From time to time I get accosted,
outside a Church, inside a supermarket, wherever, by a young person seeking
sponsorship for a trip to the developing world, usually Africa. He/she
plans to go there with a group, perhaps from school, to build facilities for
needy locals, such as houses or classrooms or computer rooms or sports
facilities. When I say build, I mean that in the literal sense.
They will take shovels, buy bricks and cement and get to work with the hard
graft of construction, under a merciless African sun or tropical downpour,
putting up with poor accommodation, malarial mosquitoes and bouts of
diarrhoea. The purpose of the money they raise is to pay their own
airfares and subsistence, as well as the building materials they will
After their month or so, they will
depart, suntanned, leaner, stronger, wiser, leaving behind the fruit of
their honest labours, and with a real sense of achievement, having done
something for those less fortunate than themselves.
It isn't just adolescents who undertake
such activities. The Sunday Times recently ran a
story about a software entrepreneur, Tanya Goodin, who brought all her
40 employees to Cape Town on a week-long team-building exercise which was
spent constructing school facilities for deprived children. The
comment line at the end of the article positively glows with the admiration
of readers for this display of philanthropy.
Undoubtedly team spirit was much
enhanced among her staff, and like the youngsters, they all came away
feeling they had delivered something worthwhile. In this case, it was
a classroom block, some lavatories, a playground and a basketball court.
The whole enterprise cost the company £100,000 in materials, travel,
accommodation and salaries.
But such enterprises, whether by the
young or the old are little more than sanctimonious nonsense.
Since when did Africa run so short of
unskilled - or indeed skilled - construction labour that unskilled
European workers now have to be flown on a
12,000 miles roundtrip for a
week or a month?
For that is what is happening. On
a continent where the average GDP per head
works out at barely six dollars per day, or $5 if you exclude wealthy
South Africa and the oil-rich Mediterranean states, what is a city slicker
who earns several hundred dollars a day doing excavating trenches with
On the one hand, he is depriving an African of the opportunity to earn a
pittance doing the digging.
On the other, the astronomical cost of that white man's labour is such
that twenty or more locals could be employed to increase the work output
twentyfold, or probably thirtyfold because Africans, man-for-man, are
The article in the Sunday Times draws
attention to the poverty of the children whose school the software engineers
are trying to help, by pointing out that their parents are unemployed and
can't even afford to nourish them properly. The irony of not tapping
into Africa's surfeit of unused, ultra low cost, manual labourers too poor
even to feed their families properly, in order to allow unskilled Europeans
to do the job, seems to escape everyone.
According to the CIA's
World Factbook, Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from unemployment percentages
that range from the twenties (Ghana, South Africa) to the eighties
(Zimbabwe, Liberia). So if there is one thing that is really going to
help those unfortunate people it is paid work, of any nature.
If, therefore, we Westerners want to do
something to help, we should offer something that is not readily
Like managing a project using local
like teaching local people skills
that can earn them some money;
like providing sports coaching or artistic development to
help uplift spirits.
Such activities might seem less
exciting than laying bricks, but they are of infinite more value to
If, however, all I want to do is have
an interesting break in an unfamiliar country and get lots of exercise, by
all means I might as well build a schoolroom. I just shouldn't delude
myself that I'm doing it for the good of anyone but myself.
Note: I wrote
a letter to the Sunday Times
on this general theme, but it went unpublished.
Over the last decade or two, appealing to the
has become the Holy Grail of political parties throughout the West.
the good old bad old days, the political divide was clear. In that
mother of parliaments in Westminster,
to the Right of the Speaker sat those
MPs who represented the ruling, land-owning, capitalistic, money-making
class maintaining their wealth and privilege by grinding the faces of
the working poor into the ground; while
to the Left were the representatives of those downtrodden masses,
struggling to earn a pittance to keep their shivering families from
starvation, whilst the main fruit of their labour went to further enrich
Of course both pictures were always a caricature, but they helped to
mobilise people in the direction of the polling booths, and thus to give MPs
the chance of a further five years.
But gradually, each side began to see (some of) the merits of the other.
If workers became a little
bit capitalistic (eg by buying their council houses) they got richer and
life became a bit easier and more hopeful.
If employers paid a bit of
attention to their workers' grievances, morale went up and as a result
so did productivity and profits.
This became known as moving toward the centre ground. With time,
voters became exasperated with the extreme policies, whether of the
Left or Right, so politicians served up Goldilocks mixtures, a bit of
Left, a bit of
Right, stealing ideas from each other.
Today, this has reached such a stage that Europe's main parties are
almost indistinguishable from each other from a Left-Right perspective, with
their mixture of encouraging enterprise and protecting workforces.
What, for example, are the practical differences between Tony Blair's
and David Cameron's Tories?
But that doesn't mean the old Left-Right ideas and passions have gone
away. If you are of one persuasion or the other, the challenge is to
shift the balance in your preferred direction. But these days it must
be done by stealth, because if it results in damage you naturally don't want
to be blamed, but if it succeeds you also want to stay quiet so that you can
continue doing more without stirring up a fuss. Moreover, while
failure is an orphan, success has many fathers, so you will never be able to
claim sole credit in any case because so many others will be scrambling to
grab the plaudits.
The last few years have seen an interesting experiment in this process
here in that economic success that is Ireland, popularly known as the Celtic
There are two big parties, Fine Gael and Fine Fail, who wander around in
the centre without any ideology to speak of, because they are no more than relics of
opposing sides in the
Civil War of 1922/23, who garner most of their votes
from descendents of those ancient antagonists. All but one of the
small other parties are Leftish to different degrees.
The exception is the
Democrats, which broke away from Fianna Fail in 1985 as an avowedly
liberal party committed to enterprise, free trade, capitalism and low taxes.
