This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
contains all issues since inception, including the current week.
You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
(Clumsy form of my address to thwart spamming
software that scans for e-mail addresses)
some reason, this site displays better in Internet Explorer than in Mozilla
#121-26th March 2006
Trócaire and Child
Every year in Ireland, at the start of Lent (the
Christians' Ramadan) the charity Trócaire
(an Irish word which means Compassion) distributes cardboard collection
boxes to churches and other worthy establishments. The faithful are
exhorted to take them home and to put in them the money they are able to
save by giving up stuff - like booze, sugar-in-tea, chocolate, second
helpings, cigarettes - as part of their Lenten
penance. It's a very laudable way to collect and donate for charitable
causes. Trócaire successfully raises large sums every Lent, which
this year runs from 1st March to Easter Sunday 16th April 2006.
Its theme for this year's Lenten collection is child
labour in South America. This is supported by a frequent TV ad which
depicts a gruff, heartless Hispanic boss who dictates rigorous employment
terms (12-hour days, two days off a month, low pay, no liability for
accidents etc) for work in the fields - to an eight-year-old little
girl. A similar radio ad features a nine-year-old boy called Jaime.
A couple of TV programmes have shown life in a Nicaraguan village where
Jaime's mother, deserted by her husband, struggles to raise her children,
whose schooling takes second place to working in dreadful conditions in a
Now, who could not deplore the use of children to toil all
day - or in many cases trafficked as slaves - when they should be going to
school and frolicking with their friends? And who can doubt that
their future prospects as undereducated adults are grim and likely to perpetuate
a deprived life-cycle?
But what is the solution? For this is not a simple
issue. Employers hire children because they are available, are
cheaper than adult employees, and are no doubt less troublesome.
Children go to work because another adult (usually a parent) has sent them
there, generally for the money that the family desperately needs to
survive. How are you going to persuade either party to desist from
So what is Trócaire planning to do with all the money it
raises (apart from pay for the prolific advertising)? Its special Lenten
website, so verbose in presenting the problem of child labour, is
singularly tongue-tied when it comes to explaining how it will actually
use the money to alleviate it. All it says is that
“Trócaire works with communities to help children get
information about their rights and help them into the education system.
They also receive skills training so they can get proper jobs when they
In its vague way, this seems to amount to providing a
measure of education, which if so is an utter can of worms.
Is Trócaire therefore going to put the funds into
setting up new schools?
To get children to attend, is it going to reimburse
them their foregone wages so that the families don't
How will it ration this when word gets around that
kids are being paid to go to school?
How is it going to deter employers from hiring
children from the next village, or from raising wages to lure children
back to the fields?
Will it subsidise wages so that the bosses can afford
to hire adults instead of children?
How are such subsidies going to be managed and
Is Trócaire going to install its own permanent
administrators to make sure everything works and is not abused?
Child labour is not something that is solvable by throwing
a bit of money at in a once-off gesture, as Trócaire seems to imply in
what I regard as its fundamentally dishonest campaign.
Throwing serious money is another
matter. An ILO report in 2003,
in Every Child”
(PDF, 1.1 Mb), showed that an investment of $760 bn (yes, billion) on
education and replacing child wages would ultimately yield a net benefit
of $4.3 trillion in terms of greater productivity and health in adult
life. But who is ever going to stump up the $760 bn?
It's just not a realistic option.
On the other hand, numerous studies (for example these
papers from the US Department of State) have shown that it is poverty
which breeds child labour (not the other way round as some have
claimed), and that as families get richer they choose to spend money to
educate their children rather than earn it by sending them out to work.
England is a case in point. It was not simply the moral indignation
stoked up by Charles Dickens that led to the outlawing of child labour a
century ago, but the newly acquired wealth that resulted from the
extraordinary industrial revolution. This is what made the elimination of child
And therein lies the lesson.
To tackle child labour in the developing world,
there must grow their GDP - quickly and certainly faster than population.
opening their economies,
removing protectionist barriers,
welcoming foreign investors,
eradicating corruption and tyranny.
But rich countries must also do their part, which means
opening their markets to goods from the poor countries
eliminating the obscenity of the CAP in Europe and the
similar agricultural subsidies in the US.
In a word, embracing capitalism.
Paradoxically, these straightforward measures will make
not only the developing world wealthier and thus lead to the end of child
labour, but will enrich the West as well.
But are there too many vested interests to allow it to
happen? If there are, then there's no point bemoaning child labour
as it won't stop.
Meantime, I don't trust Trócaire in its Lenten campaign
against child labour. Not that I believe it will put the money collected
to improper use. The money will, however, do nothing substantive to
tackle its stated objective.
Moreover, I've noted in the past Trocaire's
political behaviour, as have others.
So my Lenten no-beer money is going to its competitor charity, GOAL.
to List of Contents
Never Be Gazumped
You know the scene. You've found the apartment of
your dreams. You've put in your offer (a lot more than you hoped to
pay or can reasonably afford), the seller has accepted it and you've paid
a deposit to secure the deal. You're thrilled to bits. It's
now over to the lawyers to draw up the formal contract. A week later
you get a phone call. Someone has popped up out of nowhere and offered a higher
price than yours. So if you still want it, you have to match
the new price. Otherwise it goes to the other guy and you will get
your deposit back.
You've just been gazumped. And you're mad. And
I know. I've been there.
But there is a defence. You
don't have to be gazumped.
In most of the English-speaking world, your word is not
your bond when it comes to buying property, nor is paying a deposit and
getting a receipt. Either party can back out, however many witnesses
you may have. As Sam Goldwyn once said,
“a verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on”. The only thing that makes
your contract water-tight is,
well, signing the contract. Both of you - buyer and
The difficulty is that the contract is a formal document
drawn up only by lawyers, usually in their own good time - usually in weeks
not days, and the clock can start ticking only after you have a agreed a
deal in principle. During this period, you are completely
exposed. (In fairness, so is the seller, because you can cut your
offer just as he can raise his asking price.)
The trick is to manage this gap period.
as they say on the trains. There are
Eliminate the Gap
Ideally you should try to get rid of the gap
I did this after the first time I was gazumped.
