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

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
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June 2004
bulletISSUE #78 - 13th June 2004
bulletISSUE #79 - 20th June 2004
bulletIssue #80 - 27th June 2004

ISSUE #80 - 27th June 2004 [187]

bulletThe Dilemmas of Post Handover Iraq
bulletPrisoner Abuse in Saddam's Abu Ghraib
bulletThe Surprising Grand Ayatollah Sistani
bulletFreedom and Democracy Through Military Might
bullet Mieskuoro Huutajat
bulletExploring Diplomatic Avenues
bulletQuotes of the Week

The Dilemmas of Post Handover Iraq

Just a few days to go before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis.  (Actually, it's just happened on 28th June, two days early).  

Of course it's not going to be a perfect handover.  

The new government under Prime Minister Dr Ayad Allawi is a 100% appointed one and thus has no electoral legitimacy.  But 

bulletit is composed entirely of Iraqis representing most ethnic and religious groupings;  
bulletIts thirty members were selected by the UN's Lakhdar Brahimi in consultation with the Americans and the previous Iraqi Governing Council;
bulletit has 68% support among the Iraqi people, compared with only 28% who supported the Council it replaces; 
bulletit is charged with getting itself replaced by organizing elections with universal suffrage by January 2005, and 
bulletit and the election plan enjoy unanimous UN approval under Resolution 1546 of 8th June 2004.  

As such, not only has it more legitimacy than the previous administration (which was also UN-approved under Resolution 1483), but it is the most representative government that any Arab state anywhere has ever had throughout world history.  That's quite a claim.  

The new Government will be responsible for all aspects of running Iraq, but there will of course be grey areas.  For example, 

bulletit's unlikely to get a completely free hand with oil revenues - at the very least they're going to be open to outside scrutiny to ensure they don't leak away.  The scrutiny will be more intense than that in any other OPEC member (where any form of public oversight is pretty much non-existent).  
bulletAnd of course there is a big fudge over security.  With US forces transmogrified into invited guests, the Iraqis are in charge, but they will not be able 
bulletuntil they have built up their own army and police forces to fulfil this enormous duty without American assistance,  
bulletnor in practice can they expect to veto American operations.  

So expect constant, hard, and often bad-tempered bargaining.  

The new arrangements are also presenting some uncomfortable dilemmas.  

bulletFor all its firepower, the Americans will not enjoy no longer being in the driving seat, especially since the new Government will have to prove its independence by being nasty to and about the Americans whenever it can.  The Americans will have to put up with this and go through polite, painful negotiations whenever they want to make changes.  No more kicking ass.  
bulletOther Arab dictatorships, as well as the Iranian one, have to pretend they're happy that the infidel Americans are giving way to rule by Iraqis with a prospect of democracy ahead, though by doing so they beg the question why not do something similar at home.  As if.  But this thought will certainly also occur to their restive populaces.  
bulletThe IslamoNazis in Iraq, native and foreign, have to explain to their constituency and the wider Arab world why they are now attacking a Muslim state trying to rebuild itself, now that the Americans are no longer occupiers and no longer running the country.  
bulletThe IslamoNazis are currently trying to get into the capital to disrupt the official handover of power to the new government.  Imagine, these terrorists prefer Iraq to remain under American occupation !
bulletEven attacks on American troops will be attacks on the Iraqi state since the Americans will be there as invitees (at least theoretically).
bulletMoreover, in the IslamoNazis' complete absence of any alternative plan for the country, it will quickly become apparent to ordinary Iraqis that their only objective is to kill for the pleasure of killing.  That the killing has absolutely no purpose, objective or value.  
bulletDespite their inferior numbers, training, equipment and expertise compared with US forces, the Iraqi army and police are likely to be much more vigorous, perhaps brutal, in pursuing the IslamoNazis than the Americans with all their constitutional constraints.  
bulletIndeed, Dr Allawi has been forthright, promising to take the fight to insurgents.  
bullet I hope Hazem al-Shalan, the new defence minister, was using hyberbole when he said, We will cut off the hands of those people. We will slit their throats if it is necessary to do so.  There's been too much of that under Saddam (see next post). 
bulletThe European and American anti-war crowd will surely feel deflated.  They've spent more than a year loudly denouncing George Bush, his war, his invasion, his occupation.  And now, suddenly, Saddam is gone, Iraqis are governing themselves and the Americans are there under invitation not occupation.  What's an anti-warrior supposed to do ?  Their raison d'être has vanished.  
bulletOf course they will say that the new government is an unrepresentative sham, America's puppet.  But events and the government's own behaviour are not likely to support this viewpoint for long.  Particularly as elections loom close towards the end of this year.    
bulletOld Europe, which sadly now includes Spain, will feel similarly unhappy.  They maintain that their call for more WMD inspections instead of war was in the interests of Iraqis and world peace.  This gave them a reason not to help the Coalition, and indeed impede it.  
bulletBut how will they now manufacture a moral justification for refusing help when the new Iraqi Government requests it ?  

I believe in the coming few months we are going to see a major change in the dynamics of Iraq, that it will indeed move towards democracy, that the insurgency movement will be largely suppressed until it is viewed more as a criminal movement.  The anti-warriors will grow resentfully silent and Old Europe will find a way to provide material support.  

No-one will stop hating George Bush, however, just as they hated Ronald Reagan for deploying nuclear weapons in Europe.  So we'll probably have to wait for Mr Bush's funeral before his own contribution to world democracy is generally acknowledged.  