This caught the imagination of many voters and as a result the PDs found
themselves in coalition with Fianna Fail almost continuously from 1989 to
2007. Punching well above their weight, they had a huge
influence in persuading Fianna Fail to encourage foreign investment, open up
the economy, cut trade barriers and reduce taxes, all shibboleths of the
Right, and to this extent they
were largely responsible for the unprecedented economic boom that ensued.
But Fianna Fail naturally claimed all this as its own, while no other party
dared rubbish policies that had made the Irish the wealthiest in Europe (GDP
$44,500 per person) after oil-rich Norway and miniscule Luxembourg,
richer even than the US ($44,000).
had moved smartly to the Right, but was still called the centre.
Things were going swimmingly, everyone who wanted a job could get one,
people had money to spend. Because of the low tax rates, tax revenues
were soaring beyond projection year after year, which prompted the Taoiseach
in 2005 to
declare (somewhat irrationally) that
“the era of tax-cutting was over”.
Then, last year, the PDs caused outrage among all the other parties by
announcing that stamp duty (9%) on house sales was too high, the state
didn't need the annual €2.6 billion it generates, and so it should be
abolished as it acts as sand in the wheels of house conveyancing (true).
Also, they said, income tax should come down (again).
But the loss of
revenue would ruin public services and victimise the poor, everyone
exclaimed in horror. The PDs were shouted down.
But guess what? In the general election a few weeks ago, every
single party's manifesto contained pledges to reduce stamp duty and/or
income tax. Even rabidly Marxist
Féin tabled some modest tax-reduction measures and notably avoided
proposing tax increases.
After the election, mighty Fianna Fail once again emerged as the party with most seats, so
formed a coalition with its previous partners, the PDs, but also with a
newly invigorated Green party. Within days of taking office, the new
team were reducing stamp duty (albeit only for first time buyers) and
promising income tax cuts to follow for both rich and poor.
But the irony is that the PDs, having convincingly won this argument, lost four of
their six seats. Why was this so if their ideas are so popular?
Because their ideas are no longer their ideas; they are now everyone's.
The centre ground, thanks to their inspiring leadership over the past two
decades has shifted dramatically to the Right, though everyone still calls
it the centre (don't want to frighten the horses). Thus, the PDs have
effectively worked themselves out of a job; their success has made them
superfluous. Their only chance for survival is therefore to develop,
once more, exciting new ideas that set them apart from the mainstream and get them
For their part, the Leftwing Labour party has experienced its own
epiphany, but from a different perspective. It has steadily lost the
Leftwing argument to the PDs and is thus rapidly becoming a redundant party
of little more than bad-tempered protest. Too many of its traditional
trade-unionist cohorts are busy enjoying their new-found, capitalist-generated wealth, to want to
upset the economic apple-cart.
A new dynamic has appeared in 2007, however, because the
Greens returned six
parliamentarians, making them the new kingmakers in place of the PDs.
As a result, they have entered Government for the first time, and secured
three ministerships, including of course that of the Environment. But in my view, this means we will undoubtedly
see them eventually suffer a similar fate as the PDs. That is because
more and more people are becoming convinced by the
green agenda, whether it
is the big one of climate change and carbon footprints, or less headline
grabbing measures such as the need to
cut down on peat, coal, oil
and gas - hydrocarbons are dirty, finite and expensive;
make greater use of
renewables - solar, wind, geo, bio etc;
preserve and protect the
world's natural habitats and wildlife;
farm in a way that minimises
recycle wherever possible;
pick up our litter.
The Greens are passionate about these things; the rest of us generally
support them but with perhaps less enthusiasm and effort.
Nevertheless, now that the Greens are in government, more and more of their
green objectives will be adopted into legislation, while the other parties
too will embrace the new, popular greenery wherever they can.
Of course, the Greens also espouse a lot of socialist and anti-war (ie
pro the other side) nonsense, but within government most of this will be
mercilessly squeezed out of them by their Right-leaning partners. So
the Greens will perforce turn a shade of
blue, while the other parties get a
strong tinge of green.
And come the next election in five years, the Greens will have so
persuaded the rest of us of the errors of our (dirty) ways, that they will
have nothing new to say. Like the PDs, unless they then come up with
something radically innovative (and sensible) they will have made themselves
superfluous, a victim of their own success.
The diagram above illustrates, with judicious use of
colours, the dynamic of Ireland's smaller parties, as this has developed
over the past twenty years and continues in to the future. Note how
“Centre” has slowly shifted with time, silently like a sand dune, to the
Right and towards Greenery.
One thing is sure. When the next ballot rolls
around in 2012, the ruling Fianna Fail will call itself, then as now as
a “centrist party of the people”,
and certainly not a bunch of right-wing
greenophiles. And the other
parties will by and large have manifestos that tend Rightward
and Greenward, whatever they may say to
However, because of the change of landscape and the
widespread support for such leanings, such a mixture will in fact constitute
the new centre ground.
It will then be up to the minority parties -
Labour, the PDs, the
Greens - to dream up new, distinctive raisons d'etre, or to
Such are the perils of the shifting sands of the mythical centre
Most public discourse about Israel paints Israel as the
oppressor, the human rights abuser, the ruthless over-armed enemy of
peace-yearning Palestinians. The latter are undeserving victims,
condemned to live in squalid refugee camps, without jobs, prevented from
free movement by the occupier, refused their own state, denied the
possibility of returning to their own home towns and villages from which
they and their forebears were brutally expelled in 1948 by the ruthless
Israeli military machine.
To those who subscribe to this view, and indeed those
that don't, I would suggest studying the high-quality latest video put
together by the Terrorism Awareness Project. It's a pro-Israel
organisation, but that does not detract from the video's veracity.
Really Happened in the Middle East”,
and all statements and quotations are backed up with references.