Controlling my anger, I agreed the higher price demanded in a personal
meeting with the seller (not his agent), on the one condition that we would
not leave each other's presence until the contract was signed - which even
included going to the Gents together. We phoned our two respective
lawyers and insisted they drop everything and prepare the contract
immediately, in our presence, with the promise of a bonus fee (which I
paid for both). The drafting session dragged on from noon until 6 pm,
with sandwiches being sent in,
but at the end of it, the contracts were signed by both parties.
It was a highly uncomfortable, highly stressful process
but ultimately successful - in the sense I was gazumped only once instead
of a second time. For the amount of money involved, not to
mention the crazy property market since, the stress
was worth it.
Do It Yourself
If you cannot marshal the lawyers on the spot (they're a curmudgeonly
lot), there is another way to defend yourself against a gazumping.
That is, to write and sign your own contract the moment
that you have agreed a deal with the seller.
Once again, this
requires that you meet him face-to-face. Real estate agents hate this,
they find it insulting and
will try to prevent it because they feel you are making them superfluous
and are worried you will plot to cheat them of their commission. But
it is your money that they all want, so be hard-nosed and insist on
meeting the seller, within the property itself. The agent can come
along if he/she wants.
Beforehand, draft an agreement that reflects what you want
to see included in any deal. Ask your lawyer to help if you
Bring a laptop and printer with you. Negotiate the deal
with the seller, most crucially the price of course, and the payment
schedule (deposit, first payment, final payment). Being in the house
will help clarify secondary issues on the spot such as what is included
and what is not. Prepare the agreement jointly with the seller, including
everything you have agreed. Specify that this agreement will be
superseded by a final contract, to be prepared by lawyers, which will
reflect the same terms. Print off two copies, one for each of you, and both sign both of
them, on every page. Both of you initial any amendments, or else
re-print and re-sign the amended page. Get a neighbour (or the
fuming real estate agent) to witness the signatures. Hand over whatever
payment you have agreed to be then due. Open the champagne.
due course, pass photocopies of the agreement to the lawyers and instruct
them to prepare the final contract.
Now the agreement you have just signed will not have the
full force of the final contract. However it will still be a most
powerful document which either party will be loathe to put to any legal
test. The fact of its existence almost ensures the seller will not
dare gazump you. For if he does, it is by no means certain that he
will get away with it, as he would if all you had was a Munich-style little
receipt for a deposit. At the very least a court of law would
look sympathetically on your case and demand explanations from the
This second approach works. I've done it. And
far from the seller being in some way resentful and suspicious, he is
invariably delighted because it gives him certainty too. He can
smell your money and the aroma is overpowering!
For many years, I held a senior contracting position in a
multinational company. And I can tell you that the principle
underlying the above techniques,
which I had developed to help me buy gazump-free houses for myself, works
equally well in any business negotiation context.
And that principle is that if you have reached any
important agreement, don't leave the room, however long it takes, until
it's written up, in whatever form is convenient, and signed by both
parties there and then. Worry about eating, drinking and sleeping
when it's all over. Until then, don't stop or rest. It can be
written up nicely and more legalistically at a later date; that's just a
With this principle, you will save yourself no end of
headache. And you'll never be gazumped.
to List of Contents
to the Gaiety of the Human Condition
Also available as a 3.5Mb podcast
In the last couple of weeks we've seen some enterprising
public rages by national figures over here in Europe.
Ireland's minister of justice, Michael
McDowell, was incensed when his own department's figures showed that last
year the police force had increased by only two (yes, 2). Purple of
spittle-flecked face, he likened
the opposition's Richard Bruton, who had pointed this out, to Hitler's
chief of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Mr McDowell is the same
minister who a little earlier had associated
the Green party with looters, anoraks, muesli and open-toed
sandals. Sadly he issued a double
apology for these transgressions.
A fellow minister, John O'Donoghue, added to the
calling the Greens
“bicycled tut-tutters and windmill blowers”.
John Gormley, the respected chairman of the Green party gave as good as he got,
telling Mr O'Donoghue,
“you are a sewer
Meanwhile, over in Italy, prime minister
Silvio Berlusconi cheered up TV viewers no end when he foolishly showed up for an
interview on an RAI TV station. RAI is one of the few Italian
networks that he does not own or control, and being under someone else's
control is not an experience he is familiar with.
An earnest young interviewer, Lucia Annunziata, with a
bone to pick, not only asked him uncomfortable questions, but had the
temerity to demand that he stop waffling and answer them. Being
aggressive and undeferential to politicians is commonplace Britain (Jeremy
Paxman famously so), but apparently most unusual in Italy. She
questioned Mr Berlusconi about
the conflict between his business interests and his
his handling of the economy (zero
GDP growth in 2005),
how he could justify to the Italian people his support
for the war in Iraq.
The sensitive fellow could take no more of this
impertinence. Calling his interviewer a left-winger who “should
be ashamed of herself”,
the studio in a rage.
there was the French moment, as we were entertained by more storming
out, this time over in Brussels during the twice-yearly EU summit, under
Last week, Frenchman Ernest-Antoine Seillière, who is president of the EU employers' federation,
Unice, was delivering an address on economic reform to the heads of all 25
EU governments. Having begun en Français, he switched to English
saying this was now the international business language. A Frenchman
speaking English? To an audience which included the French
president? Such insolence.
It was all too much for the haughty Jacques Chirac. In a fit of
nationalistic chutzpah and in best Berlusconi style, the president of
France stood up and flounced
towards the exit. Not only that but he dragged along his two lackeys
- sorry, his two hapless ministers. It was ironic that the theme of
Mr Seillière's talk was the need to resist economic nationalism in the
EU's single market. Meanwhile, Mr Chirac skulked outside the grand meeting room until
another Frenchman, Jean-Claude Trichet (president of the European Central
Bank), restored Gallic honour by yakking in French.
It is incidents such as these that give you faith in
mankind. If there were not people such as McDowell, Berlusconi and Chirac, whose juvenile
tantrums from time to time
provide us all with such entertainment,
make us feel intellectually superior,
add greatly to the gaiety of the human
where would we be?
May they long splutter in rage.
to List of Contents
Answers on Iraq
Those of a masochistic streak can watch me on RTÉ's
Questions & Answers programme on Monday 27th March where I will be a
plant in the audience. I am told the panel will include a Minister, a Green,
a Human Rightster and Gardaí union leader and a Columnist.