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Prisoner Abuse in Saddam's Abu Ghraib

The international media have rightly given prominence to the outrageous American abuses of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. We have all seen the photographs; the Economist even ran one on its cover.  Though the behaviour of those US male and female soldiers is unforgivable, it is encouraging to see Americans, as well as the rest of the world, rise up and demand the truth, which is slowly, reluctantly trickling out.   And perpetrators will be punished. 
But there is another truth about Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib that came into the public domain last week that also deserves prominence.  The Pentagon recently released a graphic and horrifying video showing abuses conducted in the name of Saddam and sometimes in the name of Allah.  These  include  


the surgical amputation of a right hand; 


a swordsman slicing through a man’s fingers, twice; 


another swordsman chopping off a man’s right hand; 


the flogging of a prisoner using a black rubber whip;  


the breaking of both arms of a man because he betrayed his duty in [a] mission”;  


using tweezers and a scalpel to slice off the tongues of a queue of prisoners; 


the beheading of a prisoner with a sword. 

In terms of maltreatment of prisoners, you can see that these images massively surpass anything that we've seen the Americans do in Abu Ghraib.  


Yet as far as I know, hardly a single mainstream media outlet, at least in Europe, has run this truly shocking story, much less published stills (such as the one above) or provided internet links.  Apparently this is only one of many such videos in the Pentagon's possession.  Only the New York Post seems to have provided some coverage.  


There is an explanation for the silence.  These images make the overthrow of Saddam look moral and right, and by implication the US and Bush/Blair/Berlusconi/etc likewise.  They might even help Bush's re-election.  Are we surprised that the media want to remain schtum ?


However, you don’t appreciate what happened in that prison until you see it.  And when you see those dreadful crimes with your own eyes, you can never again say, with a clear conscience, that the invasion and overthrow of Saddam were wrong. 


You can access a full description of the video clip here, and the clip itself here.   But be aware, they are graphic, unpleasant and wholly unsuitable for children. 


If you happen to have contacts with journalists, I would urge you to make them aware of this story in the hope that they might give it the airtime it needs. 

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The Surprising Grand Ayatollah Sistani

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, born in Iran around 1930, is the most revered leader of Iraq's Shi'ites, who with 60% are the largest religious grouping in the country.  Many Iraqis will tell you they will stay quiet or rise up, purely on the say-so of this holy man.  

Yet he is an enigma.  He rarely speaks publicly, preferring to let his thoughts and wishes be known via third party spokesmen.  He is hardly ever seen, never gives interviews and has consistently refused to meet even with Paul Bremer, America's pro-consul in Iraq.  One reason is that he believes America's democratisation plan is too slow.  

He is a traditional cleric, yet for all his conservative trappings and secrecy he appears to be surprisingly open minded, modern and pragmatic.  Not only does be believe in the separation of religion from politics, which for some imams is close to apostasy, but he is prepared to entertain questions about Islam and the Koran.  He has his own website,, which among other things lists answers to a range of questions covering a broad swathe of life.  

Here are a few examples.  


Ayatollah Sistani’s Answer

Is it allowed to do cheating in the exams of boards of the government or in the exams of university of the government?

Cheating is not permissible.

Why using of gold and silver dishes, forks, spoons and knifes is haram?

According to Islamic Sharia, eating and drinking liquid in gold and silver dishes is forbidden. It is not so important to know the reason or know not.

What is the concept of Islam about co-education? Whether both males and females can work together in an organization or not?

:If there is fear falling in sin, it is not permissible

What does the Qur’an say about suicide?

Islam does not allow it in every circumstance

Are shaking of hands with girls allowed?

It is not permissible.

If I made Muta’h (= temporary marriage) with a woman, and I divorced her the next day, can I renew Muta’h with the same woman one day after the divorce?

There is no divorce in temporary marriage. It ends with the end of its time or when the husband forgives the remaining time. And it is permissible for you to remarry her after the contract period is over

If the man accepts not to marry another woman in his contract and still does so, does the woman have to right to divorce him, without giving away her dowry?

Divorce is absolutely in the hand of husband.

If I know that the bank will give me interest even without stipulating the conditions, is it permissible for me to deposit in a savings account that takes the form of a term-deposit?

Yes, it is permissible, as long as you do not stipulate the conditions of interest.

Is it permitted to pay interest to non-Muslims and also take interest from them

Giving interest to a non-Muslim in a deal that is based on interest is impermissible and receiving it (interest) is permissible and there is no objection in it.

What strike me is how sensible and humanist most of his answers are, for example that suicide is forbidden under all circumstances, that cheating is wrong.  Of course some are not so defensible - such as 


the ban on gold dishes, and the lack of a reason for it, 


that it's OK to take interest from non-Muslims but not to pay it to them,


that women enjoy fewer privileges than men.  

Nevertheless, in perusing his site you get the impression that Ayatollah Sistani is certainly someone you can do business with.  If only he would agree to meet you ! 

I think he will be a positive force in the new Iraq, supporting both the democratic process (which will of course return a Shi'ite majority) and the suppression of insurgents.  

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Freedom and Democracy Through Military Might

I've written before about the left-wing anti-American anti-free market bias of many so-called charities.  They collect large amounts of money from ordinary people as well as Governments, but then devote time and donations pursuing political objectives, and often telling deliberate porkies, instead of delivering help to people in need.  

Last week the chairman of Trócaire, Ireland's biggest charity was at it again.  Bishop John Kirby wrote a stultifying screed denouncing America and all its works in Iraq, and for good measure capitalism and free markets in general.  It could be lifted straight from a 1960s or 70s undergraduate Marxist magazine.  

In a brutal fisking last year entitled Chronicle of a Pious Fraud”, Blog-Irish brutally exposed how deeply embedded are the (loony left-wing) political activity and vitriolic anti-Americanism of Trócaire and its leaders, including the good bishop.  The bishop's latest article is in the same vein.  

Freedom and democracy cannot be imposed through military might” he intones as he lectures President Bush and the Americans on foreign policy, helpfully pointing out that terrorism is no more than criminality.  

But tell that to nations such as Japan, Germany, South Korea, Serbia, East Timor, Panama, Grenada.  They are all democracies thanks only to the guns and armies of courageous Western alliances, overwhelmingly American.  