Getting thrown into the boot of a car (or trunk, as Americans prefer) is
for many abductors the preferred method of moving you from A to B, whether
it be by insurgents in Iraq or drug-dealers in Los Angeles. Why it
even happened in a recent episode of a TV soap, the ghastly
So here are some easy tips for escaping. Of course you must print
off this particular post and keep a copy in your pocket at all times,
together with a small torch and spare batteries, so you can read it in the
dark of the boot ...
If you are in a boot that has no wall separating the
backseats and the boot, try to get the seats down.
Although the release for most seats is inside the
passenger compartment, you may be able to fold or force them down from
the boot side. (If not, continue to step 2.)
Check for a boot cable underneath the carpet or
Many new cars have a mechanical boot release lever
on the floor below the driver's seat. These cars should have a cable
that runs from the release lever to the boot. Look for the cable
beneath carpeting or upholstery, or behind a panel of sheet metal.
If you locate the cable, pull on it to release the boot latch. (If not,
continue to the next tip.)
Look for a tool in the boot.
Many/most cars have emergency kits inside the boot,
underneath or with the spare tyre. These kits may contain a screwdriver,
flashlight, or pry bar. Use a screwdriver or pry bar to pry the latch
open. You can also pry the corner of the boot lid up and wave and yell
to signal passersby. (If there is no tool, continue to the next step.)
Dismantle the car's brake lights by yanking wires and
pushing or kicking the lights out.
Then wave and yell to signal passersby or other
cars. This method is also recommended if the car is moving and you need
to signal cars behind you.
But be aware ...
No car boot is airtight, so the danger of
suffocation in the boot is low. Breathe regularly and do not panic.
Panic increases the danger that you might hyperventilate and pass out.
Keep in mind, however, that on a hot day the interior temperature of a
car boot can reach 60°C (140°F).
So work quickly but calmly.
Just thought you'd like to know this tip from a
Only one letter this week, to the Sunday Times, and it
wasn't published, probably because it was regarded as being nasty to
well-meaning people doing stuff in Africa. This week's lead post,
“Do-Gooders Building Buildings in Developing World”,
expands on the theme of the letter.
Unskilled Labour Flown into Africa
British entrepreneur Tanya Goodin felt pleased to have
brought her 40 employees to Cape Town on a week-long team-building
exercise spent constructing school facilities for deprived children.
Undoubtedly team spirit was much enhanced among her staff, but she
deludes herself if she thinks did anything much for Africa ...
“This attack was planned and carried out by sick souls.”
Sheikh Saleh Al-Haidari,
imam of the Shia Khulani Mosque in Baghdad, where at least 78 people were
killed and 218 injured
in a bomb attack on his mosque
Quote: “The level of gross, unrelenting and gratuitous
violence is unacceptable.”
John Kelleher, surely
commenting on the same bomb
or something similar.
But no, he is
Ireland's Film Censor,
with better things to worry about than real-life violence.
He is explaining why he's
banned a video-game,
I thought the days were gone when
adults could be banned from playing games.
Seems Irish grownups aren't considered to have grown up yet.
“This insulting, suspicious and improper act by the
British government is an obvious example of fighting against Islam.”
Ebrahim Rahimpour, Iran's
foreign ministry director for Western Europe,
high commissioner in Islamabad
for the effrontery of awarding Salman Rushdie
a knighthood for services to literature.
Of course, he said nothing
those who have put an £80,000 bounty on Mr Rushdie's head,
or Pakistan's religious affairs ministerMohammed Ijaz ul-Haq,
who said a suicide attack would he
or the still extant death fatwa
imposed by the late unlamented
- - - - - - - - - - G A Z A - - - - - - - - - -
“He is the president of all the Palestinians. He has
spoken out for moderation. He is a voice that is a reasonable voice
amongst the extremists in your neighbourhood.”
President George Bush, speaking about Mahmoud
also known as Abu Mazen.
Four years ago, I referred to Mr Abbas as
Great Hope for Palestinians”
because, while hating Israel (which he is entitled to),
he is also a pragmatist who wants the best outcome for his people.
I think that's still the case,
though delivery of a peaceful solution remains a very long way off.
“If this problem is not resolved, we are facing another
nakba, a catastrophe, but this time made by our own hands.”
“That’s not Islam. That’s evil and hypocrisy. How ironic
that Israel is rescuing us from our Muslim
Zecharia Alrai, 39, an officer in Fatah’s elite Force 17 commando
recovering in an Israeli hospital,
from a punishment shooting in the leg by Hamas
- - - - - - - - - - E U - - - - - - - - - -
“France and the Netherlands voted No. For the
constitution to enter into force, the totality [of European
member states] would have to ratify it. The totality will
not ratify it. The constitution is dead. That is clear.”
France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, states
before proposing to revise it,
with cosmetic changes and no pesky referendum.
It now appears he's got what he wanted.
“Please avoid appearing as blocking. This is not
intelligent. This is not in [your] interests.”
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso
tells the Poles, just because of their
“square root or die”
declaration, that they're unintelligent,
That must certainly have garnered their co-operation!
- - - - - - - - - - E N V I R O N M E N T - - - - - - - - - -
Other than large scale loss of life, what have these
events got in common?
Vikings' widespread rape and pillage in the 8th-11th centuries
The rise of
the British and other European empires in the 18th and 19th centuries
mass death and emigration following the famine of the 1840s
violence of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917
violence accompanying the Hitler and Mussolini movements of the 1920s
violence of Mao's revolution in the 1930s
mayhem in the Gaza Strip, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia
genocide in Darfur
In each case, there was/is a demographic youth bulge,
which can be defined as “30% of the population being between 15 and 29
years”. In particular it means that 30% of the males are in the
prime of youth.
So far OK.
The 7/7 London bombers,
in order to kill 52 innocents, combined
three relatively harmless domestic chemicals - hair bleach (hydrogen
peroxide), nail polish remover (acetone), acid from a car battery (sulphuric)
- which then turned into the deadly explosive
Similarly, the youth bulge seems to be one ingredient
of another deadly explosive mixture. The other two otherwise harmless
(indeed beneficial) components appear to be sufficient food not to be hungry
and a modicum of education to give you a sense of the world around you.
