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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

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

You can write to blog@tallrite.com

MARCH 2003
 

ISSUE #34 - 30th March 2003 [107]

Kurds, Turks and Northern Iraq

Kurdistan is the name given to the area, divided between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, where mainly Kurds reside.  The Kurdish part of Iraq, in the north and bordering on southern Turkey, is in danger of generating its own distinct conflagration because of a complicated confluence of factors.  

The Iraq crisis and other constituents have thrown Turkey into turmoil, which it can ill afford after four years of dire economic performance and a devastating drop of some 70% in the value of its currency. 

Let’s start with the Iraqi Turkomen, a nomadic people who form a sizeable minority in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is where Kirkuk lies – one of Iraq’s largest oil provinces.  Turkomen are ethnically and linguistically linked to Turkey which feels a protective responsibility for all Turkics.  According to some – not least Turkey – the Turkomen are oppressed by the majority Kurds. 

As I reported a few weeks ago, this part of Kurdistan, protected from Saddam since the Gulf War under the UN’s northern no-fly zone enforced by the US Air Force, enjoys are large degree of autonomy and prosperity, with its own parliament and other institutions.  This is a unique experience amongst Kurds.  And it is watched jealously by the Kurds of Turkey, Iran and Syria who, since the end of the Ottoman empire, have periodically and violently rebelled against their respective governments, in pursuit of Kurdish rights, autonomy and/or independence.  This rebelliousness means that those same governments regard all Kurds, as does Saddam, with extreme suspicion and exert as much persecution as they can get away with.  

The Turkish twist begins just a few months ago.  

Fearing missile attack by Saddam in the event of an American invasion, Turkey appeals to its NATO partners for some Patriot anti-missile systems.  For their own reasons, the French do their damnedest to stop this, and it is only through some pretty sharp footwork that the Americans outflank the French and get NATO to supply the Patriots. 

Turkey has a little oil in its southeastern – Kurdish – part, but looks longingly over its border at the oil riches of Kurdish Kirkuk. 

  • If Kurds and other Iraqis were to flee north and pour into Turkey to escape Saddam and the war as they did after the 1991 Gulf War, would not Turkey be justified in sending troops into northern Iraq to prevent the flood of refugees and a humanitarian disaster ?  

  • And if, in addition, the Kurds were found to be oppressing the Turkomen, perhaps Turkey should seize Kirkuk to protect them ?  Winning Kirkuk and its oil is a prize Turkey can scarcely dream of, though in their hearts they surely know it's unrealistic. 

But then here come the Americans wanting to use Turkey for their own invasion of Iraq from the North, promising a huge $6 billion aid package and reminding the Turks of how they helped them over the patriot missiles.  

  • But such an invasion would make a Turkish invasion very difficult, and in addition the Turkish population is in an uproar against the war.  

  • Moreover, an inexperienced, Islamist-centred party (the Justice and Development Party), less instinctively pro-American than its predecessor, has just been elected.  So the new parliament democratically votes to deny the Americans permission and forego the massive aid.  

  • So doing, they renounce an excellent opportunity for economic recovery and make enemies of their NATO allies and protectors, the Americans, who have to make other plans for a northern invasion.

Meanwhile, the Turks have also angered both the EU and the UN by failing to strongarm stubborn Rauf Denktash, the president of Turkish Cyprus, into agreeing Kofi Annan’s peace-plan to re-unify the island, a plan supported not only by the Greek Cypriots and Greece but by most of the Turkish Cypriot population.  As a result, the rich Greek half of the island will join the lucrative EU leaving the impecunious, ostracised Turkish half to languish outside.  Turkey’s own accession to the EU slips further over the horizon as it now has two veto-wielding adversaries – Greece and Greek Cyprus – instead of one. 

So let’s sum up this mess. 

In an admirably democratic manner, albeit with unintended consequences, Turkey has managed to make enemies of the USA, EU and UN.  It is suspected, probably wrongly, of wanting to invade Iraq and seize the Kirkuk oilfields under the pretext of preventing a humanitarian refugee crisis and protecting Turkomen, and it has de-facto supported Saddam by refusing to facilitate the American forces. 

In the worst case scenario, one can imagine Turks, Americans, Kurds, Turkomen and Saddam’s Arabs all fighting each other with no clear idea of who is on whose side. 

However, Turkey’s new-found foes do nevertheless have an abiding interest in an economically dynamic, stable, secular, and increasingly democratic Turkey incorporated into the West, an example to the rest of the Muslim world.  This is an interest that matches Turkey’s own, and it badly needs the support of its wealthy and powerful (temporarily ex-)friends. 

So I believe a more benign outcome is likelier.  

Turkey, recognizing its own best interests, will stay within its own borders.   America will invade Northern Iraq by air (it has already started), eject the Saddamites, bring in humanitarian aid and remove the need for Iraqis to flee.  It will install a representative regional administration that protect the Turkomen and other minorities.  

The area will end up well positioned to form part of a new federal Iraq once the rest of the country is liberated. 

Meantime, in a quieter moment, Turkey will engineer the agreement of Turkish Cyprus to the UN peace-plan and pave the way for EU entry of a united Cyprus federation.  

Or is this all just wishful thinking ?  We shall see.  

Back to Index

Christian Churches in Europe

How beautiful, stunning are the Churches, inside and out, that pepper Rome, which I had the good fortune to visit again last week.  The columns, the arches, the marble, the paintings, the statuary, the gold, and the precision - they just take your breath away.  And everything fashioned by human hand.  A few examples below.  

 CIMG0099.JPG (309432 bytes)
Rome - S Maria della Vittoria

 CIMG0101.JPG (327316 bytes)
S Maria della Vittoria

 CIMG0103.JPG (291473 bytes)
Rome - Basilica

 Click on a thumbnail to enlarge; click your BACK button to return to this page

And such architectural masterpieces are replicated throughout Europe, in glory if not in density.  Think of the awesome Saint Bavo cathedral in Ghent, Notre Dame in Paris, St Vitus's in Prague, to mention but a few.  

Nearly all were built around the middle of the second millenium, some taking several centuries to complete; the Saint Bavo took almost 900 years.  

But how were they paid for ?  It is inconceivable that such opulent structures, lacking a concomitant revenue stream to provide a financial return, would ever be built in a Western country today.  Indeed, recently built churches are much more modest, utilitarian affairs, usually paid for out of parish collections.  

Yet Europe in the Middle Ages was, by today's standards at any rate, dirt poor, and what little money there was was confiscated by rulers and warlords if not squandered on perpetual warfare. The vast majority of the population eked out a subsistence existence of hard labour, malnutrition and death by 40.   According to Oxford University's Robert Allen, daily pay during the mediaeval period when church construction boomed was typically 7-10 grams of silver equivalent, which would just about keep a family hovering around the poverty line on 2,000 calories a day.  

To get a sense of comparison, current GDP per head in the EU is around €21,000 per year and silver sells at around $4.40 per ounce.  This roughly translates to an income per head of some 390 grams of silver equivalent per day.  So we are 40 times richer than our unfortunate forebears.  

The issue therefore was - 

  • not so much one of who paid for the churches when everyone was so poor, 

  • but rather, that everyone remained poor precisely because of those wretched, extravagant, multi-century church-building projects, commissioned by fiat from the all-powerful Catholic Church, aided and abetted by the rulers of the day who believed they were fast-tracking themselves to heaven.  

