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June 2006

ISSUE #126 - 11th June 2006


ISSUE #127 - 18th June 2006


* * *  * * *
 World Cup 2006 - NOT in Dublin, Ireland 


ISSUE #127 - 18th June 2006 [200+400 = 600]


Nuclear Power - What's Not to Like?


Death to Irritants


Let's Roll with Jake


Funny Googling


Week 127's Letter to the Press


Quotes of Week 127

Nuclear Power - What's Not to Like?
Inspired by and in
collaboration with special guest blogger John Dixon

Depending on your source, there are between 31 (The Economist and the CIA) and 44 (Reaching Critical Will, a women's anti-nuclear group) states with nuclear energy reactors.  Countries which do not use nuclear technology to generate electric power tend to fall into four categories. 


Those that are perfectly content with the situation, usually because they have sufficient alternative energy sources to satisfy their needs.  This is of course a dwindling bunch, but they tend to be blessed with abundant oil, coal or hydropower, and/or small populations.  New Zealand and Norway spring to mind. 


Those for which the enormous capital cost is alone sufficient to rule out nuclear energy, such as most of Africa. 


Those that say they need nuclear power but clearly don't.  What they actually want is nuclear technology to enable them to build nuclear weapons, either to keep up with the neighbours or to drop on places like Israel. 


Iran, for example, produces oil and gas to the tune of over six million barrels of oil-equivalent a day, out of reserves of over 300 billion.  That means it has 135 years of energy availability without doing, effectively, anything.  Spending money on expensive nuclear energy you won't need for a century is a gross waste of your citizens' patrimony.  You will do it only if you have an ulterior motive, which in Iran's case will earn it a thorough bombing before long if it doesn't change tack.   


In the fourth category are relatively rich countries which foresee a very serious energy shortfall, extreme vulnerability to imports and and no easy way out other than through nuclear.  Ireland, with little in the way of indigenous energy resources other than a puff of methane and some filthy peat, and situated at the end of a very, very long gas pipeline that begins in Siberia, is one such country, but typical of several. 

Yet in Ireland, and I suspect in many other Western countries in a similar situation, many people get a fit of the vapours at the very mention of the world nuclear.  Such people seamlessly, fearfully and stridently conflate


polluted seas


with Chernobyl explosions


with radioactive waste


with inter-continental ballistic missiles


with fear of terrorist attack by suicide bombers


with past mistakes by management and operators


with anti-war sentiments


with save-the-planet philanthropy,

as if all were one and the same.  Politicians jump to embrace the popular sentiment, prompting leaders such as Ireland's Bertie Ahern to say he opposes nuclear energy for political reasons”.  Whatever that phrase means, it certainly has nothing to do with weighting risks, costs and benefits in an informed mannerSellafield nuclear reprocessing facility

Discussion in Ireland mainly revolves around three issues: Sellafield, Chernobyl and waste disposal. 

Sellafield. This is the name of Britain's nuclear reprocessing plant which is located on the west coast opposite Northern Ireland.  Many people in Ireland are convinced that it pollutes the shared Irish Sea with nuclear waste, and is moreover a standing invitation to suicide bombers, causing radioactive fallout to blow all over Ireland (though this would be against prevailing winds).  This is all rubbish, but it did not prevent the Government, in a panic, distributing anti-fallout Iodine Tablets - Ireland's all-purpose protection strategy against nuclear annihilationiodine tablets to everyone in the country four years ago, and which we've all lost by now. 

Though Sellafield was originally built, in 1950, to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and was later adapted to become the world's first nuclear-powered electricity generator station, it ceased these activities in 1973 and 2003 respectively. Today, its role is confined to reprocessing nuclear waste.  It also degrades weapons-grade plutonium, making much of the waste reusable while vitrifying high-level radioactive waste into inert glass.  In other words, Sellafield is making the world less nuclear-dangerous, not more, which you'd think environmentalists would welcome. 