I was invited to come along because the producers were
evidently desperate to find someone - anyone - prepared to defend the Bush
invasion of Iraq and the Americans' continuing presence there. There
aren't many such defenders here in Ireland, or if there are they're mostly
After transmission, the show will become available here.
Late Note: I appear in
minute 7:30 of the ten-minute video
For the next issue, #122, I translated the research I did for this
discussion into a post
to mark the three-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion
to List of Contents
Week 121's Letters to the Press
Only one letter this week (based on this
issue's lead article above). It wasn't published,
maybe because of fears that Lenten donations would be reduced rather than,
as the letter suggests, diverted from one charity to another more sensible
Will Trócaire Alleviate Child Labour?
I am uncomfortable with Trócaire's extensive Lenten campaign, on TV and radio, focused on child labour. A couple of Nicaraguan children are depicted who are being forced by unscrupulous bosses to undertake long hours of hazardous work in the coffee fields for paltry
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week
- - - - - - - - - - I R
A Q - - - - - - - - - -
“I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my rescue.”
campaigner Norman Kember, kidnapped in Iraq for four months, ties himself
in knots with this ungracious thank-you for his release
by an armed raid led by the Britain's legendary SAS.
hates to admit that violence has had a beneficent outcome,
with himself and his two kidnapped colleagues the fortunate
fourth colleague was brutally murdered -
which but for the SAS's violent raid
would have probably been their own fate.
at 75 he is old enough to know better,
Mr Kember does not seem to recall that but for armed force,
he would be speaking German, if not Russian
Quote: “We will leave Iraq, but when we do, it will be from a position of strength, not weakness.”
speaking to the City Club of Cleveland
Quote: “The rationale for a free and democratic Iraq is as compelling today as it was three years ago.
A free and stable Iraq will not attack its neighbours, will not conspire with terrorists, will not pay rewards to the families of suicide bombers and will not seek to kill
Rumsfeld, US Secretary of State,
reiterates America's determination to
stay the course in Iraq
- - - - - - - - - -A F
G H A N I S T A N - - - - - - - - - -
“We will invite [Abdul Rahman] again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive
him. But if he refuses to reconvert, then his mental state will be considered first before he
is dealt with under Sharia law”
Judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah at the
trial in Kabul of Abdul Rahman
who is accused of converting from Islam to Christianity,
a crime punishable by death under Sharia law.
Shariah law is integral to the new,
post-Taliban Afghan constitution.
Happily, it now looks
as if, due to international outrage,
Mr Rahman will be released.
An execution would have made him into a true Christian martyr,
one who accepts being killed rather than recant his faith,
and thus eligible for eventual canonisation.
- - - - - - - - - - B E
L A R U S - - - - - - - - - -
Quote: “[We will] wring necks of those who threaten a coup.”
Lukashenko menaces objectors
to his regime and his flawed election,
with a curious - yet perhaps appropriate - analogy
to chickens trying to flee the coop
was pronounced winner of the presidential election
with 88% of the vote and a record 92% turnout.
Ah, those halcyon Soviet elections.
Quote: “I'm so tired to be afraid every time”
a 19 year old student, demonstrating against
the flawed re-election landslide of Alexander Lukashenko,
dubbed Europe's last dictator
- - - - - - - - - - N O
R T H E R N I R E L A N D - - - - - - - - - -
“They are no more proper Muslims than the Protestant bigot who murders a Catholic in Northern Ireland is a proper Christian but, unfortunately, he is still a Protestant bigot.”
prime minister Tony Blair enrages Unionists
by equating Muslim extremists to Protestant - but not Catholic - bigots
He was making a major foreign policy
speech about how
extreme religious beliefs can give rise to violence.
Blair ... is not ... comparing like with like. I am not aware of any cases of senior Protestant church leaders or Government officials calling for sectarian attacks on Catholics. There are, however, cases of senior Muslim clerics calling for Jihad.”
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey
to List of Contents
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
to Top of Page
#120 - 19th March 2006
Hand-Biting Has Consequences
Dear oh dear. You just know that the ordinary
Palestinian population are riding a wild tiger looking for a fall.
They are like someone who cannot, or will not, face a reality that is
obvious to all around him. He blunders on and on until reality
smacks him in the face, and then he falls back, his eyes smarting in pain
and bewilderment. It happens more than once. Only after
repeated such episodes do the scales begin to fall from his eyes, and the
connection made between his actions and the consequences that ensue.
Only then does he begin to adjust his behaviour so that it leads to
benign outcomes rather than malign ones.
For decades, the Palestinians have refused the offer of
one Palestinian state after another, for the simple reason that they don't
want the Jews to have one. The result is that the Jews do
have one, and the Palestinians don't. Fixated that the choice they
face is one of all or nothing, they have persistently opted for
nothing. Which is precisely what they've got.
Of course it's misleading to talk of “the
Palestinians” in this way, because in truth until this year it has
been the unelected, unmandated tyrannical leaders of the ordinary
Palestinians who have been making all the key decisions that have resulted
in the impoverishment and estrangement of the people.
1921 to around 1950, Haj
Amin al-Husseini was the grand mufti of Jerusalem - appointed by the
British - as well as being the Palestinians' political leader (a role
taken up in 1968 by his nephew Yasser Arafat). As Grand Mufti,
Husseini led the way when he allied himself with Hitler, urging him in
1943 to extend the Final Solution to Jews in Palestine, and remaining as
Hitler's guest in Berlin for most of the Second World War.
Under Husseini's leadership, the Palestinians rejected a
two-state solution in 1937
and again in 1947/8;
two further rejections came under Arafat in 1967 and
The Israelis accepted them all. (Actually, the proposals were for three-state
solutions, two Arab and one Jewish, since Jordan - or Trans-Jordan as it
was initially known - was created in 1946
as the first homeland for Palestinian Arabs.) Meanwhile, after
Israel was created in 1948, the Palestinians partook in four
wars (1948–49, 1967, 1973–74, 1982) and two
intifadas (1987-94, 2000-2005) against the Israelis - and got the worst
in all of them.
The Palestinians have thus been within easy reach of
peace and statehood for seven long decade despite being perennially on the losing side in every
conflict since 1939s. Nevertheless it is true
that the terms became less favourable with each passing offer, for such is
the consequence of starting fights but never winning them, whilst being
unwilling to cut your losses.