In fact the bishop has completely missed the point.  For freedom and democracy cannot be imposed through military might unless accompanied by military victory.  Without a military victory you get a Vietnam, still a Communist dictatorship three decades after America withdrew defeated.  

However, without a boost of military might, democratisation often happens at only a snail's pace.  

If Trócaire and its leaders cared a fig for freedom and democracy therefore, they would be cheering on America from the sidelines for its efforts to democratise Iraq though military might.  But of course the welfare of Iraqis is the last thing on their minds.  Left wing anti-Americanism and gouging money from gullible governments and well-meaning citizens is what drives them.  

Nothing else.  

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Mieskuoro Huutajat

During the ceremonies in Dublin to welcome the ten new countries into the EU on 1st May, I wandered around the 30-odd stalls representing existing, new and would-be member states set up in a street near the Irish parliament.  In the Finnish tent, there was a small poster about Mieskuoro Huutajat.  

Set up in 1987, this is a choir of forty Finnish men, dressed in black suits, white shirts and black rubber ties, who don't sing.  They shout.  They've also made a movie.  I was intrigued, thinking it might be something unusual and sonorous to include in the CD I make every year to enclose with Christmas cards, so I did a little research.   

The choir is certainly unusual, but it is not sonorous.  In fact the Finns sound ghastly and look ugly.  They will not be added to the CD.  Punish yourself by experiencing this 40-second clip or this photo.  

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Exploring Diplomatic Avenues

In the interests of unfairness, lack of balance, unsavouriness and general nastiness, I can't resist linking to this little item featuring President Jacques Chirac exploring diplomatic avenues.  

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : Leaving aside his nationality, Mr Sutherland's advocacy of liberal economic policies is not an asset.” 

The French government explains why Ireland's Peter Sutherland, 
following his meeting with Jacques
at the Elysee Palace on 23rd June, 
will be blackballed as
president of the European Commission.  

Fear of liberal economic policies also explains 
why all the EU bar Ireland and Britain 
remain in the economic doldrums

Quote : “[T]he way to Iraqi hearts is through their sewer pipes.” 

So learns Yash Sinha, a first lieutenant 
in a New Jersey-based Army Reserve civil affairs unit, 
heavily involved in refurbishing Baghdad's 
electrical, carpentry, and plumbing work.  

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

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ISSUE #79 - 20th June 2004 [175]

bulletTime to Confront North Korea
bulletThree Irish Peace Missionaries
bulletMilitants or Terrorists ?
bulletEU Elections Will Enliven the EU
bulletHow Representative is Your Democracy ?
bulletRumours, Truth, Goodness, Usefulness and Socrates
bulletFlossing for Glory
bulletQuote of the Week

Time to Confront North Korea

Mark Humphrys' thought-provoking blog is different from others in that it is organized by topic rather than by date.  However, he has just incorporated an index of links to his latest posts which helps enormously when you're looking for new stuff.  

A recent, shocking and exhaustively linked post describes the evils of the Soviet Empire, triggered by the death of its destroyer, Ronald Reagan.  

Under a series of unremitting despots over the empire's 74 years of evil existence, it deliberately killed between 25 and 60 million people through execution, famine, chemical weapons, gulag and war (it killed even more Soviet citizens - ten million - during World War 2 than the invading Nazis did).  It was the most murderous regime that mankind has ever known.  

Yet there remains a comparable Stalinist totalitarian regime in full flow right now.  Lifelong anti-Communist Vaclev Havel, philosopher, author, playwright and the Czech Republic's erstwhile first president wrote an eloquent account of modern day North Korea in last week's (subscription only) Irish Times, which I've transcripted here.  Mark Humphrys has also subjected North Korea to his unique treatment.  

Led by Kim Jong Il, truly his father's son, the regime has murdered up to five million people by the same means as the Soviets - execution, famine, chemical weapons, gulag and war.  

Mr Havel draws parallels.  

bulletHitler's extermination camps came to light thanks to two escapees from Auschwitz. 
bulletThe gulags and other Soviet crimes were revealed by writings of ex-prisoners such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn. 
bulletOther brave eye-witnesses exposed the terror of the Khmer Rouge, Saddam Hussein and Communist China.  

And today, North Korean refugees describe the hell that is life under Kim Jong Il, accounts supported by satellite imagery.  At least those refugees do, who have managed to evade neighbouring China's attempts to return them to their homeland to almost certain gulag and/or death.  

In his impoverished totalitarian state, Kim Jong Il sustains a million-man army, a nuclear weapons programme, other WMD, long-range missile development, arms exports and famine.  

Meanwhile, most of the world looks politely the other way.  While the UN passes but two condemnatory resolutions in six decades, South Korea and other rich, free countries shy from confronting the regime, even as they pour in food aid, without thanks or reciprocation, in the knowledge that most of it goes straight to the armed forces, who already absorb 23% of GDP.  China, a perennial supporter of North Korea, is only now getting a little nervous as it realises that a nuclear-armed North Korea on its doorstep poses an unacceptable threat of regional nuclear escalation (including within Taiwan).  

Mr Havel therefore calls on the world to confront the North Korean regime in a unified manner and to stop making unilateral concessions that only give it comfort and oxygen.  

The real question is, I think, what would Ronald Reagan do ?  George Bush made a good start by including North Korea in his axis of evil two years ago, but that is pretty much the only confrontation that Kim Jong Il has faced. 

With nuclear weapons able to reach Japan and a huge army poised on South Korea's border, an Iraq-style pre-emptive military invasion of North Korea is not really a realistic option.  