It could never have happened except in a feudal society where big men run the show and the peasants are kept down and poor.  

But think how the social welfare of our antecedents might have been wonderfully better, and the course of European history quite different, if the labour that went into church construction were used instead to grow more food, to manufacture, to trade, to learn, to get educated.  

Or would it have just spelt more official kleptomania and warfare ?  I think not.  

There is today an example of similar church-building money-squandering folly.  The oil-rich countries of the Middle East are rife with magnificent mosques, still being built to this day, each costing hundreds of millions of dollars.  Each emir vies with the next to show off his piety by the grandeur of his Grand Mosque, and assure himself of paradise in the hereafter.  

Again, such whimsy is possible only in an autocratic society where big decisions are taken by a big man.  But today it is fed by oil wealth rather than by keeping the population in grinding poverty.  But it is still frittering away people's birthright without bothering to ask them.  

And in Middle Ages Europe as in the Middle East of today, those commissioning these buildings think an ever-grateful and obsequious God will forgive them their other earthly vices and grant them eternal bliss.  

I'm not aware that either Jesus Christ or Mohammed offered such a deal or demanded these edifices. 

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Colin Powell's Repartée

According to the New York Post, a pro-Saddam Iraqi reporter at a press conference recently asked Secretary of State Colin Powell, "Isn't it true that only 13% of young Americans can locate Iraq on a map ?"

"That may be true," Powell countered. "You're probably right.  But
unfortunately for you, all 13% are Marines
."

Back to Index

 

Saddam Hussein Doppelgangers

That Saddam has a number of doubles, some of them carved into his likeness by plastic surgeons, is well known.  

It is said that when he leaves a building, a fleet of black limousines pulls up and a series of Saddams climbs in.

Still not resolved is whether the Saddam, puffy and wearing black rimmed spectacles, who delivered a defiant TV address after the first salvo of the war, was the real Saddam.   

However not all his doppelgangers are in Iraq.  Jerry Haleva is a savvy Californian political insider with his own lobbying firm, Sergeant Major Communications.  But he also has a thriving sideline as Hollywood's favourite double for Saddam Hussein.  If you have seen Saddam in a movie lately, or the 2002 HBO mockumentary “Live from Baghdad”, you were probably watching Mr Haleva.  

 

While waiting in costume at one convention, he met former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

I shook his hand, and someone said I have got to get this picture !” he said.   Mr Haleva uses the photo in his firm's marketing brochures with the caption, “If we can make this happen, how hard can your issue be ?

Mr Haleva said his resemblance has been good for business. “It opens doors...and I have a lot of fun with it.

He also relishes the irony of being a pro-Israel Jewish activist earning money by making fun of the Iraqi leader.

Back to Index

Tarnished Halo Awards

The Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington DC has announced the winners of its 2002 Tarnished Halo Awards to America's most notorious animal-rights zealots, environmental scaremongers, celebrity busybodies, self-anointed “public interest” advocates, trial lawyers, and other food & beverage activists who claim to know what's best for you.

The Tarnished Halo Awards highlight the winners' use of misinformation, duplicity and even violence to further a political agenda or fatten their own wallets.  

Lucky winners include : 

  • The “Better Dead Than Fed” Award
    Awarded to Greenpeace, for pressuring Zambian dictator Levy Mwanawasa to deny his 2.5 million starving people access to US-provided food aid, because it contains the same genetically enhanced corn (or, as he called it, “poison”) that Americans have been eating for years.

  • The “Excuse Me, But Your Agenda Is Showing” Award
    Awarded to Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who admitted to U.S. News & World Report in a rare, candid moment: “Our nonviolent tactics are not as effective. We ask nicely for years and get nothing. Someone makes a threat, and it works.”  In 2002, PETA donated $1,500 donation to the North American Animal Liberation Front, an FBI-labeled “domestic terrorist group” who have caused over $40 million in criminal damage such as burning down restaurants.

  • The “Fishing For the Truth” Award
    Awarded to the National Environmental Trust, for its high-profile campaign aimed at convincing America's élite chefs to stop serving the supposedly endangered Chilean Sea Bass, even though the US government says that the fish species is not threatened.  And it's not even a bass.

  • The “Weapons Of Mass Distortion” Award
    Awarded to the immodestly self-named Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which is actually a pseudo-medical front group for PETA's radical animal rights agenda.  PCRM's advertising in 2002 recklessly labeled US school lunches “weapons of mass destruction” because they include meat and milk.

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : “No-one has killed more Muslims than Saddam Hussein

Lt-General John Abazaid
Arabic-speaking Lebanese-American, 
Second-in-command to overall US commander General Tommy Franks,
Doha, 23rd March 2003

Quote : Please bring on the war. We are ready. We have suffered long enough. We may lose our lives but some of us will survive and for our children's sake please, please end our misery.

Ken Joseph Jr, an exiled Assyrian Iraqi, quoting messages from 
> a former member of the Army to 
> a person working with the police to 
> taxi drivers to 
> store owners to 
> mothers to 
> government officials 
without exception when allowed to speak freely

Back to Index

Not everyone agrees with me - You are pretty much full of the crap you have imbibed from the religious fanatics and the right wing political extremists ...”.  See Letters.  

 

ISSUE #33 - 23rd March 2003 [104]

A New & Disturbing World Order

I recently read a long and fascinating essay by commentator Ed Harris called, Our World-Historical Gamble”, which set my mind spinning.  It proposes that 9/11 has brought the West face-to-face with an entirely new world threat unparalleled in history and requiring a radically different approach.  You should read the whole article, but meantime let me try and summarise its main thrust.  

Since the dawn of history until the last century, each country or nation or state - call them what you will - has been defined by just two characteristics : 

  1. Its wealth and wellbeing, good or bad, have been the result of the creativity, work and efforts of its people.  In order to care for their families, its people have learned how to hunt, farm, invent implements, build houses, trade with others etc.  

  2. Its security and cohesion has depended on the centralised control of violence (army, police), and the use of that violence not only to defend borders but to crush within the state any attempted violence by other groups who would otherwise become local warlords.  

Through history, these two characteristics have not only resulted in the formation of countries.  It has also led to empire-building when one nation has proved better at them than another one who has attractive, expropriatable resources, such as gold, land, slaves.   

It was a rough world but, vitally, it produced a universal sense of what is realistically available, which transcended all cultures and boundaries.  

  • If you don't plant enough seeds you won't have enough food; 

  • if the timbers are too flimsy, your house will fall down; 

  • if your neighbour is stronger than you, don't expect to get everything you want in a negotiation, and don't pick a fight with him.  

What changed in the 20th century was the Western liberal idea that might is not necessarily right.  The fact that I am able to steal from you doesn't make it OK to do so.  

  • So nations started being created not by work and violence but by the agreement of Western powers, and 

  • their resources obtained not by confiscation but by purchase.   

The effect of this on the mindsets of the peoples of these new countries is especially stark in the oil-rich Middle East.  

Countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait were created by Westerners drawing lines on the map, which happened to include vast oil reserves.  Westerners then helped them to extract the oil and then paid to buy it from them.  Suddenly, with no creativity or effort and no ability for self-defence, they became extraordinarily wealthy nations, as if by magic, secure in the knowledge they would not be invaded by the powerful but liberal-minded West.  This permitted them to buy whatever they wanted just as a spoilt child might be given everything he demands.  

The most pernicious result was the creation of a fantasyland mindset - 

  • with no sense of the limits of reality and

  • an unrealistic sense of their own importance and power.  