With its dire leadership, the Palestinian entity has
become such an economic basket case that today it can afford barely 40% of its
annual $1.7 billion budget. For the rest it relies on massive gifts
from foreign taxpayers.
Here is the breakdown
of the Palestinian Authority's budget -
Total Palestinian Budget
Up to now, you could argue that the Palestinian
people were merely victims of their vicious and incompetent leaders,
rather than suffering from their own failure to recognise the reality
of cause and consequence.
But with recent events, that is changing. And
Firstly, the Palestinian people in their
first ever proper election, have by a solid margin (58% of parliamentary
seats) voted in Hamas, whose Covenant
openly demands, since 1988, the elimination of Israel:
“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate
it ... the land of Palestine, or any part of it should not be given up
... There is no solution for the Palestinian [ie Israel] question except through
Thus such words now for the first time represent the will
of the people. So long as this remains so, it is unconscionable that other
countries should support them or their aspirations. They have made
themselves into pariahs.
Secondly, last month, Palestinians did their
share of rioting and looting in the wake of those Danish cartoons and Imam Ahmad Abu
fakes. Their fury was directed not just at Denmark/Scandinavia,
but at Western targets in general and EU offices in
Thirdly, last week, despite denials, the
British, Americans and Israelis clearly co-ordinated and engineered a
military attack on Jericho Jail. British and American
“monitors” or “guards”,
or whatever they were, fled the jail just half an hour before the arrival
of Israeli tanks, bulldozers and troops. The Israelis laid siege
until Ahmed Saadat (head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine)
and five other Palestinians, all suspected of assassinating an Israeli
minister in 2001, meekly surrendered within a few hours. (Naturally,
no suicide or glorious fighting death for these exalted, middle-aged
gentlemen - that's just for youngsters from the lower orders.) The
action was apparently in response to Hamas's stated intention of freeing
the six, which stsrikes me as a reasonable enough justification.
were furious at the seizure, blamed the British (mainly) and then went on
another anti-Western rampage, on a kidnapping spree and on strike.
The eleven kidnappees were mostly French, Swiss and Korean aid workers and
journalists, who happily were eventually released unharmed. EU
monitors at the Rafeh crossing with Egypt were attacked and the
British Council cultural centre in Gaza City burnt down, along with a
number of cars.
assemble the the pieces of this sorry tale.
world genuinely wants to see the Palestinians enjoy peace
and prosperity. This includes not just the vast majority of Arabs and
Muslims, but the Western countries and even (albeit for its own security
reasons) Israel. If you doubt this,
then are foreigners gifting 60% of the budget?
is the place awash with foreign aid workers?
did Bill Clinton, in the dying days of his presidency, risk his
reputation and legacy in his ultimately futile attempt to negotiate a
statehood-for-peace deal in Camp David in 2000?
in it for any of these organizations and the people behind them?
the behaviour of the Palestinians is utterly bizarre and at odds with not
only their own best interests, but intrinsically immoral. It is
foolish in the extreme to bite the hand that so lavishly feeds you, to
attack those who are trying to help you with no thought of reward.
But it is also morally wrong.
that is precisely what they are now doing.
result is predictable though evidently not predicted. Once Hamas
with its annihilate-Israel covenant assumes power,
will talk to it except a few other errant and amoral leaders such as
Vladimir Putin or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
or all of the foreigners' billion-dollar annual gift will dry up and
so will the thousands of salaries and contracts that depend on
it. (Some Muslim countries will up their own contributions,
but certainly not to the tune of a billion dollars.)
there will be more chaos in the Palestinian streets and so the remaining aid
agencies, as well as EU and US functionaries, will flee.
will complete its security wall/fence along a route of its choosing,
grabbing more disputed territory in the process.
Palestinians will be left to fester impotently in Gaza and whatever of the
West Bank Israel opts to leave for them.
long this goes on for is anyone's guess. But it will only end when
the Palestinian population as a whole - and its leaders - recognize that
their dire plight is the consequence of no-one's behaviour but their
own. When they realise that biting the hand that feeds you has
this realisation eventually strikes home, they will not believe the
goodwill that is out there to help them. Even in Israel. And this time they are
likely to appreciate it and use it to good effect.
us hope it does not take too much longer and too much more self-inflicted
pain for the scales to drop at last from their eyes.
to List of Contents
Adult Bullies Love Bluff, Hate Death
Slobodan Milosovich had sworn he would never be taken alive. He
would either die fighting like a warrior or else, as his two parents had
done, take his own life. But it was just a bluff, for when it came down to it, on 31st March
2001, the Bully Butcher of Belgrade spiritlessly put up his hands and surrendered.
Next he found
himself in The Hague before the International War Crimes
Saddam Hussein was another bully who had compared himself with Saladdin
and declared he would never be taken alive. But he was.
Dragged by the Americans from a disgusting hole in the ground. He
could have used his pistol to send a couple of the GIs into the afterlife,
with the certainty of his own violent death to follow. But no, he
was no more courageous than Slobo. (Or many of the rest of us - but we don't brag about our bravery.) At least
Saddam's own two sons went out fighting. But they had probably lived
such cocooned lives that it never occurred to them that shooting at other
people, which they'd often done, might entail their own deaths.
Then there was Ahmad Saadat in Jericho Jail last week. More talk about never
being taken alive; about choosing a hero's exit. But it took just
six hours, and a clear ultimatum from the Israelis,
“surrender or you will be killed”.
So he surrendered, preferring to spend the rest of his life (he is only
50) behind Israeli bars, rather than a quick and glorious martyr's
As I've noted before (eg in “Child
last week), death and and martyrdom are reserved solely for the
young from the lower classes. The job of their boastful, bullying
elders and betters is to persuade them down this depraved course. Definitely not
to lead by example.
On another related issue, it is distasteful to see posthumous honour
poured on Slobodan in the form of a public funeral attended by over 50,000
mourners as we witnessed at the weekend. Moreover, his grave will no
doubt become a shrine for evermore, like those of the executed Japanese
war criminals buried in Yasukuni near Tokyo, which prime minister
controversially visits every year.
Something similar will also more than likely
happen after Saddam has been executed.