However, Reagan showed how even the mightiest totalitarian state can be brought to its knees under sustained economic pressure, how a clash of ideologies can be won without firing a shot.  That's what's needed.  Thus,  

bulletall aid, and subsidised fuel and food should cease immediately except insofar as it can be distributed directly and verifiably to the people;  
bulletExports and imports should be blockaded to ensure only non-weapons goods get through. 
bulletAll free countries should contribute to a build up of military manpower and matériel in the border areas so as to force North Korea to do the same.  (America is in fact redeploying forces away from South Korea to Iraq; it would be far wiser to bleed down its troops in Germany instead.)
bulletIt should be made clear that any military action by North Korea will be met with an instant response aimed at the members of the regime.  

A similar formula worked on a more formidable, wealthier and equally malign enemy bristling with nuclear weapons in the 1980s.  Why not now ?  Anyone got any better ideas ?

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Three Irish Peace Missionaries

The three Irish peace missionaries, who due to Columbian incompetence and chicanery ended up in jail in Bogotá, have just been released after nearly three years of incarceration.  

The purpose of their trip to Columbia in 2001 had been to make a peace visit to the guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in their jungle stronghold, a no-go area the size of Switzerland.  There, while observing the peace process between the FARC and the Columbian Government, they patiently explained the benefits and modalities of Northern Ireland's own much vaunted peace process.  Oh, and they also partook in a bit of eco-tourism.  To do all this it was apparently necessary to travel on, er, false passports.  

Having taken leave of their FARC hosts, the trio flew back to Bogotá, on 11th August 2001.  But on arrival, the bumbling Columbian police immediately arrested them for using false papers.  PC El-Plod then had the temerity to accuse them of helping the FARC, who were not very good at attacking cities, to build better weapons and improve the quality of their urban warfare.  

bullet The peace missionaries' previous criminal convictions and imprisonment for weapons offenses and their expertise in constructing mortars and radio-controlled bomb fuses were of no relevance to the issue.  
bulletNor were FARC's two attacks on President Álvaro Uribe using mortars and radio-controlled bombs in the same month as the arrests, killing 24 people, though the president survived.  
bulletNor were the bombings of 320 electrical towers, 30 bridges and 46 vehicles, resulting in 400 police and military deaths and $500 million in damage.  These attacks were, according to Columbia's chief soldier Gen Fernando Tapias, increasingly proficient after the peace missionaries and other colleagues of their ilk had visited FARC.  

In April, a single-judge, non-jury, anti-terrorist, Columbian court acquitted the peace missionaries of helping the FARC but convicted them of travelling on false passports and awarded them various prison sentences.    However the outraged Attorney General immediately appealed the acquittal. 

They were therefore granted bail which allows them to leave the jail but they must remain in Columbia pending the appeal.  But it took them seven weeks to screw up the courage to leave the jail last week, because they believe they are in more danger outside than inside those high walls.  

For it seems there are right-wing militias roaming around Bogotá with guns and clubs who administer severe punishment, such as death, on those they disapprove of, regardless of legal process.  And many of these militias are convinced the Irish peace missionaries did indeed train left-wing FARC guerillas in urban warfare, which in their view certainly merits summary punishment.   So the missionaries have gone into hiding.  

This must be a novel, confusing and ironic experience for them, because back home in Ireland the peace missionaries have their own armed militia with guns and clubs which administers severe punishment on those it disapproves of, regardless of legal process.  Moreover, should the peace missionaries be returned to prison to serve their sentences, they believe that the Columbian militias have the means and will to exact punishment even within the confines.  

It seems therefore that peace missionaries' best hope for their personal survival is to engage the Columbian militias in a peace dialogue.  Just as they apparently preached Northern Ireland style peace to the FARC, they can explain to the right wing militias the error of their ways, and convince them to decommission all their weapons and re-enter the political mainstream.  

Just like back home.  Not. 

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Militants or Terrorists ?

PaulJohnsonBeheaded.jpg (37505 bytes)The murder and beheading of Paul Johnston (for once, not a Jew) was reported as breaking news in Ireland by describing the IslamoNazi perpetrators as Al Qaeda militants rather than terrorists.  
(Click image to enlarge in new window - be aware, it's graphic)

bulletIrish Times / breaking news 19:01 18 Fri June 2004

Al-Qaeda militants have beheaded an American engineer it had held hostage since last week, Al Arabiya television reported this evening” 
bulletIrish Independent / breaking news 19:29 Fri 18 June 2004

Al-Qaida kidnappers execute American engineer.  

Al-Qaida militants in Saudi Arabia are reported to have killed an American engineer who has been held for the past week.

This prompted an angry message (below) to the two leading Irish newspapers from an anonymous Irish Expat, which speaks for itself.  

Let's see whether the respective newspapers publish.  Many other leftward media, notably the BBC but also AP, Reuters and AFP, are equally bashful about calling non-white terrorists terrorists.  Especially where America or Israel is the terrorist target.  


Attention: The Editors, Irish Independent and Irish Times
19th June 2004


In your initial reports ... of the murder of Paul Johnson you describe the perpetrators as militants. Since your reports are not simple copies of AP/AFP/Reuters reports I naturally assume your reporters' choice of the term militant is deliberate.

Your use of the term militant in this context mystifies me.
Militant is a term I normally associate with, for example, trade union activism. 

I do not understand how this term can reasonably be applied to an organisation or persons whose openly avowed objective is literally to terrorise people.

I do not understand how this term can reasonably be applied to an organisation or persons whose actions fall within any conceivable definition of terrorism.   

In your columns you do not hestitate to describe the IRA and its offshoots as terrorists. Al Qaeda has been far less discriminate and has killed many thousands more innocent civilians than the IRA. 

How do you justify describing them differently? How many more must the al Qaeda barbarians kill before you tell the truth about them and call them what they are?

I work in Saudi Arabia. The company I work for is Saudi owned. Most of my colleagues at work are Saudis. Yet the barbarians from Al Qaeda will kill me if they can. Nothing personal, but if they attack my office or home, I'm dead. Being Irish won't help. Neutrality my arse. 