If I want a dream house, I just write a cheque and I have one.  No sweat - literally.  

If you want examples of a fantasy mindset with no sense of reality - 

  • Just read Saddam's speech on the night of America's attack 
    (“Iraq, our nation and humanity will win”).  

  • Or think how at Camp David in 2000 Yasser Arafat, in an all-or-nothing fantasy, turned down Israel's offer of 
    97% of the land he demanded.  

When such a fantasy is then linked to an ideology - such as a perverted belief that Islam demands that the West be destroyed - and is bolstered by possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), you have a truly poisonous brew.  

Suddenly, in unviable States, there are people able to wreak untold destruction, people for whom there are no limits to reality and who are driven by a fantasy ideology whose only goal is the destruction itself.  They are not interested in forcing their victims to do their will.  

You need only think of the suicide flyers of 9/11, whose ability to kill and destroy was limited only by the two instruments (planes and buildings) they could get their hands on, neither of which they or their sponsor States were capable of creating.  

The orthodox approach to defeating such perpetrators, by bargaining or conventional war, doesn't work because they are not playing by any known rules or limits; their actions make no sense - indeed that is the essence of the fantasy.  It is total fantasy to think that Western civilisations will accept and collapse under such attacks, but that does not  deter the fantasists.  That is what distinguishes them from adversaries such as the Nazis, the Japanese, the Soviets who all operated to an internal logic bounded by a sense of reality.  

The only apparent solution therefore seems to be the pre-emptive removal of the WMD.  This may well necessitate the removal of the state apparatus that fosters or protects them, and replacing it with something judged more “reasonable”, for example a democracy.  Afghanistan and Iraq spring to mind.  

It also means not shirking from necessary action for purely liberal ideas, such as avoiding airport searches of targeted groups in case people are made to feel unwelcome or it appears racist.  

Whether a particular course of action, including the use of unrelenting force if necessary, can be judged a success depends on 

  • whether it creates a higher degree of pragmatic realism on the part of the fantasists or 

  • simply encourages their fantasies.  

Teaching them respect for our values is secondary.  

The tough action envisaged should of course be undertaken by the world community as a whole, ideally via the UN, but by now so many countries exist as unviable creations that they will never allow the UN to start limiting their freedom to act in this way.   

That means the job must be left, in practice, to America, the only power strong enough to impose its will unilaterally on virtually any country of its choosing.  In other words, America becomes the centre of world violence (in effect, the world's policeman) and we all rely on its - yes - double-standards to decide and to enforce which countries may be permitted what level of violence (up to WMD).  

This conclusion represents a quite extraordinary espousal of a world regime of double-standards and unilateral judgment, policed by an America armed to the teeth and willing to use its military might.  This is analogous to the way a country's central authority already has a monopoly of violence and uses it to suppress wayward warlords.  

But it makes the world terribly dependent on the bona-fides of the USA.  For this reason, it is imperative that other well-meaning countries be prepared to join it and thus influence it in particular campaigns.  

I recommend you read the full essay over a period of a few days. 

Back to Index

Chirac's Bizarre Behaviour

France - or, more particularly, President Chirac - has provided everyone with a convenient excuse for the diplomatic failure over Iraq.  His threatened veto “no matter what” of an 18th Resolution giving conditions and a deadline for war allowed the middle six countries to not have to take a position at all, and hence to avoid direct offence to anyone.  It is a paradox that his threatened veto, by closing the one remaining door for avoiding conflict, is what made war a certainty.  

Looking back, his behaviour is especially bizarre.  

  • The US wanted November's Resolution 1441, the 17th calling on Saddam to disarm, to authorise war automatically should Saddam refuse his “final opportunity” to disarm.  

  • France insisted no, that if Saddam does not disarm there should be an 18th resolution to authorise war.  

  • The result was the compromise 1441 which says that while non-disarmament would merit “serious consequences”, it would require the Security Council to meet again and consider.  

The council did meet again and consider, in January and again February.  Saddam failed to disarm.  But the would-be 18th resolution, which President Chirac refused to endorse under any form, is the very resolution he had insisted on when negotiating the 17th.  

When the war is over, one can expect America to seek out imaginative ways to punish France economically and politically for its overt support of Saddam.  It will not be listened to again in the Security Council for a long long time, which is what will probably hurt President Chirac the most.   

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The Peacenik and the Iraqi

Listen to this riveting radio exchange in the US between a peace activist called Andrea and Mohammed, an Iraqi exile.  Notice how she is utterly unable to answer the simple question, “How exactly will leaving Saddam in power promote peace and justice in Iraq ?”  Wow !

Back to Index

Afghanistan Joins Cyberspace

In January, I wrote about the tremendous progress there has been in rebuilding Afghanistan one year after the war that deposed the Taliban.

Under Taliban rule, all non-governmental use of e-mail services and websites was punishable by death.  

But earlier this month, Afghanistan achieved a symbolic milestone of boring normalcy : it inaugurated its first-ever internet country code - .af.  The UN Development Program was one of the first to publish an Afghan website : www.undp.org.af .  

Similarly, there is now hope of some dull normality for Iraq, starting in just a few weeks time.  This will doubtless include the return of millions of refugees, just as is happening in Afghanistan, the surest sign that things are getting better.  

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Shield Impressionable Teenagers from Shakespeare

I had forgotten how shockingly violent and disturbing is Shakespeare's Macbeth, until recently reminded by Cathy Sweeney, a teacher of English literature.  

The action opens with Macbeth's defeat of the rebel leader where he “unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps”. Soon after, horrible images unfix Macbeth's hair and Lady Macbeth claims that she would, while feeding an infant child, 

Have plucked my nipple from his boneless jaws 
And dashed the brains out
”.

The violence is relentless. Duncan is murdered, Banquo is murdered, Lady Macbeth commits suicide, the witches chant about birth-strangled babes, Macbeth cries, 

I am in blood 
Stepp'd in so far, that should I wade no more, 
Returning were as tedious as go o'e
r”. 

Macduff “was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd” and his wife and child are brutally murdered on stage.

For those who think violent movies and TV depicting evil and anarchy encourage violent behaviour on the part of modern teenagers, Macbeth and much else of Shakespeare should be immediately proscribed.  

Back to Index

Toothbrush Rules

There is no telling what people will spend other people's research money on.  

Two outfits have recently published their own surveys of what it is that Americans can least do without.  They come to the same conclusion.  The humble toothbrush ranks well above your car, PC, phone.  

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology produce something called the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index which measures stuff like that.  They asked 1,400 people which of five inventions they could not live without. The results appeared in the March 2003 issue of The Irish Dentist (which is not available online).  CNN then conducted is own poll of 156,000 people.  

Here, to enrich your lives, are the results of both surveys.  

Who Did the Survey ?

MIT

MIT

CNN

Who Was Surveyed ?

Teens

Adults

Whatever

How Many Were Surveyed ?

400

1,000

156,000

Richard Price of the American Dental Association commented, It makes a lot of sense. Your teeth are always with you.  You can always update your car or a computer, but you just can't update teeth.”  

But he says the oral health message is still incomplete.  I don't think many people will say dental floss is one of the great inventions of all time, but the toothbrush alone will not do the job.  

It's been a long road to the top for the toothbrush. The first was built in 1498 by a Chinese emperor who had hog bristles embedded in a bone handle. The hog bristle toothbrush became popular in Europe, but because it cost so much, poor families would often share the same brush.