I don't believe or support the death penalty under any
circumstances; it is morally wrong to take a life unless absolutely
necessary, which is not the case once a criminal is securely behind bars
for life. But I would certainly support a post-death
penalty tagged on to the end of life imprisonment.
Specifically, I believe that such monsters should be cremated by their
jailers and their ashes scattered to the wind. The chance of
post-mortem veneration - and thus emulation - would be very much reduced,
with no coffin at the funeral and nothing to inter. The early
Soviets knew this when, having executed the entire Romanov royal family,
they burnt their bodies and buried the remains in a mine.
to List of Contents
Particularly Malodorous Peerage
A row has long
simmered in the UK over the strong correlation between citizens who make
generous donations to the governing Labour Party, and knighthoods and
peerages received by the donors. Under the parliamentary rules,
political parties have to declare donations and identify the donors, which
makes the corresponding award of honours a bit obvious and
is an unwelcome headline.
The row has
recently flared up again after revelations
in the Sunday Times that to get round this inconvenient transparency, honours
are now being dished out to people who have merely made loans
to the Labour Party: loans do not have to be declared, y'see.
The going rate for a peerage seems to be a loan in the order of a
million pounds. (I don't know if it ever has to be
don't see anything particularly wrong in principle in selling such honours
provided it is done upfront and openly. Better still would be an auction.
The subterfuge and hypocrisy are what is objectionable. It's true
that, insofar as the House of Lords is part of the legislature, people
bidding for peerages would also be buying their way in to help make
laws. However, is that so different from being born into a peerage
or becoming a peer just because the leader of a political party likes you
(or wants to banish you from the more powerful lower house)?
Unless and to the
extent that the House of Lords becomes fully elected, all methods of
populating it are unsatisfactory, even if the result is nevertheless a
chamber which is effective.
Late the other
evening, 16th March, I nearly choked on my post-prandial Armagnac (well, cocoa)
when tuning in to the BBC's Question
Time programme. Sitting there, bold as brass, was
someone called Baroness Tonge of Kew, a peer of the realm on behalf of the
Liberal Democrats party. Was this really the notorious Jenny Tonge
MP, a medical doctor subject to the Hippocratic Oath (“first
do no harm”),
who infamously excused suicide-homicide bombers, blaming their acts on provocation, and
adding that she might have become one herself if she were a Palestinian, which
on scathingly at the time?
Indeed it was none other than she.
Charles Kennedy, then leader of the Liberal Democrats,
honourably sacked her from her shadow cabinet position forthwith.
But he was evidently so embarrassed to have her around, that last May he
dishonourably elevated this odious creature to the Lords, where she is
entitled to remain, swathed in ermine, until death.
This malodorous elevation is far more outrageous than
someone openly purchasing his/her peerage or knighthood.
to List of Contents
was astonished to hear on the radio
(minute 16:30-21:30) the other day that the US military are training
bees to detect weapons such as roadside IEDs, Improvised
Explosive Devices, in Iraq. TNT is a vital, explosive component in each
IED, and it tends to seep out into the surrounding soil and plants.
So if you can find TNT you've found a bomb or a landmine.
Mixtures of sugar and TNT are placed in a field and the
bees are released to go and seek it out, over a radius of about a hundred
metres. Gradually, the percentage of sugar is reduced and the bees
become familiar with the smell of TNT. Eventually, they seek out
pure TNT, convinced it is a flower. Then fifty or so of the high
performers are fitted with minute radio transmitters, half the size of a
grain of rice, and are ready to be released into enemy territory.
Amid a swarm of maybe 50,000, they rush out, scatter and scour the territory looking for
Electronic devices keep track of the bees' movements, and
detectors back at the hive are able to determine whether the bees have
returned with traces of TNT on their bodies.
Apparently this technique is still in the early stages of
development, but seems to show great promise.
Other animals inspiring special research include
Flies - How could a machine replicate a
tiny fly's ability to take off backward, fly sideways and land upside
down? Pretty useful if you can build this into a flapping-wing
drone too small to support stable fixed-wing flight.
Beetles can can sense a forest fire
50-70 kilometers away, using a combination of visual smoke sensors and
infrared fire sensors. Handy detection technology if you can
Lobsters' special skill is being able to
dance around the rocks in a turbulent surf zone, manoeuvering round
all obstacles without getting tossed about or having legs broken off. This would be a very
handy technique for someone looking for mines in a similar shallow,
Gecko lizards are famous for walking up
walls and across ceilings. Their feet stick to surfaces, and
they then peel them off and re-stick them. If this clever trick could be reproduced for humans, what James Bond wouldn't want to shin up
walls like a lizard - or spiderman?
Where did God get all these bright ideas in the first
to List of Contents
Week 120's Letters to the Press
Only one letter this week. It wasn't published,
maybe because of fears of libel ...
Maurice Neligan's casual dismissal of the many lives wrecked by Dr Michael
Neary's unnecessary removal of up to 129
wombs as a "lapse, or whatever you want to call it" is in keeping with the many vague and unconvincing
attempts to find a reason for why Dr Neary's hysterectomy rate was 20
times greater than the average ...
Here's another one, also unpublished, from the beginning of the year.
Word that Dare Not ...
In his lengthy and contorted effort to defend the
non-use of the word homosexual (by Niall Crowley of the Equality
Authority), Declan Kelly's central point is that "a phobia is the
inability to control an irrational discomfort about something".
Thus it is homophobic to say homosexual instead of, for instance,
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week
Quote: “It shouldn't come as any surprise to anybody that the Iranians would love to talk
further. They've loved talking for the last four years and they will talk as long as they can as they master the technical difficulties they have encountered in the uranium enrichment
process. Of course [the Iranians want to talk], to throw more sand in our eyes”
Bolton, the belligerent US ambassador to the United Nations, responding to
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov's desire,
despite his frustration, for more talks with Iran
“Milosevic and his family are a disgrace. They ruined our lives and now we are expected to welcome them back. If this government lets Mira and Marko
[his wife and son] go free, then they are worse than everyone
thinks ... People were scared of Marko and that old cow Mira ... He was aggressive and arrogant - really like a gangster.”