Young men are famously aggressive and full of hormones,
each of whom wants some success and recognition in life. That is,
unless he is so hungry he can think only of food, or of such limited mental
development that he doesn't really see the attraction of personal
But when there is an excess of young men in a society,
and they are reasonably well fed and aware, something often - in the absence
of sufficient opportunities at home - happens.
Thus it was that the Vikings and European imperialists,
with famously high birthrates, exported their well-fed excess males to
kill/replace/dominate other males in foreign lands.
The Irish bulge, on the other hand, accompanied as it
was by poor nutrition at the best of times and starvation when the potato
blight struck, was solved either by death or by flight abroad. The
hungry young males simply didn't have the energy to pick fights or foment
But the violent upheavals at home that took place in
Russia in 1917, in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and in China in the 1930s,
that in each place fostered the rise and flowering of pernicious ideologies
and foul tyrants, coincided with youth bulges, (relatively) replete bellies
and a modicum of schooling.
In the modern day, the example of the combustible mix
that, right now, jumps out of our TV screens every day is Gaza, once an
Israeli settlement by the sea, now little more than a terrorist squat
consumed by a savage civil war. The three ingredients?
age there is
about 16, with women bearing up to ten children, so the place is
awash with unemployed youth-bulgers, half of them of course male.
are not hungry - the
UNWRA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near
East), the only UN agency created, in 1949, for a specific set of
refugees, makes sure of that.
all go to school, thanks to the same UNWRA and its 28,000 staffers, as
well as subsidies from the US, EU and others.
So, without the organization or military prowess to
successfully invade and conquer others, they are fighting and killing each
other in the time-honoured fashion, and will probably continue to do so
until the excess of young males has culled itself sufficiently through
wanton if rational violence.
But note how UNWRA and other do-gooders are
contributing to the problem with their no-strings-attached, never-ending aid
(an annual $127m for Gaza alone, being 46% of UNWRA's
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the EU earmarked another
€60 million for this year for Gaza and only suspended the giving earlier
in the month when the fighting became so ferocious their aid workers had to
Here is a table of interesting statistics gleaned from
The low median ages in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia
mean they are, like Gaza, basically swarming with aware (largely
literate), hyped-up teenagers for whom food is not the overwhelming
preoccupation, and who have little to do but cause trouble.
Iran, on the other hand, passed this point back in the
1980s. At the height of its war against Iraq, the ruling mullahs happily
sent thousands of surplus, overactive youngsters to their doom by using them
as cannon fodder in the trenches and human mine clearers. The
demographic age-spread is better balanced today and the birth rate has
dropped below the replacement level, so it's future looks less excitable,
despite the nuclear aspirations of its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The figures for the West Bank go some way towards
explaining why it is a little calmer than Gaza.
But I add in Zimbabwe to show that the equation of
youth + food + education = trouble
is not water-tight. Or perhaps Robert Mugabe,
through his iron fist and ruthless willingness to kill his own citizens, is
able to keep a lid on an otherwise combustible mix.
That was certainly Saddam's methodology before his
downfall. Bob Woodward, in his new book
quotes Saddam giving
deadly advice to Saudi Arabia's Prince Fahd about dealing with
“Kill [all of them] ... Every man in this group
who has a brother or father – kill them. If they have a cousin who you
think is man enough to go for revenge, kill him ... You must spread the
fear of God in everything that belongs to them, and that’s the only way
you can sleep at night.”
theory behind the equation is not my own. I only came across the
concept of a youth bulge and what it can lead to when I read a recent
English translation of an interview with a German sociology professor,
Gunnar Heinsohn of the University of Bremen. In 2003, he published “Söhne
und Weltmacht: Terror im Aufstieg und Fall der Nationen” [Sons and
World Domination: Terror in the Rise and Fall of Nations]. It is said
to be sensational and politically incorrect, though largely unheard of in
the English-speaking world.
The professor believes that 80% of world history is
about young men in nations with a surplus of sons, creating trouble. This
trouble may take many forms —
in domestic crime,
genocide to secure for themselves the positions that
belonged to those they kill,
new territory, killing the enemy population and replacing it with one’s
I tried to illustrate some of this in my opening
The brutal conclusions he draws is that we in the West
must therefore stop incentivising high birthrates, whether in troublespots
such as Gaza or among marginalised immigrant populations, and we should
close off much foreign aid to countries with a youth bulge. This means
the young men will either become listless and non-violent through hunger, or
else kill themselves off until their numbers match society’s ability to
provide positions for the survivors.
And unless Europe's laissez-faire immigration policies
shift to a strictly abilities basis, most European countries will hollow out
into chaotic immigrants slums with enclaves of elderly natives. Faced
with ever-rising taxes required to support not only their own rapidly ageing
populations but also the 30% of immigrants who are unskilled or unwilling to
work, the talented native populations will simply emigrate to the welcoming,
merit-based Anglo-Saxon worlds of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
exacerbating the problem they are escaping from. In fact, this is
already happening in the Netherlands, Poland, France, Germany and elsewhere.
And when unskilled people from the developing world try
to enter the Anglo countries, where meritocratic points systems assess the
suitability of would-be immigrants, they are politely refused but quietly
reminded that it will be much easier for them to get into Europe.
The more this process continues, moreover, the less
easy will it be for European countries to attract talent from other corners
of the world, such as the Far East. For what clever person is going to
immigrate, knowing the burden he/she will have to bear of a huge and growing
It's a depressing scenario, and Prof Heinsohn offers
little by way of comfortable solutions for Europeans. Cut welfare at
home, cut aid abroad, exhort native Europeans to produce more babies,
discriminate against unskilled immigrants, turn a blind eye to foreign
conflict when driven by a youth bulge.