It wasn't until 1938 that the pharmaceuticals company Du Pont introduced nylon bristles as a much cheaper replacement for pig hair. And a good thing they did, as it finally made personal toothbrushes accessible to all.  

The same issue of the Irish Dentist expects its dentist-readers to be clairvoyant, to see something that isn't there.  

Am I missing something ?

Declaration of interest:
My father is a dentist who practiced in the twentieth century;
in the nineteenth century my great-grandfather was a Master Toothbrush Maker

Back to Index

Quote of the Week

Quote : “President Saddam is certain of victory.  He is relying on his deep faith in God, the justice of our cause and his deep faith in the Iraqi people.  War could be avoided if Mr Bush went into exile”.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mr Naji Al-Sabri
at a press conference 

Back to Index

 

ISSUE #32 - 16th March 2003 [51]

Scary Thought

Here's a scary thought : 

  • What if the implacable opposition of France, Germany and others to a war against Saddam is not based upon repugnance of war under any circumstances, but on something more sinister than moral ?  

  • What if it is motivated by dread of US hegemony and - acknowledging their own military and economic inferiority - they are therefore seeking less conventional ways to cut America down to size ?   

  • What if they have struck a deal with radical Islam and with radical Arabs : You go after the United States, and we'll do everything we can to protect you, and to weaken the Americans ?   

  • What if this strategy is based on using Arab and Islamic extremism and terrorism as the weapon of choice, and the United Nations as the straitjacket for blocking a decisive response from the United States ?  

That's what some pundits, utterly unable to comprehend the conduct of President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, are postulating and citing a lot of plausible evidence in support.  

Personally I find the theory too utterly preposterous and cynical to believe.  What about you ?  Their bizarre behaviour certainly invites wild theories.  

Back to Index

Coming Irrelevance of the UN Security Council

But one has to wonder whether a small coterie is mounting a conspiracy to make the UN Security Council - if not the UN itself - irrelevant.  

  • CNN reported that Russian Foreign Minister Mr Igor Ivanov said Russia would vote against a so-called second resolution (actually the 18th) in its present form.

  • Later French President Jacques Chirac said : No matter what the circumstances we will vote 'No'. and that it would be a dangerous precedent if the US went ahead with a war unilaterally without France's participation.  

  • UN Secretary General Kofi Annan then added that the world was at a dangerous point of division. If the US goes outside the Security Council, it will not be in conformity with the UN charter.

Yet none of these eminent gentlemen is in the slightest doubt that 

  • last November's unanimous and binding 17th resolution (i.e. Resolution 1441) specifies serious consequences - an accepted euphemism for war - if Saddam does not disarm immediately, unconditionally and completely, which he hasn't;  

  • if an 18th resolution giving Saddam a final deadline is defeated and/or vetoed by countries which know, as we all do, that the war is going ahead anyway, it is those voting No that will have done the damage. For they will have voted to not enforce the UN Security Council's own 17 prior resolutions, so demonstrating to all the world that the resolutions are meaningless and toothless. This would be foolhardy in the extreme.  

Therefore if war goes ahead without the 18th resolution, which now looks likely due to France's threat of a veto, those anti-war countries - and Mr Annan - will have to either 

  1. lump it, thereby tacitly agreeing that 

    • the war is authorised by 1441 and 

    • therefore their own arguments were specious; or

  2. declare the war illegal (despite 1441) and thereby expose the impotence of the UN to to hold sway or authority over world events, so why should anyone bother with it any more.  

Make no mistake : 

  • the choice - either option 1 or 2 - of whether or not to preserve the UN's integrity (or illusion of integrity) - is the anti-warriors' and theirs alone.  

  • It is not that of the pro-war Security Council countries America, Britain, Spain or Bulgaria.  

I very much fear that the anti-warriors will opt to destroy the UN under Option 2 simply because opting for 1 would entail massive loss of face for a few portentous individuals.  

The logical follow-on from Option 2 is that a new, non-UN world order will emerge whose agenda will be determined and carried through solely by America, who will see the need to consult only those who happen to support it on particular issues.  

Meanwhile, as commentator Dave Farber has put it, 

  • unregulated Global Corporatism would be the only permissible ideology, 

  • every human would have access to McDonald¹s and the Home Shopping Network, 

  • all “news would come through some variant of AOLTimeWarnerCNN, 

  • the Internet would be run by Microsoft, 

and so it would remain for a long time.  Peace.  On Prozac.

Many would consider all this a retrograde step, though doubtless far better than having a world order dominated by, say, a totalitarian state such as North Korea or China.  But is it really what France, Russia, Germany, Belgium, the UN Secretariat and other anti-war entities want ?  

It will probably be what they - and we - get.  

Oh, and here is a question for those (such as France and Russia) who voted for 1441 but now claim that serious consequences is not a UN euphemism for war.  For if it doesn't mean war, what can it mean ? 

  • More UN Resolutions ? 

  • More inspections ? 

  • More troops on the border with orders not to invade ? 

Don't make Saddam laugh ! 

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Containment is Deadlier than War

Which would be preferable ?  A policy that kills 5,000 civilians in a single event or one that kills 5,000 per month ?  

That is the point posed by US foreign policy wonk Walter Mead when he compares the civilian casualties of the first Gulf War with those resulting from the policy of containmentimplemented when Saddam refused to comply with his disarmament promises that were a condition of the truce that ended that war in 1991.  

Containment comprises primarily sanctions, alleviated somewhat by the oil-for-food programme, perhaps backed up by inspections, perhaps backed up by threat of force.  

The Gulf War killed somewhere between 21,000 and 35,000 Iraqis, of whom between 1,000 and 5,000 were civilians.

Based on Iraqi government figures, UNICEF estimates that containment kills an astonishing 5,000 Iraqi under-fives per month.  Other estimates are lower, but by any reasonable estimate containment kills about as many people every year as the Gulf War - and almost all the victims of containment are civilian, of whom two-thirds are young children.  

So every year that Saddam is left in place and contained”  constitutes a new Gulf War.  And though these civilians die solely because Saddam chooses to divert oil-for-food money away from food/medicines and towards his armed forces, cronies, palaces and personal accounts, they still die.  

Surely it is more humane to mount one more, decisive Gulf War, than an endless continuation of the abominable containment advocated by the global Peace lobby.  

You should read the full article in the Washington Post.    

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Clare Short of Options

Clare Short, Tony Blair's Minister for International Development, has decided to end her political career - to most people's relief.  

Without prior notice to her boss, she went on BBC Radio 4 to call Tony Blair's Iraq policy "reckless".  

 

The normal effect of such public disloyalty would be instant sacking.  This she would have expected and relished, because she could then pose as a martyr and further shoot her mouth off without the constraint of being in the cabinet.  And then after the fall of Blair due to disaster in Iraq, she - vindicated - would rise like a phoenix.  

But Blair is being much more clever.  He hasn't fired her.  So her options are either to resign (no martyrdom there) or continue to show up in cabinet meetings, where you can be sure there'll be plenty of snubbing and snide remarks.  

Clare : Excuse me, Prime Minister, may I say something
Tony : Not really, Clare, no.”  
Clare : I think we should increase aid to Africa
Tony : Then trim your department
Clare : “But Prime Minister, ...
Tony : “I'll get back to you if I need you for anything.  Now we must move on if we're not to be reckless.

A policy of ignoring her is more painful for her than a martyr's sacking.  