Ireland has, however, long campaigned for the closure of Sellafield, through British and EU courts and otherwise, though never with a constructive proposal for alternative disposal of the waste and plutonium.  The nearest alternate plant, were Sellafield to shut up shop, is Cap La Hague in France, which itself is less than 300 km from Ireland, so it would hardly ameliorate anything. 

Chernobyl is the second big bugbear.  The 1986 explosion was undoubtedly a terrifying and terrible event, the world's worst nuclear accident.  It killed some 47 people immediately and an unknown (and disputed) number since, perhaps 4,000; whilst its foul nuclear cloud spread across Europe and beyond.

It is therefore entirely understandable that people should ask whether it could happen again. 

But the answer is no, because nuclear technology has advanced hugely since - and largely because of - Chernobyl.  Failures provide irrefutable evidence of what not to do next time, and, learning from Chernobyl, Russia now leads the world in nuclear research and use. 

Pioneered by Russia, modern, so-called third-generation nuclear plants have, using the essentially simple pressurised water reactor concept illustrated below, corrected most of the problems of the past, with fail-safe operation and greater efficiency.

 Pressurised Water Reactor - an essentially simple process

With its older reactors reaching the end of their lives, France, for economic reasons, is opting for the EPR (European Pressurised Reactor), which is a variant of the same technology.  The UK is likely to follow suit when it decides to replace its own venerable reactors.  However debate is raging furiously over the whole nuclear energy issue - unlike in Ireland where sadly such debate is virtually taboo.  

As well as being better, safer and cheaper to run, today's third generation plants have also got smaller: three or four Russian-factory made 100 megawatt reactors would fit comfortably into a  house-size underground silo, each providing electricity for 110,000 homes.  This alone makes it a very difficult target for terrorists. 

However, the future is with FBRs - Fast Breeder Reactors. 

Since the 1950s, rudimentary FBRs have been built by America, Britain, France, the USSR and others, but they have not been much more than costly experiments.  The essence of FBR technology is the nirvana of breeding fuel by producing more fissile material than is consumed, however the trick is to do so economically.  Solving this conundrum will constitute the fourth generation of nuclear reactors.  The main fuel input for an FBR is an 80/20 mixture of the dioxides of uranium and plutonium, of which the latter can come from dismantled weapons, again helping with decommissioning.   The breeding means extreme efficiency in terms of energy extraction, and that such plants will hardly require refuelling. 

The countries most active in the development of fourth generationi FBRs are China, Russia, Japan and India.  India is also investigating the use of thorium as a fuel as it is more plentiful than uranium.

Then there is disposal of radioactive waste. This is, in fact, yesterday's problem, inasmuch as the waste all comes from yesterday's reactors.  Modern and future reactors don't produce significant amounts of waste because they simply reprocess their own waste and re-use a lot of it.  Moreover, they also reprocess and re-use the waste generated by the older technologies.  This virtuous circle will reach its zenith once the fourth generation FBRs come on line in the next 20 years or so.   

To summarise, the benign effects of the technology of modern, third-generation and upcoming fourth-generation nuclear reactors are much misunderstood by the wider public. 


They are fail-safe, meaning they shut down automatically if anything goes wrong.  


They produced 100 times more energy per kilo of uranium than their predecessors. 


Due to extensive recycling, they produce only 1% of the waste (compared with the 95% wastage of the earlier reactors). 


Consequently, there is far less of the hazardous logistical movement of radioactive material, whether fuel or waste. 


They can dispose of weapons-grade plutonium and other nasty radioactive byproducts by using them as fuel. 


What waste there is, has a half-life of only 200 years compared with 200,000 years for the longer life isotopes in “conventional” waste.


There is so much of this conventional waste in the world as well as spent fuel that the need to mine uranium will be drastically reduced for a very long time indeed.

Oh, and not to forget.  The greenhouse gas emissions of a nuclear plant are ... zero.  Many environmentalists find this a most uncomfortable fact, yet cannot deny it. 

So, nuclear power? What's not to like?   