Imagine how any European politician would be torn to
shreds by the media and multicultural élites were he/she ever brave enough
to propose some or all of such a programme.
Meanwhile, the demographic youth bulge
continues to work its malign magic, not only in far away places, but also
among immigrant communities living within Britain, France, Scandinavia,
Germany, Holland and other countries. Examples?
The 7/7 London bombing?
Demographic youth bulge
(in a closed Pakistani community within Britain)
The car-burning riots in Paris in 2005?
Demographic youth bulge
(in North African immigrant banlieus in northern Paris)
Once again, BBC's
made compulsive viewing as sixteen would-be young candidates applied for a
senior job with Sir Alan Sugar, boss of electronics giant
Week by week, they were mercilessly whittled down by Sir Alan, until just two remained, Simon
(Ambrose) and Kristina (Grimes).
The bets were all that Irishwoman Kristina would win,
as she was undoubtedly the more capable contestant, in terms of maturity,
ability, common sense, power of analysis, vision, ambition, courage and
above all potential to grow even better.
I knew the Cambridge graduate with the posh accent would become Sir Alan's
Apprentice, despite the latter's known disdain for anyone who speaks
woz you thinking?”
as he regularly demands). And so I was able to collect on all the bets I laid.
The reason Simon defeated Kristina
Firstly, this was the third show
of the series. The first was won by a black guy, the second by a white
single mother. Therefore it certainly wasn't going to be won by
another white single mother, so it had to be the white guy, posh accent or
second reason I backed Simon
was due to a personality characteristic of Sir Alan that I
described two years ago after the first series ended:
Alan is a bully who likes to surround himself with yes-men, and
yesmanship is a more important quality to him than potential. He fears
“gobby” people like Paul and Saira
(to use Saira's own
self-description), who are prepared to stand up to him and tell him he's
wrong about something and why.
Like most bullies, he can dish
it out but he can't take it.”
Simon, bright and capable lad that
he undoubtedly is, is respectful and submissive.
Kristina on the other hand is
prepared to stand up for herself when the occasion, in her judgment,
Sir Alan is afraid of such people,
very afraid. So Kristina had to go.
It was all so predictable.
In the same vein, next year's
winning Apprentice will be a brown-skinned woman, without
children, who has a polite attitude and a regional accent. Anyone want
to place an early bet?
Here is a great way to remove money from your friends and relatives.
Explain to them the five-coin trick described in the video below.
Tell them what they have to do. Show them how to do it. Several
times. Then offer them say €$£20 if they can do it without cheating,
but they have to pay you say €$£1 if they fail. Keep showing them how
to do it (though do it fairly rapidly, with no explanatory words).
Keep making the offer. And watch your €$£s, and their frustration,
mount up. They'll never get it right. If you don't like the
sound of money, use beer as your currency, but eventually you'll be too
drunk to remember the astonishingly simple routine yourself.
It's not even a trick, just a pattern of five easy moves. See for
Paisley Remarks on Gays
Ian Paisley Junior said he did not hate gays but was
by what they do. I would challenge your heterosexual readers to think
long and hard (so to speak) about the act of buggery, in all its detail,
and then ask themselves, honestly, whether they find it repulsive. Of
course gays probably find ...
Debt, Aid and Development
Barry Walsh trots out standard leftwing fare without much
regard to realities. He lectures us that “unscrupulous”
multinationals (such as Shell) exploit natural resources through “dubious”
contracts with developing country regimes (eg Nigeria); Western
governments are “so-called" democratic; their behaviour results
in "abject poverty" in the developing world and perhaps civil
war. However western multinationals are so open to scrutiny that ...
Debt, Aid and DevelopmentP!
In placing the blame for developing world debt entirely on the lenders
with not a word of censure for the illegitimate regimes which actually
took out the borrowings, Nessa Ní Chasaide, Co-ordinator of the Debt and
Development Coalition Ireland, casually refers to
“the members of the undemocratic G8 club”. Other
than perhaps Russia, these are not only the most successful big
- - - - - - - - - - A B O R T I O N - - - - - -
- - - -
“This policy will not be made public
at this time. There is to be no proactive external
publication of the policy position or of the fact of its adoption
issued. This means no section or structure is to issue a press
release or public statement or external communication of any kind on
the policy decision.”
which campaigns for
internationally recognized human rights,
issues a secret statement to selected members
not to reveal that it has decided to adopt a pro-abortion position.
So the human rights of the unborn are not to be defended.
It also issued a
two-page overview of the policy and a FAQ sheet
as damage control materials should the news leak out.
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“This sets a serious precedent. This
means that every head of state could meet a similar fate.”
Qaddafi, dictator of Libya,
nervously contemplates the forthcoming trial of
his protégé Charles Taylor, former dictator of Liberia,
for crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil
It will take place in The Hague in the same UN complex
that allowed Slobodan Milosovic to die in custody.
Interestingly, this is the same perspicacious Qaddafi who,
after the invasion of Iraq, surrendered his nuclear progamme,
having told Silvio Berlusconi, then the
Prime Minister of Italy and President of the European Union,
I will do whatever the Americans want,
because I saw what
happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.
“The past era has ended and will not return.
The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived.”
Islam Shahawan, a jubilant Hamas spokesman
revels in victory over Fatah at Gaza
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- - - - -
“The elections that brought Mr Yar'Adua to office last
month were so badly run and marred by such widespread rigging that
they lacked even a pretence of democratic plausibility.”
The (subscription-only) Economist comments
on the latest election in Nigeria that
bestowed the presidency on Umaru Yar'Adua
“I would like to clearly state that we are as serious as
we can be about the square root proposal. We are ready to die for
minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski
(not to be confused with
his identical twin brother Lech, the president)
argues that the EU should adopt
a curious voting system
weighted in accordance with
the square root of the population.
- - - - - - - - - - P O L A N D - - - - - - -
- - -
“What amazes me is all these people who walk around with
their mobile phones and never stop moaning.”
65-year-old Polish railway worker Jan Grzebski
observes, in wonderment, the world of 2007,
as he awakes from a 19-year coma
caused by having been hit by a train.
Though Capitalism, democracy and prosperity
have replaced Poland's Communism, tyranny and penury,
people still moan just as much as they used to in Soviet times.
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- - -
“This house is sovereign, this house is Pope.”
The rabidly Protestant
“Rev ” “Dr” Ian Paisley Sr,
Northern Ireland's new First Minister,
finds a peculiar analogy to
defend the integrity of Northern Ireland's parliament.
Earlier this year,
Canadians David Mata, a barrister and David Kilgour, a member of parliament,
published a comprehensive, magisterial, two hundred page report into a
little known perversion of the illegitimate Chinese Communist regime led by
Hu Jintao. Its title is fully descriptive:
I would recommend reading
the full report, with all its appendices and references. But if you
don't have the time, I have summarised its main, shocking findings, and
added a few titbits of my own.
Whilst the focus of the
report is the invidious extraction and sale of body organs from live Falun
Gong practitioners and their concomitant murder, the authors set this crime
in the context of the litany of crimes against humanity perpetrated by
Chinese Communists throughout their six-decade reign of terror, solely to
enrich and defend the Party and its élite. China’s Communist regime has
killed more innocents than Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia combined, 70
million of its victims the result of a single person, Mao Tse Tung,
truly the most evil human ever to have walked the earth. I prepared this chart in 2005
from available data, before Jung Chang published her magisterial
The Unknown Story”
and revealed the true, ghastly statistic of 100m.
Yet even in today's
post-Mao era of headlong economic development and globalised trade,
girl children in China are killed, abandoned and neglected in massive
torture is widespread;
the death penalty is both extensive and arbitrary;
more people are executed than in all other countries combined;
religious belief is violently suppressed.
Transplant hospitals are
both private and military, in either case run for profit and financed by
transplant recipients. For example, Beijing's
Armed Police General Hospital boasts that it makes
some 30m yuan ($4m) a year from transplants.
Their most lucrative market is foreign “transplant tourists” who
cannot get, or afford, the operation at home (usually due to organ
has no organized system of voluntary organ donation. The immediate
source of transplant organs is, apart from a few traffic accident victims,
prisoners condemned to death. But the Chinese system is such that
no-one enquires too deeply whether a particular prisoner, whose heart,
lungs, liver, kidneys and eyes have been harvested, was in fact sentenced to
death. By definition, prisoners have no human rights in China.
Moreover, you can be sentenced to death merely for non-violent political or
Nevertheless the temptation to look further afield than prisoners sentenced
to death is, it seems, irresistible. That's where the Falun Gong come
transplant surgery in China over the past few years has become a booming
business, with, for example, over 500 liver transplant centres alone
(typical price $100,000 per liver). China reported no fewer than 200,000
organ transplants in 2005, putting it second only to the USA in number.
Where is and
who is China's large donor population? The transplant count far
exceeds what is available from the
miniscule voluntary donors plus the number of executed prisoners (up
to 10,000 according to Amnesty International).
overwhelming majority of prisoners of conscience in Chinese prisons are
Gong, which the authorities denounce as an “evil
cult”. But it bears none of the
characteristics of a cult, not even a formal membership system. It
simply amounts to methods of meditation through exercises intended to
improve physical and spiritual health and fitness, without a whisper of
ideology or politics. Its only meetings are when adherents get together to
do their exercises. Its biggest sin seems to have been that in 1999 it had
70 million such adherents, compared to only 60m members of the Communist
Party of China. This fed Communist paranoia, and led to
the poisonous policy of “defaming their
reputations, bankrupting them financially and destroying them physically”.
Incitement to hatred, redolent of Jews in Hitler's
Germany, became official policy,
and indeed has managed to reduce sympathy among the general population.
Massive arrests followed, with Falun Gong adherents
re-education-through-labor camps with a capacity
300,000, where thousands of them died.
When arrested, large numbers of adherents refuse to identify
themselves for fear of persecution of their families and friends. They
become particularly vulnerable to abuse - and organ harvesting -
since no-one on the outside has a clue where they are or even if they are in
Falun Gong adherents brought into custody are routinely
singled out for blood and organ testing, unlike other detainees. The
purpose is patently not for the sake of improving the adherents' health; it
can only be for future organ donation.
today constitute a prison population whom the Chinese authorities
habitually vilify, dehumanize, depersonalize, marginalize even more
than prisoners sentenced to death for criminal offences.
It is in
this environment that China, unlike any other country, finds itself
awash in living organs for transplant, as attested by the short waiting
times of just
a week or a month that its hospitals advertise, compared with
2-4 years in, say, Canada. This is only explicable if you have a bank
of live donors waiting to be killed for their organs. Why, one Chinese
admits“Our organs do
not come from brain death victims because the state of the organ may not be
Falun Gong prisoners are the obvious, and - with 70m practitioners -
virtually unlimited, source.
The transplant operations are conducted in conditions
of exceptional secrecy, often in the middle of the night by surgeons the
patients have never met, and this
even for wealthy foreign patients who have flown in especially for
the operation. Since the Chinese government has
admitted using executed prisoners for
organ transplants, why the secrecy - unless live Falun Gongers are being
dispatched for their organs?
The western world seems to adopt a “see no evil hear
no evil” attitude.
Most western doctors endorse transplant tourism or
at least ask no questions;
no laws that restrict dubious transplant practices
at home extend extra-territorially (unlike, for example,
western pharmaceutical companies happily sell
in large quantities to the Chinese;
some western healthcare organisations (government
and private) fund Chinese transplants for their citizens/subscribers, as
well as their after-care.
mind that there is no national network
for the matching and sharing of organs. On the other hand, if you
phone a Chinese hospital wanting to talk to someone about getting a
transplant for yourself, you're quite likely to be put through to the local
prison or court, because that's where harvested organs are distributed.