After Blair has triumphed in Iraq, he will doubtless get rid of her.  I expect she'll then sink bitterly into well-deserved oblivion.  Her options are closed.  

On the other hand, Blair may himself be ready to go before too long.  He is clearly 

  • bored with New Labour, 

  • ideologically detached from socialism, 

  • weary with UK domestic policies, 

though he clearly relishes international affairs.  So perhaps he is ready for new challenges as some kind of international statesman.  He was once tipped as a possible EU President, by EU-wide popular suffrage, under the new constitution currently being drafted, though his testy relationship with Jacques Chirac means that that can no longer be a realistic expectation.  You can be sure he won't leave the premiership voluntarily until he has something more interesting lined up.  

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Lack of Spouses for Chinese Men

A recent article from UPI reports, with a hint of mirth, that within America, 

  • in 73% of white-black marriages, the black spouse is a man, and 

  • in 75% of white-Asian marriages, the Asian spouse is a woman.  

The spouse deficit this creates for black women and Asian men is a social problem within the US, with no obvious solution, but it is no more than that.  

However, a spouse-deficit is fast developing right now in China, which has the makings of a deadly time bomb that could have momentous consequences. 

Deng Xiaoping's one-child policy, rigorously enforced throughout the 80s and 90s by China's communist dictatorship, has come to mean a largely one-boy policy.  For if you are Chinese and allowed only one child, you want it to be male so that your name will live on. Therefore you abort (or perhaps secretly kill) your baby daughters until a boy appears.  Recent technology that easily identifies the baby's sex during pregnancy facilitates the practice of ensuring your one child is a son.  

Not everyone does it of course, but enough do to create a marked imbalance, and these only-children are growing up fast. So what are all the young men going to do over the next 10-20 years in a China that is expanding in economic and military strength and ambitions but short of young women ? 

The rich men are going to get first pickings of the few eligible Chinese girls.  They will also import brides and girlfriends from neighbouring countries, which is of course to export the problem. 

The brideless poor ones, on the other hand, may well find themselves in the armed forces engaged in military adventures abroad whose main if unwritten objective will be the rape and theft of women. Throughout history, this is how strong and ruthless countries have dealt with restless, sexually frustrated young men who might otherwise cause unacceptable trouble at home.  And if plenty of them are killed in the fighting, so much the better because this diminishes your imbalance.  You win twice over, by solving your domestic problem while obtaining an empire.  

For China as a State, the overt objective of these escapades will likely be to challenge and counterbalance American hegemony.  If you doubt this, read this rather sobering account of China's preparations for a future large-scale conflict with America. 

The sex imbalance is no laughing matter. 

Late Note (16th & 26th January 2010)
The Economist (subscription only) reports that

A study [entitled Contemporary Chinese Social Structure]
by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
highlighted the growing sex imbalance in China.
It reported that 119 boys are born in the country
for every 100 girls and that by 2020,
24m men of marrying age might find themselves without wives.

24m? It's a huge number. 

Pakistan today has an adult male population of 53 million males aged 15-64.
Of these, 24m is a reasonable estimate of their
males of marrying age.
Imagine the ructions if no young Pakistani could find a woman.

Well, that's China in just ten years time.
And this huge number is already building up remorselessly. 

It represents a strategic and acutely dangerous problem for the world which,
even if China's one-child policy were abandoned today,
would take at least generation to eliminate.

Mark Steyn shares and Shanghai-based Constance Kong of Mercator
share some of my concerns, but they seem more worried about
the over-stretching of China's social services and social cohesion
than the military threat to the wider world.

The Communist dictators who illegitimately rule China
regard their one-child policy as a success
because it has reduced its population by 400m,
and therefore have no intention of rescinding the policy.

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Pop Idol Adam Kept the Faith

Adam Faith, the 5ft 5½in “pocket dynamowho died of a heart-attack last week, was once a pretty-boy pop-idol, but no ordinary one.  

Born Terence Nelhams in the midst of the London blitz of 1941, he grew up with few privileges.  But, inspired by Lonnie Donegan and skiffle, at 19 he burst on to the pop scene with What do you want if you don't want money”.  He had chosen his nom d'étage Adam Faith from the boys' and girls' section of a book of names.  

 

A lover of Sibelius and Dvorak and a voracious reader, there was always more to him than just pop, as became clear when his idol status was ousted five years later by The Beatles and Cliff Richard.  For he embarked on a series of imaginative careers, with both success and failure : 

  • Property - he made a new fortune buying and selling (sometimes in reverse order) as well as renovating and selling.

  • Acting - he found new new fame in the 1970s as the character Budgie in a television series of the same name, and continued acting on and off, on TV, movies and stage, until his death.

  • Pop Impresario - he helped launch Sandie Shaw, the bare-footed chanteuse of the Swinging Sixties, managed Leo Sayer and re-launched Lonnie Donegan.

  • Finance Wizard - he reinvented himself as share tipster and financial adviser, writing a daily financial column for the Daily Mail for more than 10 years.  But this career ended in tears and debts when he was duped by the fraudster Roger Levitt and lost a fortune at Lloyd’s, the London insurance market.  

  • TV Mogul - Undeterred, in 1999, he set up a cable and satellite channel called Money Channel to provide personal finance advice and news. But it folded in 2001 and bankrupted him.  So he simply returned to acting.  

If his business life was a roller-coaster, so was his actual life : he survived a deadly car crash, a lethal helicopter accident and major heart surgery. But not the final heart attack.  

It's hard to imagine any of the current crop of pop idols, such as Gareth Gates, achieving anything of note once their chart-topping days are over.  But Adam Faith would be an excellent rôle model for them.  

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Equal Opportunity Insulter

Vanity Fair publishes an agony column featuring the illustrious Dame Edna Etheridge.  

The following exchange is from February's edition. 

 dameedna.jpg (47733 bytes)  
Click on the thumbnail

Dear Dame Edna,

I would very much like to learn a foreign language, preferably French or Italian, but every time I mention this, people tell me to learn Spanish instead. They say, Everyone is going to be speaking Spanish in 10 years. George W Bush speaks Spanish. Could this be true ? Are we all going to have to speak Spanish?

Dear Torn:

Forget Spanish.  There's nothing in that language worth reading except Don Quixote, and a quick listen to the CD of Man of La Mancha will take care of that.  There was a poet named Garcia Lorca, but I'd leave him on the intellectual back burner if I were you.  As for everyone's speaking it, what twaddle !  Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to ?  The help ?  Your leaf blower ?  Study French or German, where there are a at least a few books worth reading, or, if you're American, try English.

Dame Edna

A Mexican-American, Wendy Maldonado, is infuriated by what she calls this racial stereotyping and is trying to organize some kind of protest.  She is at pains to point out that she herself is neither someone's help nor leaf-blower and in fact holds three degrees.  (And I thought the Three Degrees were black).  

Vanity Fair has responded by pointing out that Dame Edna is an equal opportunity distributer of insults.  No-one can deny that !  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : The League of Nations is a kind of excrescence which must be carefully prevented from having too much influence on our foreign policy.  Geneva [its headquarters was] a strange place in which a new-fangled machine existed in order to enable foreigners to influence or even to control our international action

And later, in 1946, The League is dead; long live the United Nations !

Lord Robert Cecil (1864-1958), British cabinet minister and 
an architect of the League of Nations 
- pre-cursor of the United Nations - 
expressing Britain's attitude to it 
when its impotence to hold sway and authority 
over world events was exposed.  