But you don't think they're terrorists?

Lack of bias and impartiality in newspapers is a fine thing. But so is accuracy. Sometimes things are black and white. Sometimes there are no shades of grey. Then it is not enough to describe black as not white, or white as not black.

Please excuse my anonymity. It is necessary.

Yours Sincerely,

An Irish Expat

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EU Elections Will Enliven the EU

The recent  elections for the 732 seats in the EU parliament have caused consternation on a number of fronts.  

Firstly, there's the low turnout - just 45%.  Astonishingly, the ten new countries, who you would expect to have been bursting with excitement at the prospect of their first EU election, barely managed 30%.  You have to conclude there is a striking and consistent lack of enthusiasm for the EU project amongst the 350 million voters. 

Secondly, other than in Spain and Greece which have in the last few months already changed out their governments, the EU elections mark an unmistakable rejection of the ruling parties.  Whatever it is they've been doing, their respective electorates are distinctly unimpressed.  Interestingly, this goes for both right-leaning governments such as Britain's, Italy's and Ireland's as well as for the left-leaners of countries such as France and Germany (I'm talking about their behaviour not their rhetoric).  

Thirdly, it is not the conventional alternative parties that have benefited from the lacklustre performance of the ruling parties, but extremist, protest and single-issue parties and individuals.  Thus 

bulletthe UK Independent Party, which vows to wreck the EU parliament, gained 14 seats, 
bulletanti-war Sinn Fein with its private army that refuses to stand down gained its first two seats, 
bulletAustria's Hans Peter Martin, hated by other MEPs because he exposed their venal money-grubbing, retained his seat with a thumping majority.  
bulletPoland's ultra-Catholic Polish League of Families and populist Samoobroona (Self-Defense) party, both strongly anti-EU, scored 28%

Some may wonder whether these are three unrelated phenomena, but I am inclined to think they are linked as part of a wider picture.  

Mid-term discontent with the ruling party is common in all democracies, and often expressed by kicking it when what is viewed as an unimportant poll comes up.  

But for years, most ruling parties have been falling over each other to reach the same central ground in an ideology-free scramble.  Since the fall of the Soviet Empire, the precepts of the left have fallen into utter disrepute, although no-one on the left wants to admit it and its soft-focus socialism sounds comforting.  Thus, 

bulletyou have people like Tony Blair of Britain's Labour Party, declaring themselves to be leftists devoted to protection of the downtrodden working class, whilst implementing plainly Thatcherite policies such as privatisation, free markets, globalisation and low taxes.  
bulletMeanwhile, rightwingism is the ideology that (in Europe) dare not speak its name, so it gets suffocated in touchy-feely social awareness about the need to enhance state-run hospitals, schools and day-care centres.  Absolutely no mainstream politician wants to be branded a right-winger, even though that is an appellation that should be embraced with pride.  

As a consequence, there is little to choose between the mainstream left-acting-right and right-acting-left parties, so the electorate doesn't really care who governs them.  

This opens the door to using your vote to express what you really feel strongly about.  For some it is supporting their pet extreme or single-issue.  

But for a huge number it has been protesting at the advancing power of the EU itself.  

The EU began its life as a free trade organization and later extended this to free movement of goods, capital, services and people.  This is where it hit its apogee, where almost everyone gained from the enterprise and it was universally popular.  

But as its enthusiastic insiders moved the EU towards greater integration and regulation, it gradually left much of the populations behind, who became steadily more disgruntled and apathetic.  

So what we are seeing is a peasants' revolt, which will likely be manifested in a much livelier EU parliamentary chamber, hosting for the first time some real adversarial, bad-tempered debate.  Imagine the uproar when UKIP's newly elected Robert Kilroy Silk uses his maiden speech to announce he wants to wreck the parliament.  Debates will become a spectator sport instead of a lullaby.  

Meantime, there is the small matter of the pernicious EU Constitutional Treaty that ministers have long been haggling over.  They could not fail but to have felt a sense of chastisement over the elections, and many perhaps no longer had the stomach to pursue it as avidly as they might have.  They knew they would have got more praise back home for not budging than for acquiescing.  

From all this, my bet and hope (and prognostication of a year ago) were that they would fail to agree.  I was not alone.  A recent Eurosoc poll put success at just 3%; in fact the poll reckoned that only a Martian presidency would secure agreement.  

But I was wrong.  After two days of angry haggling in Brussels, an agreement was reached but not without leaving President Chirac reportedly grumpy about the inclusion of Britain's successful red lineson tax etc.  

But luckily this success doesn't really matter.  In the new climate, and with the need for referendums in at least six countries including highly Eurosceptical Britain (who in a Sky News poll immediately registered 70% rejection), the 300 page tome has, fortunately, not a hope of ratification. 

Perhaps, after all, this miserable election actually represents a giant leap forward in EU representative democracy.  Real debate by real representatives.  Followed by eventual outcomes that the 350 million electorate can broadly support.  

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How Representative Is Your Democracy ?

I was interested to read after the recent Indian elections that if Ireland's parliamentary representation were similar to India's it would have only two members of parliament for the whole country.  Conversely, if India - with over a billion people the world's largest democracy - were to copy Ireland, it would have to expand its parliament buildings a hundredfold to accommodate over 45,000 MPs.  And if it were to copy the Eurodots” of Andorra/Luxembourg/Monaco/San Marino it would need space for 24.8 million MPs !

Here is a comparison of quite a few prominent democracies in terms of parliamentary representation in the legislative lower (or only) house, ie the number of people that each member of parliament on average represents.  The average of all the countries listed is 394,000 people per MP, but this ranges hugely from 3,500 (for the Eurodots) to almost two million (India).  

Data are from the incomparable CIA World Factbook.  

You can see that, broadly, the bigger your country, the less you are represented in your legislature.  

Interestingly, the UK (population 60m) has the biggest parliament (659 members) of anyone (eg India 545, USA 435, Philippines 206), other than the mighty EU (732 MEPs).  And the EU is supposed to have a democratic deficit.  

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Rumours, Truth, Goodness, Usefulness and Socrates

Keep this philosophy in mind the next time you either hear, or are about to repeat a rumour ...

In ancient Greece, Socrates (469-399 BC) was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?

Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me, I’d like you to apply a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”  

Triple filter?”, asked the man. “That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student, let’s take a moment to filter what you’re going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?” “No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and...”  All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not”.  

Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good? No, Socrates, on the contrary... So,” Socrates interjected, “you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?” The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. “You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?” “No, not really.”  

Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True or Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”  Feeling defeated and ashamed, the man slunk off.  

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.  It also explains why he never found out that his student Plato was sleeping with his wife.  

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Flossing for Glory

Who said dentistry wasn't fun ? 

In Hong Kong school students, under the watchful eye of the HK Dental Association (founder in 1950 a certain Dr Allwright), just earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for tying together the world's longest length of dental floss.  

After weeks of training and practice, 580 nimble-fingered youngsters co-operated to tie 25-centimetre segments of floss together till they provided a single length of 524.2 metres.  What a useful enterprise.  

The next challenge is to find someone who wants half a kilometer of grubby dental floss. 

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “I'm never disappointed in my Secretary of Defence.  He's doing a fabulous job, and America's lucky to have him in the position he's in.” 

President George Bush, 
with Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld sitting beside him, 
in stout  and unconvincing defence 
when asked if he was disappointed 
with Mr Rumsfeld over the prisoner issue.

Quote : “He has tasted European blood.” 

An unnamed senior German government figure suggests that 
Ireland's prime minister, Bertie Ahern, 
as a result of having run the EU for the past six months, 
has acquired a taste for European office. 
Specifically the chance of replacing Romano Prodi 
as president of the European Commission 

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ISSUE #78 - 13th June 2004 [324]

bulletHow to Subvert Democracy
bulletIreland's Open Door Asylum Policy
bulletNon-Israeli Massacres and Israeli Non-Massacres 
bulletPope Still Backs Saddam
bulletChoice Reaganisms
bulletHalf a Million Dollars to Smoke Cigarettes
bulletSize 12 Wedding Dress - No Reserve
bulletQuotes of the Month

How to Subvert Democracy

In the 1960s and 1970s, Britain's premier military training college, Sandhurst, trained a great many foreign soldiers who went on to play leading roles in their countries.  Some did so constitutionally, such as 
bulletKing Hussein of Jordan, 
bulletSir Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, 
bulletPrince Turki of Saudi Arabia,  
bulletKhalid Ahmed al-Thani, a royal minister in Qatar.   

Others became head of state by staging coups d'état of one sort or another.  
bulletIn Nigeria in 1966, Yakubu Gowan kicked out Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (himself a military coupster but of just six months standing).  
bulletSultan Qaboos bin Said usurped  his father in Oman in 1970.   
bulletIdi Amin overthrew the Ugandan despot Milton Obote in 1971 (and went on to become even more despotic).  
bulletSani Abacha became Nigeria's most brutal and corrupt leader ever in 1993 by deposing Ernest Shonekan, a businessman-cum-dubious-democrat, who had lasted only three months.

When I lived in Nigeria in the time of Gowan, I heard stories about the Sandhurst training (which, by the way, included instilling a love of rugby - I recall playing against a formidable team comprising his personal bodyguards).  In particular, Sandhurst used to teach their foreign students how to defend their newly independent, democratic (sic) homelands.  And the lesson that it kept drilling in to them is that you must at all costs defend the radio stations, because these are what give you power over the people.  

Well, Gowan, Qaboos, Amin, Abacha and company learned their lesson well.  Because the first thing they did in staging their own coups back home was to seize the radio stations and start broadcasting how they had liberated the downtrodden masses from the previous guy's tyranny.  

I was reminded of all this when I heard a fascinating little item on BBC Radio 4 recently about how best to subvert democracy.  Whilst those Asian and African coupsters showed they knew how to do it, were they necessarily being as efficient as they might be ?  How can you quantify it ?

Well, extraordinarily, now we can, thanks to Vladimir Montesinos.  

When Alberto Fujimori was the elected president of Peru in the 1990s, his friend  Montesinos became his secret-police chief and his right-hand man, entrusted to do whatever was necessary to keep his boss in his job.  Fujimori was elected for the constitutional maximum of two five-year terms but Montesinos then engineered a third term.  

For this it was necessary to ensure that 
bullet congressmen voted appropriately, 
bullet the police stayed in line, 
bullet judges didn't overstep the mark, 
bullet journalists didn't cause embarrassment, and so forth.  

This was done partly by strong-arm tactics (torture, disappearances, death squads), but also by carefully targeted bribing.  Montesinos was an able and methodical operator who throughout the Fujimori presidency kept not only meticulous notes, but videos of himself paying bribes.  The brave broadcast of one of these vladivideos precipitated the sudden collapse of the corrupt house of cards in 2000.  Montesinos went into hiding and Fujimori fled to Japan where he resigned in November by fax and was granted asylum based on his blood-line (much to Peru's fury).  

Despite plastic surgery to disguise his identity, Montesinos was found in Venezuela the following year and jailed in Peru for nine years, condemned by the evidence of his own records and videotapes .  

But it means we now know how Montesinos prioritised his spending to subvert Peruvian democracy under Fujimori.   
bulletIndividual judges and MPs got tens of thousands of dollars for their co-operation.  
bullet$400,000 per month would secure a majority in Congress.  
bulletBut the really big bucks were spent on ensuring that TV stations broadcast acceptable material - a massive $1m per month went to each TV station proprietor.  

For this, the activities of pro-Fujimori candidates would be broadcast, that of  opponents not, and criticism of the government would be silenced.  That's all that was needed.  

Unfortunately, there is no archive link to the Radio 4 item and I wasn't quick enough to record it, but at a Stanford University corruption conference last year, Professor Ocampo presented a detailed and interesting paper (Word, 400kb) on the Montesinos case, ominously entitled, “Power Networks And Institutions In Latin America” It explains in detail how Montesinos distributed his favours and worked his networks.  

Montesinos recognised that TV provides the biggest single check on misuse of power, that it governs the relationship between politicians and the population in general.  Therefore it needs to be the number one target if you want to subvert (or indeed protect) democracy.  This allows you to maintain the veneer of a working democracy without the perils of installing an actual dictatorship.  

For example in nominally democratic Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe could never get away with his destructive behaviour if he did not have a tight grip on the TV stations.  

It just goes to show how prescient were those military lecturers at Sandhurst.  To protect - or to subvert - democracy, you must concentrate above else on the broadcast media.  

In the 1950s/60s/70s that meant radio.  Today it's TV.  Tomorrow blogging ?

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Ireland's Open Door Asylum Policy

Ireland, like all rich, liberal democracies, is the target of many refugees and asylum-seekers, fleeing to escape persecution or to live a better life or both.  And who can blame them for targeting wealthy, free, safe countries with generous welfare.  Where's the fun in being granted residency in democracies such as Sri Lanka or Singapore or Argentina or Israel or Nigeria ?  

Last week, Ireland's Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, or ORAC, published its annual report for 2003 (pdf, 737kb).  It reveals that the two countries that provided most of Ireland's 8,000 refugees and asylum-seekers last year were two democracies, however flawed.  One was Nigeria (the source of 39%) and the other Romania (10%).  Even the Czech Republic, now a fellow EUer, sent along 2½%.  These are themselves capitalistic democracies with fairly independent legal systems, and where the state does not make a habit of hounding its law-abiding citizens.  Yes if you're a Christian in Northern (Muslim) Nigeria you can get harassed, and vice versa in the South, but equally you can always move to elsewhere within that huge country where you won't be tormented.  

By contrast, the virulently undemocratic and militaristic dictatorships of Congo and Somalia, where there's nowhere to hide, managed only 5½% between them.  No doubt there are countless Congolese and Somalis who live or decamp in daily fear of torture and murder by the State, so the wonder is that there are so relatively few of them fleeing (to Ireland, anyway). 

But how can Nigerians, Romanians and Czechs manufacture a case for asylum ? 

Easy, really.  Because when you examine the rules you find them so woolly that they virtually constitute an open invitation to anyone who wants to find a better life in an EU country of choice. 

Firstly, to be an asylum seeker, you must in essence have a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion

However, the persecution need not be confined to that perpetrated by the organs of the State; it could be anyone, even your next door neighbour. 
All you then have to say is that you are unwilling to avail yourself of your country's protection. Your country may have the world's finest police force eager and able to protect you, but you just have to say you don't want their protection. 

Secondly, in 1990 the EU signed something called the Dublin Convention, updated last year, under which asylum applications should be dealt in the first EU country in which the individual, lawfully or unlawfully, arrives.  This is very logical.  

Yet very few such individuals enter Ireland without having transited through another EU country, because there are no direct connections to Ireland from, say, Nigeria or Somalia. 

Under the EU's Dublin Convention concept, you would think applicants would be simply put straight back on the same flight or boat from Europe on which they arrived.  But no, the small print intervenes again. The two EU countries have to agree to the return.  Letters and forms must  be exchanged over a period of months during which the process usually just runs out of steam or beyond the six-month time-limit, because of course no-one wants to accept the returning applicants. 

Hence, out of 8,000 asylum applicants, just 38 were deported under the Dublin Convention.  And even they were matched by 37 deportations into Ireland from other EU countries.  

So, if you're reading this out there in the depths of Africa or the Middle East or South America or the Far East, and you're not happy with your lot or your neighbour is a nuisance, just call yourself a persecuted asylum-seeker and come on over.  

The door's always open.  Oh, and in just three years we will give you an Irish/EU passport as well.  

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Non-Israeli Massacres and Israeli Non-Massacres 

I was happy to have provoked Raymond Dean, the Chairman of the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, within the pages of the ( subscription-only) Irish Times last month.  (For non-subscribers, I have transcripted the relevant correspondence here).  

I had responded to a letter accusing Israel, as usual, of carrying out massacres at Sabra, Shatila and Rafah, by pointing out 

bulletthat it was hate-filled Lebanese Christian militias who perpetrated the first two and 
bulletthat Rafah was a battle against Palestinian fighters who got the worse end of it, with some civilian casualties, but it was no massacre.  Like Jenin, it was another invented non-massacre by Israel. 

In high dudgeon, Mr Dean referred me to Principle VII of the 1950 Nuremberg Tribunal (1950) : Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity. . . is a crime under international law and claimed that the Israeli army supervised the Sabra and Shatila slaughters.  

This is not true.  It was Christian Phalangist militias who entered the two refugee camps in September 1992 to seek out terrorists following the bombing of their leader, Lebanon's then president-elect Bashir Gemayel.  This was done by agreement with but not supervised by the Israelis, who remained outside and who nevertheless warned them not to harm civilians.  The Phalangists ignored the warning and shamefully killed hundreds of innocent Palestinian children, women and old men.  

The Israelis' failure was not to have anticipated the possibility of atrocities by the enraged Phalangists nor to have taken more concrete steps to have prevented them.  

It is right to criticise the Israelis for this, as their own exhaustive Kahan Commission did, which Mr Dean quotes.  Indeed, it places much blame on the then Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon, who was punished along with other senior figures.   (Imagine this happening in any other Middle East country.)  