Ireland and other energy-starved countries need to get on the nuclear-powered bandwagon fast.  But first they must embark on a huge population-education campaign that could last years.  There is probably no part of modern life that is less well understood and arouses more suspicion than modern nuclear technology as applied to peaceful ends.   

Yet it is the only solution to the world's long-term energy needs, not just Ireland's.  As I've argued previously, oil will last forever, but only at an ever-increasing price which - coupled with ever-improving technology - can only improve the economics of nuclear energy.  Those countries which learn the technology first and fastest will benefit the most. 

Late Note (November 2006)

This post talks only of energy generation by nuclear fission, ie the splitting apart of heavy atoms to produce smaller ones, which releases energy.  There is an alternative process, nuclear fusion, with few of the downsides of fission.  Nuclear fusion involves the joining together, at extreme temperature and pressure, of two kinds of hydrogen atoms to form helium, which is the very energy system used by the sun and the stars. However here on earth, despite decades of research, we have never yet managed this trick without expending more energy than is produced.  Proposed International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, about 40 metres high

Nevertheless, in November 2006, 31 countries (the EU 25, the US, Japan, India, Russia, South Korea and China), representing half the world's population, signed a €10 billion agreement to build near Marseille a huge nuclear fusion plant to be known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).  Construction will begin in 2008 and provided technical hurdles can be overcome it will start producing electricity in 2016. 

We shall see ...

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Death to Irritants

It used to be that civilised people didn't demand the death of those who irritated them.  You would argue with your adversary instead, heap insults on his head, and if you were really upset you might thump him on the jaw.  But kill him?  Demand that someone else kill him?  I don't think so. 

But it might be slowly creeping back into fashion, probably thanks to all those “Death to the infidels”, “Death to the Great Satan”, “Death to the cartoonists”  clips we've been seeing on our TV screens these past few years. 

You can see that such images might impinge on the imaginations of impressionable youngsters, and next thing they're screaming “Death to the geography teacher” or “Death to my temporary supervisor at McDonalds”. Yet that's why we have adults as our leaders and politicians, to help temper the wild impulses of the young, and to channel that energy into peaceful means of resolving conflict. 

Except it's not entirely working out that way.  It is some senior Western politicians who seem to be succumbing to the “Death to the guy that really irritates me” bug.  Youngsters have been pretty mature and temperate by comparison. 


Last year, the Reverend Pat Robertson, once upon a time a Christian fundamentalist US presidential candidate for the Republican party, called for the assassination of the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez:

You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war ... We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.

Not so Reverend now, eh, Mr Robertson?


We're all girls together.  George Galloway and his dancing partner in the Big Brother household, causing everyone acute embarrassment.  (Click to enlarge into a new window}Back in Blighty, it was the turn of the renegade left-wing MP George Galloway, noted for robotic dancing in a ghastly red leotard. Last month he said that a suicide bomber assassinating Tony Blair would be morally justified.  When asked if he would alert the authorities if he knew Mr Blair were an assassination target, he added, My goodness this is a moral maze”.  He then indicated he would blow the gaff - but only to avoid an anti-Muslim, anti-Arab backlash, and a strengthening of anti-terror resolve; certainly not to save Mr Blair's worthless life.

Mr Blair couldn't sack him from the Labour party because he had already been sacked. 


Then, earlier this month, it was the turn of New York's state comptroller, Alan Hevesi.  At a Queens College function as part of his re-election campaign, he described Senator Chuck Schumer, admiringly, as the man who - how do I phrase this diplomatically - who will put a bullet between the president's eyes if he could get away with it. The toughest senator, the best representative. A great, great member of the Congress of the United States.  In case you were still in any doubt, he later explained, by way of a peculiar apology, that he was praising the Senator's tenacity in standing up to the president on policy issues.  The Senator didn't seem to mind the macho compliments. 

They're both Democrats, but perhaps not (in spite of the forced and insincere apology) democrats. 

Whilst it should no longer surprise us that IslamoNazis want to behead the prime minister of Canada (any infidel will do), it's a sorry day when political leaders and public figures recommend murder as an appropriate way of solving mundane irritations. 

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Let's Roll with Jake

Jake Oliver's refusal to countenance robbery should be an inspiration to us allJake Oliver from Bristol was twelve years old, with a baby face, a new mobile phone and great (if not immediately apparent) attitude.  An easy target for a 95-kilo foul-mouthed mugger in a balaclava. 

But no, the mugger ended up running away in pain, clutching a hand to his bleeding nose.  Jake, you see, is a karate brown belt, who had no intention of handing over his precious phone.  So, when threatened, he drew on his karate training by sidestepping the thug's punch and delivering one of his own.  It broke his assailant's nose with a loud crack, made his eyes water and dampened his enthusiasm. 


Top marks for the boy's attitude, courage and skill. 


Bottom marks, however, to the police and to his
mum who both said he should, when threatened,
have meekly handed over his phone. 

Thanks to Jake, there is one mugger out there who will think very carefully before he next tries to menace someone.  In his own small way, Jake exhibited the same fortitude as Todd Beamer and his fellow passengers who refused to accept the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 on Nine-Eleven, and instead said Let's Roll

Jake Oliver, with his own Let's Roll” moment, should be an inspiration to us all. 

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Funny Googling

The Sunday Times recently claimed that the world's funniest joke, as determined by Hertfordshire University in 2002, was authored by Spike Milligan.  But a version of it in appeared in The Goon Show, an iconic radio show back in the 1950s, in which Spike was one of the four stars. 

But here's another thing.  If you google world's best jokes”, you'll find it top of the rankings, courtesy of this very website.  Now how did that happen?  I have no idea!

If you haven't heard the joke, it's a good one. 

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Week 127's Letter to the Press

My production  rate is slipping.  Only one letter this week, and it has not been published; at least not yet. 


Iran's Nuclear Programme

Your correspondent Derek Scally reports that Tehran says [its nuclear] programme is vital to secure Iran's future energy needs.  Hmmm.  According to the CIA, Iran produces 3.979 million barrels a day of oil out of proven reserves of 133.3 billion barrels ...

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Quotes of Week 127

Quote: Now we have the upper hand ... We believe that this is the beginning of the end of al-Qaeda in Iraq ... They did not anticipate how powerful the Iraqi security forces are and  how the government is on the attack now.” 

Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, in upbeat mood,
in light of intelligence gleaned
in the wake of the killing of of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Quote: The decisions you and your cabinet make will be determinate as to whether or not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. I'm impressed by the cabinet that you've assembled. You've assembled people from all parts of your country, representing the different religions, and the different histories and traditions. And yet the cabinet here represents the entire Iraqi people, and I appreciate your commitment to representing the people of Iraq. 

President Bush, speaking eye-to-eye in Baghdad
new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,
who had just completed formation of his cabinet

Quote: Some have said no and some have said yes and this is the reason we are not going to find a solution at this summit. 

Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen,
during a discussion at June's EU summit meeting
over what to do about the moribund constitution,
states the bleeding obvious

Quote: “If England and Spain get to the World Cup final, who are we going to support? 

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness addressing (ungrammatically)
an audience, in Spain, of Basque separatists. 
He was a guest of Batasuna, the political wing of Eta,
the terrorist group which has killed more than 800 people
in the 30 years of its own campaign for Basque independence.

Quote: Anyone can get old; all you have to do is to live long enough” 

Queen Elizabeth II quotes Groucho Marx
during her official 80th birthday celebrations on 17th June

Quote: She is very thin. I leaned forward to kiss Victoria, but there is so little of her I almost missed.”

David Cameron lampoons, ungraciously, his hostess, Victoria Posh Spice Beckham,
whom he met as a guest at the Beckham's pre-World Cup party

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

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ISSUE #126 - 11th June 2006 [217]


Good Riddance to the Beast


Ireland's Constitutional Child Rape


Resources versus Governance 


Isle of Man TT - Because It's There?


Scots Flaunt their Inferiority Complex at the World Cup


Week 126's Letters to the Press


Quotes of Week 126

Good Riddance to the Beast

The violent death of the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda's chief representative in Iraq, prime fomenter of the insurgency and a man of outrageous brutality and inhumanity - all in the name of a depraved Islam - is wonderful news.  The best thing to have emerged from Iraq since last January when an astonishing twelve million of its brave men and women voted unequivocally for democracy and against the insurgency. 

He was truly the Beast of Iraq, though this is to give beasts a bad name. 

Iraq's new Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, announced the success to a news conference on 8th June.  

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been eliminated.  What happened ... is the result of collaboration from people who facilitated the operation conducted by Iraqi police and multinational forces ...  This is a message to those who choose the path of violence to change their direction before it is too late. I thank our forces, our police and the multinational forces for what they are doing in pursuing the terrorists.

The Beast, together with Sheikh Abdel Rahman, his key lieutenant and spiritual advisor, were killed Nick Berg, beheaded personally by Al Zarqawiin an awesomely surgical American airstrike on 7th June, appropriately just after the 21st century's only day of the Biblical Beast, the Triple-Six, or 6/6/06.

No-one knows how many people he has caused the death of and has personally murdered (such as the beheaded Nick Berg - left -  and Ken Bigley).  But by most estimates they number in the tens of thousands.  

The elimination of the Beast is a huge step forward in a war renowned for its many failures, yet equally infamous for the blind eye turned to its manifold successes.  For who would ever call it a war to proud of”?  Well, actually, Professor Victor Davis Hansen would, because he compares Iraq


not with what all right-thinking people would like it to be (calm and well-run like New Zealand, say),


but with what it and the rest of the world would look like had the Coalition not invaded. 

This is the only comparison with any intrinsic merit because it looks at real alternatives rather than hypothetical wish-lists. 

So the Beast is gone.  Good riddance.  I hope someone is already enjoying the $25m bounty. 

His liquidation is another stunning achievement for the Iraqi people, the Iraqi armed forces, the electorally legitimate Iraqi government, and the Coalition helping them to build a new, democratic society.  Let us rejoice. 


Have a look at Mark Humphrys' take, and at the robust comments of Mark Steyn, Christopher Hitchens and V D Hansen over on Radio Blogger

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Ireland's Constitutional Child Rape

Ireland has been in turmoil in the past month after the Supreme Court declared (on 23rd May) that a child statutory rape law that has been in force since 1935 is unconstitutional.  Under this law, an adult was automatically guilty of rape if he/she had sex with a child who was under the age of fifteen.  Claiming that you thought the ten-year-old was in fact eighteen because she had make-up, high heels, a short skirt, a spliff and bottle of Breezer, and anyway she assented, was no defence and off to jail you went. 

Sex with a minor remains an offence, but the Supreme Court now says that the Constitution guarantees your right to argue that you made an honest mistake  over her age. 

As a result of the ruling, at least one convicted child rapist (he was 38, she was 12) was immediately released from jail and others lined up to claim similar freedom.  There was uproar, and the government rushed through new legislation, in 36 hours, to keep these repulsive individuals under lock and key, whilst honouring the constitution.  The upshot is that since the accused is now permitted to claim ignorance of the victim's age, the child is likely to have to testify in court.  This can lead to the unsavoury vista of an already traumatised minor being cross-examined by an arrogant hostile barrister about her dress, behaviour, drinking, smoking, drugs etc on the night in question. 

Little noticed is that this new constitutional loophole also opens up escape routes for other miscreants. 


If, for example, I am accused of driving whilst over the legal blood-alcohol limit of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood, I have at present no defence.  The measurement alone is sufficient to prove my guilt.  But it is now most likely unconstitutional that I should be prevented from claiming ignorance - namely that I didn't know I was over the limit. Indeed, with the non-availability of a measurement device for ordinary drivers how could I know?


The same defence could be applied to speeding: “I didn't know I was going that fast, m'Lud, I was watching the road so carefully I didn't see my speedometer”


Similarly, someone caught with more than €13,000 of drugs on him currently qualifies for an automatic ten-year sentence.  He too can now wail, “but I thought they were worth only €12,000”


Likewise, publicans and shopkeepers who sell alcohol and tobacco to underage kids can say they “honestly thought” the buyers were old enough. 

The same excuse will apply for any other offences which depend for a conviction solely on a quantitative measurement, such as age, alcohol, speed, value. 

The new legislation has approached the problem the wrong way round.  If the 1935 law on statutory rape is unconstitutional, yet has served the State satisfactorily for such a long period of time, the answer is not to change the law to align with the constitution, but the other way round. 

Altering the constitution to accommodate the 1935 law would of course require a referendum, normally a high-risk affair.  But can you imagine anyone daring to publicly oppose an amendment which reinstates as an incontestable crime the statutory rape of a minor? 

In fact, the current government, rightly under opprobrium for failing to see the child-rape débâcle coming, could in the end do very nicely out of a referendum, especially with a general election due in 2007.  For once, it can


spurn the opposition parties' overtures of assistance,


insult them to its heart's  content,


launch its referendum,


be confident of success and


claim full and sole credit afterwards. 

The opposition will have no option but to support it regardless. 

This is surely too juicy an opportunity to miss for Bertie Ahern the Taoiseach (prime minister), whom his former mentor the crook Charlie Haughey once described as the most ruthless, the most devious, the most cunning of them all”.  Insofar as a nonentity minister has already suggested such a referendum, and this has been immediately rejected by the government, you can say that a devious cunning process is already underway. 

Time alone will tell, however.  The main thing is to protect the children from adult predators. 

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Resources versus Governance 

Bill Mann has written a great Motley Fool article about about which foreign markets to select as havens for your previous investments. 

Your instinct might be to go to countries with plenty of intrinsic wealth based on abundant natural good resources, but you'd probably be wrong because you'd end up in places like Nigeria, Brazil, Russia.  In any crisis, remember that in any less-than-free society you, as a foreign investor (ie a blood-sucking barbarian looter of national treasure), will be the very last person to be given any consideration. 

It is much wiser therefore to go for countries that have good governance (such as Finland, Bermuda, Singapore) where the rule of law will deliver relatively stable currencies and give you a fighting chance of fair treatment and protection.  Of course the underlying feature of good-investment countries is a free society, from which multiple other virtues flow. 

Other examples ... 

Great Resources; 
Unfree Societies

Good governance; 
Stable Currency

Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Brunei, China, Ghana, India, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela

Bermuda, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel, Luxembourg, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan

Australia and Norway are two of the very few countries with both great resources and good governance, yet interestingly the tiny resourceless tigers of Hong Kong and Singapore are of comparable wealth (over $30,000 GDP per person). 

That's because the world's real wealth-creating resource is not oil, fertile soil, abundant minerals, fecund seas.  It is the liberated human brain. 

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Isle of Man TT - Because It's There?
By special guest blogger, Graham Hunt (in Perth, Australia)

Three men killed, two in critical condition and at least another nine hospitalised with injuries, after a number of incidents during the week.

Baghdad?  East Timor?  Gaza Strip?

Nope.  Just this year's typical Isle of Man TT week. The unfortunate dead are sidecar racer Tony Smith with his passenger Barry Pepperrell, and Japanese motorcyclist Jun Maeda

I know the IOM TT has a long tradition, is very popular, and brings a lot of tourist revenue to the island, but I find it incredible that this sort of carnage can continue to exist at a time when other forms of motorsport are going to enormous lengths to avoid such consequences.

Take Formula 1 for instance. Despite the implementation of measures designed to reduce speed, and implicitly improve safety, designers are remaining one step ahead, and it is estimated that cornering speeds at Silverstone, where the British GP is to be held next Sunday, will be up to 12 mph faster than last year's cars could achieve. Although it may appear ironic that one of the drivers, Montoya, has raised concerns about this, he's not saying that they shouldn't go that fast - he's accepting the higher speeds as part of the development of the sport, but asking that improvements be made to the run-off areas to minimise the hazard of spinning out.

Fellow driver and current world champion Fernando Alonso has also put it into perspective by saying, Then, of course, it is a question of fun. It is always a nice feeling to be attacking high-speed corners and be right on the limit.

I guess it's just not realistic to expect the Isle of Man's long street circuit to have an F1 track's standard of safety at all points, but how much longer will the annual human toll be tolerated? On the other hand, there seems to be an endless stream of riders who are prepared to take part, knowing that their chances of being killed or seriously injured are many times higher than the F1 drivers - and they're not getting paid a fortune to do it!

I see uncanny parallels between this and the annual lemming-like trek to the summit of Mount Everest where at least eleven people have died this season alone, whilst trying to fulfil lifetime ambitions on commercially organised climbs. The running average for fatalities is around 4.4%, ie 44 dead for every thousand times the summit is successfully ascended. 

Everest and the IoM TT - because they are there?

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Scots Flaunt their Inferiority Complex at the World Cup

Most people with an inferiority complex try to hide it.  I mean, if you broadcast to people that you think you're worth less than everyone else, people will end up agreeing with you even if they didn't think so to start with. 

It takes a particularly perverse mentality, therefore, to go out of your way to make sure everyone knows how ridiculous your behaviour is, how large the chip on your shoulder, how inferior your status (in your own view). 

Yet the World Cup has had precisely this effect on the Scottish nation, at least on any of its members who choose to open their mouths on the subject.  It is of course the perennial English Problem that's to blame.  In this case, it is that England is in the World Cup and Scotland isn't.  They're both members of a major political and monarchical union that has been running successfully for several centuries.  The Scots gain disproportionately from this, not only in the number of Scots who hold key industrial and political positions in England or their over-representation in parliament, but in the subvention of £1,034 that the English taxpayer is forced to hand over every year to every Scottish man, woman and child - for absolutely nothing in return, and certainly no thanks. 

It would, nevertheless, be logical to assume that in the World Cup, Scotland would support its number one partner England, just as England would support Scotland were tables reversed. 

But no. 


Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell is firmly in the ABE camp (Anyone but England), whilst Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond is backing, like many others of his countrymen, Trinidad and Tobago, which is ABE by another name. 


Andy Murray, Scotland's up and coming tennis star, whom the English will be unashamedly willing to tennis victory at Wimbledon next month, is himself unashamedly an ABE man. 


The Scotties have discovered that Jason Scotland, a black Trinidadian in a kilt, will be playing for Trinidad & Tobago in the same group that includes England.  Therefore most of them are backing T&T so they can say they are cheering for Scotland.  


Of course a few Scottish politicians for political reasons are pretending, through gritted and unconvincing teeth, they are not of ABE persuasion, notably Chancellor Gordon Brown because he wants to be prime minister of England.  Some have a lucky escape hatch, like Home Secretary John Reid who is backing Brazil because (he says!) his wife's Brazilian


Then there are the brave armed forces.  Scotties aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious are close to mutiny, because they are being made to stand on parade, for a photo-opportunity, in a formation that spells out Nelson's famous exhortation, England Expects”. 

The result of all this childishness is bemusement and amusement on the part of the English fans who, frankly, couldn't care less whether the Scotties support England or not. 

But there is only one way that the Scots can go in anyone's estimation - and that is down.  The way they are flaunting their inferiority complex over the world cup is becoming an embarrassing, self-fulfilling prophecy.   

+ + + + +

Meanwhile, for ABEs and non-ABEs alike, press the logo-button below to get a table with all the latest scores, which I'll keep updated in real time as the World Cup 2006 drama unfolds.  It's also available in the sidebar at the top right of the page. 

Click here to see all the latest scores, points and rankings

I sourced the original spreadsheet here

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Week 126's Letters to the Press

Six letters since the last issue.  One published [P!] during June, but May was a (rare) month where the papers were entirely free of my wretched letters.  


Cuba Killings
3,000 victims killed in Cuba by right-wing extremists based in Florida?  Finian McGrath TD better have firm evidence for this astounding, incredible figure.  Yet even if it were true - and it most certainly isn't - it pales beside the 73,000 fatalities ....


Not Knowing the Limits
As I understand it, the Supreme Court has ruled that under the [Irish] Constitution a valid defense for having sex with a minor is claiming to not know the child was under 16. Presumably, people can now claim the same Constitutional defence if accused of driving whilst exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit ... 


Apology over Easter Mass P!
Rev David Fraser, who from the context of his hysterical letter of May 31st is not a Roman Catholic, begins by asserting, without evidence, that "most ordinary, decent Roman Catholics are appalled at the way in which Fr Iggy O'Donovan and the other two Augustinian priests have been bullied ... I am a Roman Catholic who considers himself "ordinary and decent" and I heartily welcome the apology ... 


Promoting Books
Your exposé on the way that major bookstore chains promote books not on the basis of literary merit, but by payments they demand from publishers, is apposite and creditable.  But your editorial strangely fails to state ... 


Hunger Strikers in St Patrick's Cathedral
The Church of Ireland hierarchy should explain why it is permitting the desecration of St Patrick's Cathedral by permitting 41 Muslims to remain inside while they attempt suicide by starvation ... 


No aid for Palestinians who vote for Hamas
You report that "the EU is getting ready to go it alone and channel emergency funds to the Palestinians if talks with the US, Russia and United Nations on setting up an international mechanism for easing their financial plight fail this week". Why? ... 

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Quotes of Week 126

- - - - - - - - I R A Q - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: This violent man will never murder again. 

President Bush on the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
Beast of Iraq and al-Qaeda's leader there

Quote: “Oh, sure. There's no way we can lose [the war in Iraq] on the battlefield. The only place we can lose it is if we lose our nerve, and if we decide that it's just too tough, and we're going to toss in the towel, that the dire consequences for the world, for the region, for the Iraqi people, for the Afghan people, and for the American people, are so serious, that the thought of it is just unacceptable.” 

US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld,
when asked if he thought that America could lose the war

- - - - - - - - I R A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: “[My] letter [to President Bush] was an invitation to Islam and the prophets' culture ... an invitation to monotheism and justice, which are common to all divine prophets. If the call is responded positively, there will be no more problems to be solved”.  

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran makes clear that 
he is inviting Mr Bush to convert to Islam.  

Such an invitation is an Islamic pre-requirement, known as da’wa, 
before war can be waged against infidels. 

Draw your own conclusion about what Mr Ahmadinejad 
intends to do with his nuclear bombs once he's got them.   

- - - - - - - - P A L E S T I N E / I S R A E L - - - - - - - - - -



The principle for us remains the same. We want to address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, but we are not going to provide money to a terrorist organisation.” 

Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman.  


“A balance [should be brought] between not giving support to terrorists and easing the extremely difficult situation of the Palestinians.” 

Margaret Beckett, Britain's new foreign secretary makes a similar point.

These statements beg the question, where is the distinction?  
For it is the Palestinian people themselves 
who have voted in the Hamas terrorist organisation.  

Thus donations to the Palestinians people are, de-facto,
donations which support those who support terrorism.

Settling Palestine/Israel differences


Cartoon of
the week

The Economist,
3rd June 2005)




- - - - - - - - W O R L D   C U P   G E R M A N Y   2 0 0 6 - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg and other places where I would recommend that nobody with a different skin colour go.  They would possibly not leave there alive.” 

Uwe-Karsten Heye, head of Gesicht zeigen (= ‘Show face)
which is an anti-racist organisation,
and formerly a spokesman for the German government,
warns starkly of racist attacks during the 2006 World Cup

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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.


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