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By the way, winner of the CD under last week's item, Almonds Are Forever was Mary from the Dominican Republic.  The answer was A A Gill's food column in the Style magazine of the Sunday Times of 2nd March.  Well done, Mary, your CD is on its way.  

 

ISSUE #31 - 9th March 2003 [99]

Gang of Three (Plus One)

Last week, in a day of quickening international diplomacy, the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany and France - since dubbed the gang of three” - held an emergency meeting in Paris to present a united front against the US and Britain and their plan to present a second UN Security Resolution that will (re-)confirm that Iraq is in serious breach and thus deserves war.

We will not allow a resolution to pass that authorises resorting to force, French Foreign Minister Mr Dominique de Villepin told a press conference on behalf of the Gang.  A few days later the Chinese Foreign Minister added, China endorses and supports their joint statement. 

And at Friday's UN Security Council debate where Drs Blix and al Baradei again said Saddam is not cooperating fully, actively and immediately (and thus remains in material breach) the four repeated their opposition.

But look at them : 

  • Russia

    • the country that has twice waged brutal war on its own province of Chechnya - a part of Russia only through imperial conquest in the 19th century - for the crime of wanting its independence or at least a high degree of autonomy that would reflect its different ethnic, language and religious essence.  

    • Russia advocates patience.  Where was its own patience when after only 58 hours of perfunctory negotiationsit sent in its special forces to end the Moscow theatre siege, and out of 800 hostages clumsily killed 115 of its own citizens and injured a further 646 ?

  • Germany

    • the western two-thirds of which itself was freed from the tyrant Hitler in 1945 by the Americans and British; 

    • was economically rescued after the war by America's Marshall Plan of massive aid which allowed the country to rebuild;

    • was protected by American arms for 45 years from the malevolent Soviet Empire, whose eventual defeat permitted Germany's reunification.  America to this day provides 37,000 troops to keep it protected.  

    • And all this at no charge - and for no thanks.  

  • France

    • delivered by America and Britain from abject defeat by Germany in two world wars, despite overt collaboration with Hitler in the second;

    • its war graves filled with tens of thousands of GIs and squaddies killed in the process; 

    • also economically rescued and rebuilt by the Marshall Plan; 

    • friend and succourer of Saddam for over 20 years; 

    • provider of Iraq's Osirik nuclear plant (nicknamed O'Chirac after the Prime Minister who arranged it all) that would today be producing weapons grade plutonium had the Israelis not destroyed it in a daring bombing raid in 1981.  

  • China -

    • since 1949 an unapologetic communist dictatorship whose overriding political philosophy is simply to stay in power at all costs; 

    • the same dictatorship responsible for, amongst others; 

    • the dictatorship that to this day holds the world record for political prisoners and quasi-judicial executions

These are the countries with the moral authority to decide whether American and British servicemen should again risk their lives ?  This time to liberate Iraqis, as well as to help protect America and the West from the potential confluence of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.  (By the way, Hans Blix' 173 page report to the UN Security Council  contains evidence of both terrorists and WMD within Iraq, though he did not mention them in his verbal presentation).  

If the Gang were providing their own soldiers to put the pressure on Saddam they might deserve more serious consideration.  But they don't; they are free-riding on the Americans and then criticizing them from the sidelines. 

Stuart Taylor of the National Journal puts it better.  He invites us to imagine America heeding its faithless allies' obstructionism and resentment by withdrawing its services as world policeman.  All US troops return to protect only the homeland, leaving Europe and the rest to deal with Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria, Indonesia, weapons proliferation and international terrorism, and to provide (and fund) whatever military muscle this requires.  This scary scenario underscores how the Europeans, South Koreans and others who have become highly anti-American depend on American power - unthinkingly, ungratefully, and completely - for their well-being and security.  By abdicating their own responsibilities to help maintain world order, they are simply free-riding.  

It is hard to see how the Gang are going to rescue their reputations from the ever deeper hole they are digging for themselves.  Even they cannot doubt any longer doubt that America will attack Iraq.  Therefore they seem to be shamefully pinning their hopes on just three doubtful scenarios : 

  • that W lacks the courage to push through another UN resolution, as this would spare them from actively having to obstruct it with an abstention or veto, and/or 

  • that America fails to win a quick victory with minimal civilian casualties, as this would allow them to gloat, and/or 

  • a failure to rebuild a new democratic Iraq, since a successful Iraq would expose the shallowness of their posturing.

In America, NewsMax magazine has launched a boycott France campaign.  Though the reasons are understandable and well articulated, the boycott of superb French wines, cheeses and cars is infantile.  Why cut your nose to spite your face ?  The French will only laugh.  

Meanwhile, for all the rhetoric in the Islamic world, it is clear from last week's emergency summit in Qatar of the 56-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which was meant to unite the voices of the world's one billion Muslims against war, that they are far from unanimity in condemning the forthcoming attack on Iraq.  

In a clash caught on live television before transmission was shut down, Saddam's top aide Izzat Ibrahim departed from his text to zero in on the Kuwaitis sitting across the conference chamber.  Shut up you minion, you US agent, you monkey. You are addressing Iraq.  You are insolent. You are a traitor to the Islamic nation, he spat out while Qatar's head of state Sheikh Hamad al-Thani tried to silence him.  A Kuwaiti delegate responded that the insults were the words of an infidel and a charlatan, as the two sides shouted and gesticulated angrily at each other.

The summit only agreed a broad statement on Iraq - not broadcast - which said diplomacy should be given more time, whatever that means.  

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Death of a Soviet Tyrant

Last week, I drew some parallels between Saddam Hussein the tyrant of Iraq and Menghistu the tyrant of Ethiopia.  This week it’s the turn of Joseph Stalin, the tyrant of the Soviet Empire who died just 50 years ago on 6th March 1953.  I well remember, as a boy of eight growing up in Hong Kong, the screaming headlines, “STALIN IS DEAD”. 

In 1879, he was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in Georgia, the studious and devout son of a cobbler and a housecleaner.  Extraordinarily, it was while studying for the Orthodox Christian priesthood that he discovered Karl Marx’s writings which turned him into an atheistic communist revolutionary at age 20.  Before long he met Lenin, changed his name to Stalin (“Man of Steel”), and after the 1917 revolution became Lenin’s right-hand-man.  

After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin over the next three years manoeuvered his way to the top by ruthlessly killing and exiling all his rivals and opponents.  Once in sole power, he introduced policies of forced collectivization of farmers that produced nation-wide famine that resulted in the deaths of millions.  Millions more were killed in his purges of the Communist Party and the military.

In 1939, he stunned the world by signing a non-aggression pact with Hitler, which divided Eastern Europe.  Two years later however, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.  Yet, despite the rapid advance of German forces, Stalin rallied his people to the defense of Russia, which was ultimately victorious over the Germans, aided by a bitter winter.  

In 1942, Time Magazine nominated him as Man of the Year, with a sycophantic account of this accomplishment.  But it was silent about the cost to Russia :  a mind-boggling twenty million lives, three times more than their enemy's losses.  

After the war, Stalin's militant mistrust of the West (his wartime allies!) coupled with his policy of hanging on to and oppressing all the Eastern European countries the Soviets had liberated from the Germans gave rise to the Cold War.  Fortunately, America prevailed through its economic strength, military threat and single-mindedness, but only after 45 years.   

When eventually he died, you would think that the radio announcement, The heart of Stalin - comrade and inspired follower of Lenin's will, the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet people - has ceased to beat would cause rejoicing.  But no.  People thronged the streets of Moscow in an almost hysterical outburst of grief; hundreds were crushed to death at the his funeral.

His purges of society through violent police terror left a permanent scar on the collective memory of the people under his rule.  Although admired by some Russians, most would agree with the assessment in the West that Stalin was one of the cruelest dictators in history, with an overwhelmingly negative historical legacy.

To this day, the circumstances of his death are disputed.  

  • Did he die of a brain haemorrhage after a customary late-night drinking session with his politburo colleagues, his mortal coil finally succumbing to a lifetime of abuse, as the official history tells us ? 

  • Or did his trusted lieutenant Lavrenty Beria, chief of the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB), have him poisoned because he was about to plunge the Soviet Union into World War 3 against America to create a communist Europe, a war the Soviet people and economy were in no position to fight, despite his nuclear weapons ?  

There is a lot of plausible evidence to support the latter.  And we can only guess at how many additional deaths the murderous thug's own early demise at 74 avoided.     

Meanwhile, the example of the great man lives on today, through oppression, central control and killing.  Stalin would warmly embrace Kim Jong Il of North Korea, Fidel Castro of Cuba and of course Saddam Hussein of Iraq, all rabidly Stalinist dictatorships.  

How do those don't attack Iraq marchers rationalise their attempts to prevent the fall of Saddam ?  They would similarly march for Stalin.  

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Cost of Domain Names

Ever wonder why so many domain names end with .com ?  Even of websites which are clearly linked to a particular country (eg an Irish construction company such as www.naturaltimberconstruction.com) ?

Here's a clue.  Cost and ease.  I did a little survey.  

 Domain Name Ending

Country

Cost per year

Procedure

.com

US / any

 $10

A few clicks

 .ie

Ireland

 €100

Form to be filled; certificates submitted

  .co.uk

UK

  £40 plus VAT

Simple form to be filled in

.ca

Canada

$50

Simple form to be filled in

.de

Germany

$50

Simple form to be filled in

Why would any sane person not opt for .com ?

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Almonds Are Forever

The humble almond has been with us a long, long time.  Forever.  

Ur, the ancient name for modern day Iraq, is the oldest state in the world, the first country. It existed before the end of the ice age. The fertile crescent that runs between the Tigris and the Euphrates was where farming was invented, the first place where more than 200 people could live together. It was the beginning of civilisation, because they grew food. And one of the first things cultivated was almonds. 

The Bible's Book of Numbers tells the story of Aaron's rod that blossomed and bore almonds, giving the nut divine approval.Miraculous, divine almond

It is one of the great mysteries of human consumption. The fruit, from the apricot family, is only edible when unripe. The stone is the nut. And here's the miraculous bit. 

You know when you get a bitter almond, how deeply unpleasant that is ? Well, that's the natural flavour of almonds - they're poisonous with prussic acid. The sweet almond is a mistake, a very occasional genetic cock-up. So, how did they manage to grow them ?  You might get one sweet almond in a blue moon on a bitter almond tree, but it would take years of selective breeding to get sweet almond trees.  And if, by chance, you did come across a sweet one, you couldn't plant it, because you'd already have eaten it. You work it out. 

Almonds are a magical ingredient. They've found their way into all European and Asian cooking and cultures. They can be both sweet and savoury. They were hugely important to medieval and Renaissance banquets, and are still the sweet devotion at the heart of festivals around the world : 

  • the simnel cake at Easter;  

  • the French galette des rois at Epiphany; 

  • the German stollen; 

  • British Christmas and wedding cakes; 

  • the five almonds given to guests at Greek weddings to signify health, wealth, happiness, fertility and longevity for the happy couple; 

  • Iraq's lowzina, a triangular almond sweetmeat flavoured with rose-water and cardamom, and decorated with gold leaf. 

If you think you can taste a hint of a prussic parable here, you're right. We're all connected by the gossamer web of shy pleasures and shared joy.  The triumph of civilisation has always been to find the one sweet nut in the bag of bitter ones. And, boy, are we suffering a lot of bitter nuts at the moment. 

Most of the world's almonds, by the way, are now grown in California where, curiously, bees are trucked around to pollinate them.  Click here for a few almond recipes.  

Prize : A 15-track music CD ("Selection for 2003") to the first surfer who can tell me where I cribbed most of this delightful article.  e-mail me at blog@tallrite.com.  

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Barclays Is Not Just a Bank

An interesting court case was reported on in Dublin last week.  

I always thought Barclays was a bank.  But apparently it is also a lap dancing club so exclusive that even the self-styled King of ClubsPeter Stringfellow is not admitted.  It was being prosecuted for running a brothel.  This was based on evidence collected by two fearless police officers in luminous yellow jackets who raided the premises one evening last October.  

They alleged that on entering the private “Clarendon Suite” upstairs, they lingered their torch (the torch of Irish justice ?) on a naked woman leaning over a man on a chair who they said was caressing her intimately while loud beat music played.  

The club manager put up a robust defence, citing the club's no-touching rule (which, by the way, could otherwise turn clubbers into communists according to this medical report).  The beleaguered man said he was “aghast” when the boys in blue made the outrageous suggestion that he might be running a brothel.  He simply “could not believe what the police were suggesting”.  

The customer in question explained that he had paid €100 for a private dance and that he only came into contact with the lady because she stumbled after being startled by the clumsy arrival of Messrs Plod, and he had raised his hand to save her from falling.  As to the police evidence of seeing him groping her, the manager replied, The guy would have to be an octopus.  

Lacking any sense of humour, the judge found Barclays guilty and suspended its licence.  The club is appealing (like the girls).  

Nevertheless, the streets of Dublin are safer and criminals now quake, thanks to the gallant efforts of our intrepid law-enforcement officers.  

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Comfort Breaks

Some employers and schools have been making it difficult for their employees / pupils to take toilet breaks, and there has been some protesting. 

An enterprising Tallrite Blog surfer suggests a novel solution for office workers.  

Click on the thumbnails

152.jpg (36447 bytes) 

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

Joseph Stalin

Quote : If the opposition disarms, well and good. If it refuses to disarm, we shall disarm it ourselves.

Also Stalin, but could as well be George W Bush today

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ISSUE #30 - 2nd March 2003 [134]

Resolution 1441 One More Time

With all the hot air that's being bandied around, particularly by the anti-war lobby, it's worth repeating the key elements of UN Resolution 1441.  

  1. Unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council, it states quite categorically that Iraq is already in material breach.  It must disarm if it wishes to change this situation.  

    Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei have not reported that it has done so and what a relief it would be for them if they could so report.  The best Dr Blix can say is the results in terms of disarmament have been very limited so far.

    Notwithstanding the last-minute destruction of four Al-Samoud missiles out of 50, the material breach endures. 

  2. !441 also categorically states that continued material breach will risk serious consequences.  No-one doubts, not even Iraq, that this is a euphemism for war.  

Thus war is authorised at any time.  

We should moreover remember that the upcoming war is not a new one. It is merely the continuation of the one begun in 1990 by Saddam when he invaded Kuwait.  As commentator Andrew Sullivan points out, when that war was won twelve years ago, no peace treaty was signed.  Instead, a truce was arranged on clear and unequivocal conditions : that Saddam completely disarm himself of weapons of mass destruction, which he patently has not done.  