Sometimes you will be told that there are several suitable, living Falun
Gong adherents available. Under-cover investigators have recorded
telephone conversations to this effect across China with hospital, court and
prison officials, and even with doctors.
The methodology appears to be that a Falun Gong
selected for his suitable blood and tissue matches. He is
then anaesthetised and, while still alive, his organs are removed to meet
the immediate demand of the paying patient. Of course he does not survive
the experience and his body is then cremated, destroying all evidence.
This image of 44-year-old Wang
Bin, in October 2000, just after his organs, including heart and brain, were
removed and he was crudely re-sown, is one of the very few pieces of
photographic evidence of such crimes.
The authors believe that there has been and continues today to be
large scale organ seizures
(kidneys, livers, corneas, hearts all command high prices) from
unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.
This damning picture emerges not from any one single item of proof, but
rather from piecing together a great deal of disparate yet verifiable,
usually incontestable evidence, while noting the singular absence of “disproofs”.
The report ends with a
list of recommendations. They are so
pertinent, comprehensive and pithy that I cannot summarise them. But
the list is not very long, so here it is.
current form of dialogue between Canada and China over human rights should
cease. In hindsight, the Canadian Government erred in agreeing to the talk
fests in exchange for Canada no longer co-sponsoring the yearly motion
criticizing China's government at the then UN Human Rights Commission.
detention facilities, including forced labour camps, must be opened for
international community inspection through the International Committee for
the Red Cross or other human rights or humanitarian organization.
China and every other state now party to the Convention against Torture,
including Canada, should accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention
Organ harvesting in China from prisoners should cease.
The military in China should get out of the organ transplant business.
Organ harvesting of unwilling donors where it is either systematic or
widespread is a crime against humanity. Criminal authorities in China
should investigate the charge of organ harvesting from unwilling donors for
Foreign states should enact extra-territorial legislation penalizing
participation in organ harvesting without consent.
State medical funding systems should deny reimbursement for commercial organ
transplants abroad and aftercare funding for those benefiting from such
Any person known to be involved in trafficking in the organs of prisoners in
China should be barred entry by all foreign countries.
Until China stops harvesting organs from prisoners of any sort,
i) foreign governments should not issue visas
to doctors from China seeking to travel abroad for the purpose of training
in organ or bodily issue transplantation,
ii) foreign medical transplant personnel should
not travel to China for training or collaboration in transplant surgery,
iii) contributions to scholarly journals on
transplant research drawn from the Chinese experience should be rejected,
iv) medical professionals abroad should
actively discourage their patients from travelling to China for transplant
v) pharmaceutical companies should not export
anti-rejection drugs or any other drugs solely used in transplantation
surgery to China,
vi) foreign states should ban the export of
anti-rejection drugs or any other drugs solely used in transplantation
surgery to China.
The onus should be on foreign professionals to determine beyond any
reasonable doubt that the source of organ donation in China is voluntary
before there is any referral to China or any cooperation with China relating
to organ transplants.
The medical profession in every foreign country should set up a voluntary
reporting system to accumulate aggregate data about patients who have
travelled to China for transplants.
Chinese hospitals should keep records of the source of every transplant.
These records should be available for inspection by international human
Every organ transplant donor should consent to the donation in writing.
These consents should be available for inspection by international human
The Government of China should promote voluntary organ donation from its own
Foreign states should issue travel advisories warning its population that
organ transplants in China are sourced almost entirely from unconsenting
prisoners, whether sentenced to death or Falun Gong practitioners.
The repression, imprisonment and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners
The harvesting of organs of Falun Gong practitioners should cease.
Governmental, non-governmental and inter-governmental human rights
organizations should take seriously the charges this report addresses and
make their own determinations whether or not they are true.
The Chinese of
course deny everything in the report. But they have apparently managed
to disprove only two items in an earlier edition of it: that two cities
mentioned in the report are attributed to the wrong provinces.
It is a truly
I am grateful to
a Chinese gentleman in Australia who stumbled upon my site. My Pet Hate, the
“unlawful killing and harming of humans”
seemed to appeal to him.
Having read a post
China's Great Famine, the handiwork of Mao,
he kindly provided me with the link to the report
but wishes to remain anonymous.
Late Note (6th June 2007)
This story just gets worse and worse the more you
research it. The
Epoch Times is an international newspaper that provides uncensored
coverage of events in China. It has
described in further detail not only the grisly process of organ
harvesting, but also that China exports live donors, overwhelmingly
Falun Gongers, who are harvested, killed and cremated in other
countries. The key to all this is that fake identities are
created, and donor consent forms are signed in the fake names, which
presumably satisfies the sensibilities of the foreign hospitals and
Primary responsibility for organ harvesting and trade
rests with the Chinese military, who not only seem to be very well
organised compared to the State, but also maintain a strict and
effective omerta with death for those who break it.
It described how Peter, a veteran of the second world war's Arctic
Convoys, which shipped - at great peril from German U-boats - war materials,
food and liberated POWs to northern Russia, had been denied a Russian medal
recognizing his bravery in 1944. At least six other Irish veterans of
the Arctic Convoys had been so honoured some years previously.
The reason, conveyed to him unofficially, was that he had caused offence
by writing three uncomplimentary accounts of some of the things he had
observed during his voyages to Murmansk and Archangel, within the Arctic
Circle in Northern Russia.