But if failing to prevent a predictable slaughter is a Nuremberg crime, then the UN's new International Criminal Court could find itself rather busy.  Among its candidates : 

bulletThe UN, for failing to prevent the predictable slaughter of 7,000 in Srebenica in 1993.  
bulletThe  UN, for failing to prevent the predictable slaughter of one million in Rwanda in 1994, and Bill Clinton for making sure the UN did not intervene.  
bulletThe UN, for failing to prevent the predictable slaughter of 30,000 a year for over two decades in Iraq, until the Coalition decided to.  
bulletThe UN, for failing to prevent the predictable slaughter of thousands of East Timorese by the Indonesian army in 1999, until Australia decided to.
bulletThe Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, for failing to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from predictably slaughtering hundreds of Israeli civilians. 

The Irish Times have not so far published my riposte along the above lines.  

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Pope Still Backs Saddam

With the death of Ronald Reagan, we were reminded of the key role he played, ably supported by Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, in destroying the evil empire that was the USSR.  They applied 

bullet moral suasion (the Pope), 
bullet rhetoric (Reagan and Thatcher) and 
bullet economic might (Reagan) 

to vanquish and humiliate it through economic ruin and without firing a shot.  With some exceptions, the peoples of the Russian Federation, ex-Soviet republics and Central Europe were after 1991 freed at last from the suffocating tyrannical wickedness of Communism.  The exceptions are subject-states such as Chechnya imprisoned within the Russian Federation (which should more properly be called the Russian Empire, for that is what it is).  

Would that the peoples of the Middle East could enjoy the freedom to pursue their dreams that Hungarians and Poles today take for granted.  

Of those three 1980s champions of freedom, only the Pope is still in his job, hanging in there gamely and grimly despite his failing health.  

Before the D-Day commemorations, he met with George Bush and reviewed the bravery of those American, Polish and other Allied soldiers who freed the peoples of (as it turned out only Western) Europe.  

But what a disgrace to see him chiding George Bush last week for toppling Saddam and reminding him of the Vatican's unequivocal opposition to the war.  

The Pope had previously disgraced himself a month prior to the war by shaking the bloodied hand of Saddam's (Christian) deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, a brusque, tough, hard-nosed advocate for the tyrant's interests, who is thankfully now in American custody along with his erstwhile boss.

At the time, the Vatican was was predicting 15,000 American deaths along with fire and tumult all over the Middle East.  It seems the Pope is now simply too proud to admit that he was wildly wrong and that America's war has given Iraqis their first chance to build their own representative democracy, the first in Arabian history.  He would deny Iraqis what he praises American military power for delivering in 1945 to the Japanese, the Germans, the (South) Koreans, and in 1991 to the Europeans east of the Oder.   

He is befuddled and ill, and has lost the clear-sightedness he possessed when he stood alongside Reagan and Thatcher to confront the Soviets.  As I've argued earlier, he should retire now before he wrecks his admirable legacy.  

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Choice Reaganisms

When he wasn't vanquishing and destroying the despicable Soviet Empire, the late Ronald Reagan adhered to a famously laid back work ethic.  Lazy, you could say.  And his intellectual prowess was perpetually misunderstestimated.  (Not unlike a current incumbent, by all accounts).  

These are some of my favourite Reaganisms.  
bulletI believe in burning the midday oil
bulletThey say hard work never killed anyone, but why take chances ? 
bulletand to his top aides, if something really important comes up, I want you to wake me immediately.  Even if I am at a cabinet meeting.

If you've got any more in similar vein, you might like to add them as a Comment.  

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Half a Million Dollars to Smoke Cigarettes

Whilst we're on Hollywood movie stars, half a million dollars is what Brown & Williamson, the third largest tobacco company in the US, undertook to pay Sylvester Stallone in 1983 ($900,000 in today's money) for smoking their cigarettes in five feature movies.  

Nice work if you can get it.  
(Click on the letter to enlarge it)

Mr Stallone's letter of agreement has - no doubt to his embarrassment - been published by the British Medical Journal, no less, in a recent paper called, Policy priorities for tobacco control”, aimed at telling doctors and politicians how to get smokers to quit.  Despite its almost religious zealotry (“the smoking of tobacco should eventually become an activity undertaken only by consenting adults in private”) the piece is unusually readable.   

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Size 12 Wedding Dress - No Reserve

Do you need a size 12 wedding dress and gown, used just once, and fetchingly modeled by this tattooed gentleman ?  Who doesn't.  

This one recently fetched $3,850 on e-bay (price $1,200 new), having attracted over a hundred bids and 50,000 hits.  

Never mind that.  

It's the seller's cracking commentary which accompanies the sales description that made this item so popular.  It’s a really nice dress” he says. “Personally, I think it looks like a $1200 shower curtain, but what do I know about this.”  He also got five marriage proposals, some from women.  

You should read his commentary in full.  

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Quotes of the Month

He talked of winning one for the Gipper and as president, through his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, with us today, the Gipper and, yes, Mikhail Gorbachev won one for peace around the world.” 

Ex-President George Herbert Bush 
at Ronald Reagan's funeral

Quote : “I spent several years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, in the dark, fed with scraps. Do you think I want to do that all over again as vice president of the United States ?

Vietnam war hero Senator John McCain (Republican)
makes plain to Presidential aspirant John Kerry (Democrat) 
that he has no interest in becoming his Vice President
(who would ?)

Quote : It means the Second World War is finally over.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on his decision to attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.  
Does the little man believe he has still been at war with America and Britain 
for the past 59 years ?

Quote : Why be surprised that Spanish voters don’t have the stomach for war? To fight for king and country is to fight for the future, for your nation, for its children. But Spain with its birthrate of 1.1 per woman has no children, and thus no future. What’s to fight for? ” 

Freelance columnist Mark Steyn, in typical acerbic style,
hits the nail on the head 
in a piece titled, “Reproduction Rights”.  

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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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