The issue is therefore not whether to start a war.  It is whether to end one by rewarding the aggressor and simply ignoring his infractions of the truce. Such a policy, inasmuch as it clearly rewards unprovoked aggression, would be immoral and imprudent.

A second UN resolution will be nice for public opinion, but it's not necessary.  Neither will it rescue either Bush or Blair from their current unpopularity, because those opposed to war are implacably so - new resolution or no new resolution. 

  • Only one thing can reprieve them politically and that is a rapid and resounding victory followed by determined restructuring and reconstruction of a new democratic Iraq.  

  • Conversely, they are both doomed if the war is lengthy and results in  heavy casualties.  

I am more inclined to believe the confident, informed assertions of America's military brass that speedy victory is likely, rather than the doomsday scenarios painted by angry, uninformed Hollywood types.  

In another impassioned speech last week, Tony Blair compared himself with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who in 1938 was welcomed as a hero by the British people when he extracted from Hitler a seemingly war-averting promise of no further aggression.  However, Mr Blair wanted to show his determination not to repeat a comparable mistake.  

  • Chamberlain,” he said, was a good man; he made a popular decision; he made the wrong decision.  

  • But had Churchill then been in power, the script might well have read, Churchill was a bad man; he made an unpopular decision; he made the right decision.  And history would have produced a World War 2 that was earlier, shorter and less bloody, and the whole of Eastern Europe would have been spared 50 years under the malevolent thumb of the Soviet Empire.  

Think about it.  

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Fall of Mengistu, Tyrant of Ethiopia

As we contemplate the imminent removal and/or demise of the Tyrant of Iraq, it is interesting to note that there is more than one way for a vicious regime to be terminated.  

That of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, tyrannical President of Ethiopia, fell in the summer of 1991 after seventeen brutal years in power. He himself escaped at the last minute by plane to Zimbabwe, where to this day he luxuriates under the protection of his soul-brother Robert Mugabe, immune from extradition demands from Ethiopia for (massively-documented) crimes against humanity. 

The fate of Mengistu's much feared armed forces, responsible for up to 500,000 deaths at his orders, was extraordinary. 

  • With help from the even more malign Soviet Empire, Mengistu had built up the most powerful army in sub-Saharan Africa. It numbered 400,000 soldiers; it had rockets and chemical weapons and was not afraid to use them. 

  • Its opponents were guerrillas from the northern mountains (Tigre and now-independent Eritrea) and from the south (Oromo).  They were mostly barefoot boys, often children, ragged, hungry, poorly armed, mostly unpaid.  

And yet, in the summer of 1991, these rebel forces had driven the government troops from the countryside and into Addis Ababa. Europeans began fleeing the city in panic, expecting a bloodbath once the guerrillas entered. 

But something quite different occurred, something that could have been the subject of a movie entitled, The End of a Great Army”.  

At the news that their cowardly commander had fled, this powerful force, armed to the teeth, collapsed in a matter of hours. Empty-bellied, demoralized soldiers transformed all at once, before the stunned eyes of the city's residents, into beggars.  Holding a Kalashnikov in one hand more as a support than a threat, they stretched out the other, pleading for food.  The guerrillas took the capital essentially without a fight.  Mengistu's soldiers, having abandoned their tanks, rocket launchers, airplanes, armoured vehicles, and artillery pieces, set off, each man for himself, on foot, on mules, by bus, for their villages, homes, families. 

And if by chance in the years that followed you were to find yourself driving through Ethiopia, you would have noticed in many villages and small towns strong, healthy, young men sitting idly on the thresholds of houses, or on the stools of humble roadside bars.  They were the soldiers of General Mengistu's great army which was to conquer Africa - yet fell apart in the course of a single day in the summer of 1991. 

Saddam's forces might last longer than a single day.  But they won't last longer than a month, if that.  

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Pre-Nuptial Agreements Invalidate Marriage

Pre-nuptial agreements are gaining in popularity across the Western world.  A particularly celebrated one has Michael Douglas paying Catherine Zeta Jones a pre-determined sum every time he is caught philandering, as well as rules for division of spoils in the event of a divorce.  

Geoffrey Shannon, an expert on family law from the European Commission for Family Law, and author of Children and the Law supports the practice of pre-nuptial agreements.  He suggests thatmost of us enter marriage with a naïvety that is frighteningand that the pre-nuptial agreement is merely a type of contract ... whose time has come.  

People may not be aware, however, that a pre-nuptial agreement will almost certainly invalidate a marriage in the Catholic Church.

Catholic Canon Law states that the essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility. The exclusion of indissolubility by a positive act of the will, as exemplified by a typical pre-nuptial agreement, renders consent invalid. 

While this may not be an issue for civil lawyers, it will be important to young Catholic couples who believe marriage is a God-sanctioned union.   Indeed, under all Christian faiths, marriage is supposed to be indissoluble.  

Till death do us part is supposed to mean what it says.  

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 Dublin Spire

Three years late and costing €46m, Dublin has just erected its contribution to the Third Millenium, the “Dublin Spire”.  

In the centre of the city's greatest thoroughfare, O'Connell Street just north of the river Liffey, it replaces Nelson's Pillar which the IRA blew up in 1966.  The highly polished stainless steel spire is just three metres across at its base, and rises 120 metres tall with a pinpoint red light at the top.  This makes it the country's tallest structure; it is also the world's tallest non-functional construction.  

Though a poll suggests 96% of Dubliners approve of it, they have nonetheless been quick to re-christen it over the past few months.  

Among the better suggestions : 

  • Millennium Spire 

  • Silver Spire 

  • Uninspire

  • Dublin Spyer (with CCTV cameras installed to improve street security) 

  • Monument of Light 

  • The Pointless Point 

  • The Point of Irish Neutrality (nice idea that everyone can talk about, pointing vaguely into space, and has nothing to do with anything)

  • The Rod to God Knows Where 

  • North side needle

  • North Pole

  • MetroPole 

  • Bertie Pole (Bertie Ahern is Ireland's Prime Minister)

  • Bertie's Erection ... 

  • Long finger

  • Middle finger 

  • Come on Baby, Light my Spire

Dublin Spire 
 

  • Spike (Milligan, Irish comedian, just deceased) 

  • Spike in the Dyke

  • Stiletto in the Ghetto 

  • Stiffy by the Liffey

  • Jab in the Slab

  • Lampstand in Clampland (ie car clampers land)

  • Light in the Night 

  • Syringe on the Fringe

  • Spire in the Mire

  • Pole in the Hole

  • Steeple for the People

and finally, for all you Irish-language aficionados, 

  • An Spadhar (which means a mad impulse, a tilting at windmills. The adjective, spadhrúil, means mentally unbalanced)  

Take your pick !

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Dancing Bush

You thought George W Bush was a boring old warmonger ?  Well, have a look at him disco dancing.  Hip or what ?

It's meant to be anti-Bush but with dancing skills like this, he goes up (further) in my estimation !

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “Whoever decides to forsake his nation from whoever requests [it] is not true to [his] principles. We will die here ... in this country and we will maintain our honour, the honour that is required, in front of our people.  Whoever ... offers Saddam asylum in his own country is ... without morals, because he will be directing an insult to the Iraqi people ... who have chosen Saddam Hussein, unanimously.

- President Saddam Hussein of Iraq 
talking to CBS Anchorman Dan Rather 

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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
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 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
in
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.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
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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