I concluded my
post by observing that
Peter also writes much that is complimentary about Russia, particularly
its artistic prowess, this counts as naught compared to the offence
[the Russians] have taken. As does his long and supportive
involvement with the Ireland-USSR Society. Also of no value, in
their eyes, is the fact that he risked life and limb helping their
countrymen in their hour of need, and as a volunteer not a conscript ... Hell hath no fury like a Russian confronted with an
however, the Russian Embassy wrote to Peter inviting him to be presented
with a medal recognising what he had done and risked in 1944 to help the
USSR. In the Embassy, following a small speech by the First Secretary
(the Ambassador happened to be overseas), who accurately and with gratitude
described Peter's contribution during the
“Great Patriotic War of 1941-45”,
he pinned to the lapel of Peter's jacket a gold medal on a red, gold and
black ribbon. On one side, it bears a big “60”, to commemorate
six decades since the war ended. Peter was undisguisedly thrilled at
this gracious gesture.
For my part, I
unreservedly withdraw and apologise for my disparaging comments in Issue
#150, and salute the Russian Embassy for their
And I congratulate
Peter for the well-deserved recognition of his courage.
Last month, Junior got himself in hot water with the press in an interview
Hot Press. He's clearly
off-message when it comes to homosexuality:
“I am, unsurprisingly, a straight person.
I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I
think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it -
harm society. That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I
hate what they do.I
think they should just free them[selves] from being gay.”
That great champion of human rights, Sinn Féin, was first out of the block
in condemning him for his
and potentially breaking equality legislation.
“Comments such as this cause great harm and distress. They feed
into the attitudes that fester and lead to homophobic violence”,
sobbed one of their lady MLAs.
Northern Ireland's other republican party, the SDLP was quick to add its
righteous anger to the bandwagon,
with its Equality Spokeswoman (shouldn't that be Spokesperson?)
expressing her own outrage in similar terms.
Then the Alliance Party chair
moaned that the
“comments were disgraceful and extremely irresponsible”.
Gay rights campaigner Andrew Muir
added that 29% of young people have attempted suicide because of the
homophobia that Junior seemed to be encouraging.
Down in Dublin, not to be outdone, the (subscription-only) Irish Times made
its own subtle little contribution in a report which, per
quoted the offending sentences, but dishonestly replaced the words
“That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them”with three little dots ... The paper clearly feared the original
wording might encourage people to draw an honourable inference from Junior's
little gay-hatred rant.
In fairness to it, however, it later published a
letter from me pointing out
that the omission was dishonest.
Meanwhile, Junior himself seemed to go into hiding.
There is pattern to Mr Paisley's behaviour. For example, he is on the
record for disliking pro-homosexual policies such as
civil unions, gay parades and, er,
buses (yes!). Enunciating such rash views once earned him a formal
censure from the Northern Ireland Policing Board, whatever that means.
Yet look at what he actually said in Hot Press.
The words which the Irish Times so cleverly omitted make it clear that, in
effect, he hates not gays but what they do, which is a perfectly respectable
position to take. Why should someone have to
“like” the act of buggery, or for that matter why should a
gay or lesbian be expected to
“like” the idea of straight sex? There's nothing
reprehensible in disliking, or being repulsed by, other people's actions.
For example I am pretty disgusted by the act of drunken vomiting on the
street on a Saturday night, but that doesn't mean I hate the vomiters once
they sober up.
This type of dislike is, moreover, entirely within keeping of, ironically, a
long-standing Catholic dictum to
“love the sinner not the sin”.
On the other hand, Junior's belief that gays can
“free themselves from being gay”
demonstrates profound ignorance rather than homophobia. No-one says people
“free themselves from having a club-foot, or Downs syndrome”,
so why a congenital condition of homosexuality?
Three letters to three different publications. I was
surprised that the Irish Times published the one about Ian Paisley Jnr
because it accuses the newspaper of dishonest reporting.
Paisley Remark GaysP!
In quoting Ian Paisley Junior's anti-gay
remarks, you used dots to indicate that some words had been left out.
According to the BBC, the omitted words were "That doesn’t mean to
say that I hate them", meaning homosexuals. Since this changes the
whole tone of the what he said, your omission was dishonest ...
Liberating EU Financial
Markets Though EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy's
“there may well be a case for
creating a passport for mortgage brokers to enable them to sell and
provide advice on mortgage products across the member states”
is very welcome, it is surely phrased the wrong way round.
No-one has ever made a coherent case for preventing the sale of
across member state lines, or for that matter other financial products
Drab Reviews of Tomes on Religion You appear to have hired sycophants to review your two religious books.
AN Wilson can find no wrong in Pope Benedict's
“Jesus of Nazareth”,
while NR is similarly transfixed[*] by Richard Dawkins'
“The God Delusion”
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“For too long, the people of Darfur have suffered at the
hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and
rape of innocent civilians. My administration has called these
actions by their rightful name: genocide. The world has a
responsibility to help put an end to it ... The people of Sudan are
crying out for help and they deserve it.”
George Bush, announcing sanctions on the
illegitimate thugocratic regime of Omar al-Bashir
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“Iran and the US agreed broadly that there should be a
secure, stable, democratic, federal Iraq in control of its own
security, at peace with its neighbours.”
US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker,
after his historic first meeting with
Iran's ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi
The US went on to accuse Iran of training and arming
Iraqi militant groups attacking US forces,
and providing Iraqi insurgents with explosive charges,
and sought to strengthen sanctions against Tehran
for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
For its part, Iran accused the US of spying and
encouraging dissident Iranian ethnic groups
to engage in subversion (if only!).
- - - - - - - - - - I R A Q - - - - - - - - - -
“The mess in Iraq reflects the disordered souls of
a critical mass of Iraqis who prefer allegiance to tribal loyalties
or a dysfunctional faith to freedom and security.”
Commentator Bruce Thornton, professor of Classics at Cal State Fresno,
while advising the US to get out of the World Bank
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- - -
“We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into
a powder keg and to stuff it with new weapons.”
Vladimir Putin squeals at the idea of
America positioning parts of its new missile defence shield
in Russia's former vassal states Poland and the Czech Republic.
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF