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 it.  

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 magnificent  photographs 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.  

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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 off.  

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.  

However, 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.  

If getting your tattoo ends up killing you, I suppose it does solve problems all round.    

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Quote of the Week

Quote : Do you think I give a f... what Carrickfergus Council thinks.  In Peterborough we do not wish to get involved.

The 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 it.

We 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.

What 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.

When 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.

Tell 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 Ireland.

I 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 ?

If someone commits suicide then that is their right, it is nothing to do with me.

If you want to fight each other in Ireland then do not include me in it.

I was in the Navy before and it was tough. He was not forced to join the Army.

This 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.

I wish they would just p... off.  

Neville Sanders, Conservative leader of Peterborough City Council, 
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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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


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


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


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

More details on my blog here.


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

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

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

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

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


part of a death march to Thailand,


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


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


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


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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


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


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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


Other books here

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