Belgrade businessman Dragan Djordjevic
as the body of former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic
was flown home.
was the greatest Serb leader of the 20th century. If he was buried here, it would be a great honour. Whatever happens, his name will always be associated with
Pensioner Pavle Djalovic from Pozarevac,
Milosovic's home town where he has been buried
“Kill homosexuals in the worst, most severe way”.
Grand Ayatullah Sistani,
Iraq's most revered Shi'ite,
who is regarded as having a major violence-restraining influence on his
Perhaps not quite the nice guy we all
to List of Contents
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
to Top of Page
#119 - 12th March 2006
Elephant in the
This post is also accessible at
Last Wednesday, 8th March, was International
Women's Day, which has been running since, extraordinarily,
1909. Every year, it marks women's very laudable struggle for
equality with men, justice, peace and development, whilst highlighting women's progress
in these areas.
And what progress there has been since 1909, in the
Western world at any rate and, I must confess, most of the Communist world
as well (let's not count North Korea).
Women have the vote, go out to work, enjoy equal rights
over the home, have special protections against male violence.
Institutionalised discrimination against women is banned to such an extent
that it sometimes works in reverse, like that story
a couple of years ago that for
equality reasons women should be provided with twice as many toilets as
men because they spend double the time in them. It's true that, on
average, a woman earns 15-20%
less than a man, but that is mainly due not to sexism but to her lifestyle
choices - from the less lucrative subjects she studies at college to
splitting her energies between work and motherhood and
Of course there is always scope to do more to boost the
lot of women, and a recent focus is to get more of them into senior
management positions and into parliament. Yet fighting for women's
equality in the West is not any longer a serious issue, despite the
rhetoric you often hear.
In many parts of the non-West, however, it's a different
story. Former Irish president, previous UN human rights supremo and
famed feminist Mary
on International Women's Day ...
In Thailand, 14% of GDP comes from prostitution and sex trafficking.
There are 15,000 dowry deaths in India each year and most are kitchen fires designed to look like accidents.
In Liberia, three out of every four women were raped during the conflict.
About 50,000 women and children are trafficked into America each year from poorer countries.
In Russia, 36,000 women are beaten on a daily basis by their husband or partner.
Gender-based violence takes many forms: rape, trafficking, and domestic violence pervade every society in the world.
Forced labour and harmful practices - like female genital mutilation - are widespread.
In conflict zones, rape is used as a weapon of war.
Belying her ignorance of the base male instinct to pursue
women, the root causes, she tells us,
“lie in the imbalance in power relations and gender
blah, blah, and that's it. End of article.
from the root cause nonsense, I don't doubt any of this, and agree
that the litany of abuse against women and girls is pernicious,
inexcusable and should be stopped.
there's a common thread to her examples.
pretty much all the cases quoted, the perpetrators know they
are doing wrong. That's why they do it behind closed doors, deny
that they're doing it, take advantage of the chaos of war, invent excuses
And that's why it is possible to contemplate a world in which, amongst
such males, human conscience eventually prevails and such abuses
cease. After all, go back a few centuries - nay, to the Second World
War or the War of the Yugoslav Succession - and many Europeans were just
as bad. But over time they (or at least most of them) have learned to behave
better towards women.
If they can, others can too.
missing in Mrs Robinson's screed?
is the elephant in the room which she refuses to notice, as do many
do the wickedest injustices against women get perpetrated?
ideology embraces them so enthusiastically that abuse of women, far
from weighing on a man's conscience, forms part of his religious duty?
is of course Islam, or more precisely Islamism, the ideology that dare not
speak its name in the company of polite “liberal” society in
through my English
translation of the Koran, I see that Shura 2 tells adherents ...
Your women are a tillage for you; so come unto your
tillage as you wish. (2:223)
Women have rights [that are similar to men's], but men
have a degree above them. (2:228)
A woman is worth one-half a man. (2:282)
In Shura 4, it's ...
Marry such women as seem good to you, two, three, four.
To the males, the like of the [inheritance] portion of
two females. (4:11)
Such of your women who commit indecency, detain them
into their houses until death. (4:19)
Men are managers of the affairs of women, because Allah made men to be better than women. Refuse to have sex with women from whom you fear rebellion, and scourge them.
A man is not able to be equitable towards his wives. (4:129)
The male shall receive the portion of two females. (4:176)
11, 15, 24 and 64 tell the devout that ...
Lot offers his daughters to a mob of angels/messengers
from Allah. (11:80 and 15:71)
Believing women must lower their gaze and be modest, cover themselves with veils, and not reveal themselves except to their husbands, relatives, children, and
(eunuch) slaves. (24:31)
Your wives and children are an enemy to you. (64:14)
With this kind of stuff for your guidance, is it any
wonder that the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia or the Shi'ites of Iran or the
Taliban or the Janjaweed-sponsoring rulers of Sudan demand ...
absolute obedience from their women,
that they remain permanently enrobed
that they are instantly divorceable on any (or no)
that they are not allowed to drive or get
that crimes against them - such as beatings, rape and
murder - are not crimes at all if committed by Muslim
It is not that every Muslim is bent on
oppressing women in this way; thankfully the majority are not. It is that those who wish to are
provided with excellent religious cover, indeed encouragement, in the
If feminists like Mary Robinson were serious about using
occasions such as International Women's Day to advance the cause of the
world's women, they should have the courage to place the injustices of
Islamism at the very top of their list. And there they should stay
until the day when Muslims publicly recognize that, notwithstanding what
the Koran says, women are equal in value to men and are entitled to the
same rights, respect and humanity.
Instead, the feminists shy away from the real problem that women
face in order to concentrate on lesser ones because they are easier - and
less personally dangerous - to
talk about. They neglect the irony that when Islamists hold sway,
feminist issues are among the first casualties. The mullahs ruling
demonstrated this most recently when they sent in the police to attack
a peaceful assembly of women's rights activists marking last week's International
Islamism is therefore the single best thing that can be done to advance
the cause of women, yet few feminists want to recognize this
Thus, it sometimes seems that (anti-Islamist) men
- of whom George Bush is but one - are doing
more for the welfare of women than the feminists care to do. They
want to ignore that elephant in their room.
to List of Contents
I've written previously about Islamic abuse of children,
most recently the way Shi'ites encourage their youngsters to cut
themselves in mourning for Mohammed's grandson, and even cut their own
infants for the same purpose. I asked whether there could be a more overt and depraved form of abusing children.
Well I suppose I was naive.
In the Palestinian territories, to this day
and since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, there is an
active education campaign going on in schools, on TV, in the mosques and
elsewhere designed to encourage children to adopt Shahida.
This is of course the act of suicide-homicide by blowing yourself up,
directed specifically at Jews in Israel. And the education is aimed not only at the children, but at their mothers who are urged to
exhort their offspring to blow themselves up. (Naturally, those
propounding shahada, whether mothers, imams or leaders, never
propose to lead by personal example.)
And the six-year campaign is having success. Palestinian polls apparently show that
72-80% of Palestinian children desire death as Shahids
(martyrs). And some of them have achieved just that, for
example 14-year-old Yussouf Zaakut or 17-year-old Ayyat Al Achris.
There are several appalling videos that show the
indoctrination in process - this one for example, entitled
I was especially shocked by this exchange in a panel discussion on
official Palestinian TV.
Suave adult male moderator:
“What is better, peace and full rights for the Palestinian
people or Shahada?”
Walla, a beautiful, articulate 11-year-old Palestinian
I will achieve my rights after becoming a Shahid.”
I was wrong, absolutely wrong, in thinking those Shi'ites
cutting into their sons' skulls is the most depraved form of abusing
The greatest child abuse of the age is what the
Palestinians are doing to their own children today. Right now.
It will reap terrible consequences.
to List of Contents
The Constant Propaganda
I made one of my rare trips to the cinema the other day
which stars Ralph Fiennes and earned his co-star Rachel Weisz an
Weisz, exploding with anti-Capitalist conspiracy-laden ire
and rhetoric marries Fiennes, a mild ineffectual diplomat who is posted to
Africa and is constantly watering his office plants (hence, apparently,
In Kenya, the intrepid Weisz sets about investigating
nefarious goings-on by a multinational drugs company bent on surreptitiously
poisoning Africans with the collusion of white diplomats. When she's
not doing this, she is being rude to white guests at embassy cocktail
parties. Thankfully, she eventually gets murdered for her trouble,
but her widower takes up the cudgel until he too is killed by thugs hired
by those pharmaceutical diplomatic types. And that's the
It is a beautifully made and constructed movie, with
wonderful scenes of Kenya, Sudan, birds, markets and some lovely music. And there is a
at the end when the head villain gets it.
But from start to finish it is nothing but a relentless
piece of irritating left-wing propaganda. Here are just a few
The movie starts with diplomat Fiennes giving a lacklustre
lecture on British foreign policy. He is interrupted by Weisz who
launches a tirade against the Iraq war, the
bypassing of the UN, the wickedness of sanctions and other standard
tripe. Nothing remarkable in that, but it is notable that Fiennes is
dumbfounded, speechless. He is a British diplomat on official duty
who makes absolutely no attempt to defend British policy in Iraq.
This is beyond the unbelievable. But from the filmmakers' viewpoint
it is essential, since otherwise their movie would become a vehicle for an
alternative viewpoint that might convince some viewers. And we can't
Once the scene moves to Africa, everything becomes strictly multi-cultural - blacks, browns and
whites, with nobody even noticing anyone's colour or behaving differently
towards those of a different colour. This is political correctness
gone mad as it simply does not happen, in Africa or anywhere else.
Nor is it a racist manifestation to notice that one person is different
from another, in fact not to do so is to deny another his/her racial
identity. (Interestingly, Coronation
Street residents suffer from the same blindness.)
Naturally, all of the knaves and varlets are white
males. Africans, Indians and women are either victims or brave
idealists. The exception is Fiennes but that doesn't count because
in the second half of the movie he metamorphoses into a virtual
woman. It's also true that murders are committed
by penniless blacks, but that is strictly on the orders of rich whiteys
who are too slovenly to attend to their own necessities.
The corporate villain of the piece is a large pharmaceutical
firm. It is devoted to making money and like any Hollywood-inspired
multinational is quite happy to do so by killing hundreds of Africans in
lethal drug tests. It has no saving grace whatsoever -
such as developing drugs which save and prolong life. We're left
to believe that this is typical of all such firms. I'd have to
conclude that on the movie set there wasn't a single AIDS sufferer kept
alive on retroviral medication, or anyone else who might've said,
“Hey, wait a minute.”
A Janjaweed-style gang raids and burns a village in Darfur,
yet it is identified neither as Janjaweed nor Islamist, and indeed the
raiders wear military style uniforms rather than Arab dress. As
those cartoons have reminded us in recent weeks,
“brave” art self-identifies as art which attacks big
multinationals, democratic government
and white man's corruption. It never dares touch on Islamism, third
world tyrannies or courageous people (such as cartoonists) who stand up to
Not long before the hero Fiennes is (to my
immense satisfaction and relief) killed, he brings a 5-year-old
orphan refugee aboard a UN evacuation plane in the middle of the neo-Janjaweed
this is apparently against UN rules. The plane captain refuses to be persuaded
(or bribed - as a white pilot would have been) to let her stay because this would be breaking the
rules, and as noted above the UN is never to be bypassed. But
Fiennes does not kick the little girl off the plane because that would be
nasty. Instead, she - incredibly - just gets off herself, to wander
off alone into the scrub. Wasn't that nice of her to save
But it is typical of the slipperiness of the
But, if you want to see a handful of glorious shots of
Africa and flocks of wild birds, to the accompaniment of some nice music, and you are
prepared to endure or ignore
two hours of the constant propaganda, then
“The Constant Gardener" is the film for
to List of Contents
Lusitania Double Whammy
Not long ago I made my first trip to Cape Town, a
captivating part of the world. I did most of the touristy things,
including taking the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. There
is a very clear walking path, with many signs along the way which explain
local features, flora and other points of interest.
One of these was a brass plaque giving the names and
locations of the 25 vessels that have been shipwrecked on the Cape of Good
Hope between 1647 (the
and 1978 (the “SAS
“Lusitania” caught my eye - it apparently sank in 1911.
But wasn't it also torpedoed by the Germans off Ireland in the summer of 1915, a
notorious act which almost brought America into the First World War?
prompted a little research.
The name itself is that given by the Romans in 27 BC to a
province that today comprises Portugal and a bit of western Spain. Its capital was Augusta Emerita,
which is now the Spanish town of Mérida. The inhabitants, known as
Lusitani, were said to be strong warriors but their origins are uncertain.
So the Portugese
a 5,557 ton passenger liner, had every right to the name. At midnight
on 18th April 1911 and in thick fog, she ran aground on treacherous
rocks, known as Bellows Rock on the Cape of Good Hope, or the Cape of
Storms as it is referred to locally. This disaster was one of the main
reasons that the the present lighthouse was built where it stands today,
warning all of the imminent approach of the African continent.
the 32,000 tons pride of the Cunard Line, was launched in 1906 and the
following year won the coveted Blue Riband for speediest (23.99 knots)
crossing of the Atlantic. She was both the fastest and largest
passenger ship afloat.
When war broke out in 1914, she was commandeered by the
Admiralty to carry munitions from America as well as civilian passengers. The
Germans, aware that not all British merchant ships were as
non-militaristic as they pretended, regarded them as fair game. So
on 7th May 1915, 22 km off the Irish coast, whilst the Lusitania was
completing her hundredth voyage from New York, U-boat U-20 launched a single
torpedo at the Lusitania, which judging from the massive explosion
that followed, seems to have struck a munitions arsenal. The ship
sank in 18 minutes with the loss of 1,201 people.
I've not heard of a
having been built since. And with a double whammy within the space
of just four years, that's hardly surprising. Suspicious folk, these
to List of Contents
A Humble Odyssey
This link will bring
you to a site where you can build a map showing all the countries you've
ever visited in the world, out of 227.
Having been raised in the Far East and spent over 30 years
of my working life traipsing around the jungles, deserts and seas of the
world in search of oil and gas, I thought I had covered quite a bit.
But as you see I haven't; only 56 countries so far, a humble odyssey. That
means there are still 75% of the world's countries that I haven't
But according to the Century
Travelers Club, there are actually 315 countries waiting to be
visited, so on that basis 82% remain unvisited by me. And I don't
even merit a Bronze medal for 100 countries visited (Silver for 150, Gold
Ah well, it's only a bit of fun. Hattip Gavin's
to List of Contents
Blog Awards 2006 (Late
I'm in a sulk
due to my unbroken record in not winning an award. The cause of
my rancour are the following worthy winners on 11th March ...
Best Blog: Twenty Major
Best Blog Post: Twenty Major - "New York
Best Fiction: Thinking Out Loud - "47
Best Comment: Kevin Breathnach, Disillusioned
Best Technology Blog: Tom Raftery
Best Use of Irish Language: An tImeall
Best Political Blog: Slugger O'Toole
Most Humorous: Twenty Major
Best arts and culture: Sinéad Gleeson
Best group blog: The Community At Large
Best photo blog: In Photos -
Best personal blog: Thinking Out Loud
Best contribution to the Irish blogosphere: IrishBlogs.ie
And no, I'm not jealous. Not much,
to List of Contents
Week 119's Letters to the Press
Three letters since the last issue of the Tallrite Blog
three weeks ago, all of them published - to my astonishment.
Blinkered View of the PDs
Political philosophy lecturer Stephen J. Costello sternly warns us lesser mortals that the
PDs' penchant for giving priority to the economy is a political ideology that is "repugnant to socialists, social democrats and classic
Controversy Over Cartoons (again!)
Just as Anka Jamayel objects to Martyn Turner's
cartoon of February 21st, depicting Muslims apparently involved in mayhem outside some embassy, so I object to Muslims who engage in actual mayhem outside embassies, killing dozens of people in the
Controversy Over Cartoons
A largely overlooked reason to decry President McAleese's attendance at the recent Jeddah Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia is that shortly before the meeting, the two-person Danish delegation was disinvited in light of those notorious
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week
“I want to say to people like [Abu Hamza], ‘Why are you
living in the West? Why don’t you go and live in Saudi Arabia?’.
Being a Muslim in Britain is different from being a Muslim in other
countries. I am all for peaceful demonstration. If you live in this
country there are democratic ways to behave. If you don’t like it,
then go and live in a Muslim country.”
Khan, a British Muslim of Pakistan extraction
robbed of first place in
Alan Sugar's 2005 “The
Apprentice” TV competition),
puts forward a wholly rational viewpoint.
is sick of Islamicists
giving Muslim moderates like her a bad name
“Are you a German war criminal? ... Actually you are just like a concentration camp
guard.” (You can listen here)
twice-elected Mayor Ken Livingstone confronts
an Evening Standard journalist, Oliver Finegold, who is a Jew
a result of pressure from the Board of Deputies of British Jews,
Livingstone is red-carded by the Adjudication Panel for England
for four weeks for his remark
“Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law.
Three members of a body that no one has ever elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners.”
to his suspension.
I totally agree with him
love Ulster so much we want the 6-Counties back!”
the Irish Republican Socialist Party
who helped prevent,
the so-called “Love Ulster” parade in Dublin
on 25th February.
parade was intended
to commemorate Protestants
killed by the IRA during “The Troubles”
: “The website ... www.indymedia.ie has
in the past produced interesting footage. On this occasion, it produced footage from outside of the Progressive Democrats' party offices being ransacked by a group of Deputy Gormley's type of
people ...people including me, would most closely associate the anoraked group
... There was muesli in the air and open-toed sandals on the street.”
of Justice Michael McDowell,
of the Progressive
some of the
during the anti- “Love Ulster” riots
as looking like members of Mr Gormley's Green
Quote: “Well, I have a difficulty using the word condemn with any IRA action over the last 30 years
and I think I've explained my position on that, my party has explained their position on
Toiréasa Ferris, the glamorous, leggy
25-year-old Sinn Féin mayor of Kerry
explains why she once
again refuses to condemn the IRA killers of
an unarmed policeman, Detective Garda Jerry McCabe,
who was shot
in 1996 during a post office robbery.
She is also the daughter of Sinn Féin Kerry North
member of the Dáil Martin Ferris,
who is a convicted IRA
gun-runner and one time member
of the IRA army council
never condemn wrong-doing in any area.”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern,
in the Irish Dáil (Parliament), mixes up condemn with condone,
and so demonstrates that he can do Bushisms
as well as Bush
to List of Contents
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
to Top of Page
to Tallrite Blog
Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“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.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
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
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
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics