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

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May 2003
bulletISSUE #38 - 4th May 2003
bulletISSUE #39 - 11th May 2003
bulletISSUE #40 - 18th May 2003
bulletISSUE #41 - 25th May 2003

ISSUE #41 - 25th May 2003 {248]

bulletCelebrity Politicians and Anti-Zionism
bulletThe Jessica Lynch Stories
bulletCollins : Hero or Villain ?
bulletThe Lady Was Bad
bulletWorld's Heftiest Tax Rate
bulletDeck of Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
bulletForeign Policy By Eurovision
bulletQuote of the Week

Celebrity Politicians and Anti-Zionism

Memri recently drew my attention to Abu Dhabi's respectable-sounding Zayed Centre for Co-ordination and Follow Up.  Set up in 1999, it describes itself as an independent political organization operating under the umbrella of 

bullet the League of Arab States, 
bullet the Arab Foreign Ministers Council, 
bulletthe Islamic Conference Organization and 
bullet the African Unity Organization. 

It is clearly pro-Arab pro-Palestinian anti-Jew anti-Israel which, I guess, is fair enough.  People are entitled to hold such views.  

Since the 9/11 atrocities, the Zayed Centre has published a lot of material which has pretty much defined how it feels on these issues.  It various papers and invited speakers have : 

bulletclaimed (within days of 9/11) that the US government and Jews were responsible for the Twin Towers attack; 
bulletmaintained it is unlikely that bin Laden perpetrated the attacks (Nov 01); 
bullettalked about the Zionist Movement's rôle during the Nazi regime in killing, terrorizing and imprisoning Jews in Europe to force them to migrate to Israel (Oct 01); 
bulletstressed the impact of Zionists' control of media (70% print media, 80% electronic media) in distorting the image of Arabs and Islam (July 02); 
bulletstated that Palestinians today are proud of martyrdom and value their martyrs. (Mahmood Abdul Jawad Salamah, Acting Chief Justice of Palestine, in Oct 01).

Dr Umayma Al-Jalahma, professor of Islamic Studies at King Faisal University in Al-Dammam wrote an anti-Jewish article (in Arabic) in the  Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Riyadh in March 02, which included the classic line Jewish vampires partake in the ritual of spilling young gentiles' blood for pastries”.  The same lady spoke at the Zayed Centre in April 03. 

The Centre has also collaborated with Europeans such as the Holocaust deniers Roger Garaudy and David Irving.  

So there is no disputing where it stands as regards Jews, Zionism and Israel.  It hates them all, makes no secret of it and doesn't care about the integrity or otherwise of the information it publishes or the people it hosts.  

In the age of free information in cyberspace, virulent misinformation of the type provided by the Zayad Centre is to be expected.  

bullet Extreme elements of both sides to every profound and passionate argument will always want to put out their propaganda.  
bulletAt the same time, the more moderate though equally committed participants in the debate will be publishing their own more reasoned views.  

Objective readers, observers, surfers should look at the extremes as well as the centre ground in order to form their own views.  

But the surprising thing about the obviously heavily partisan Zayed Centre is not its extremism but the respectability it seems to enjoy.  

Many senior European leaders and officials have been praising the Zayed Centre for its work.  You might expect this from well-known anti-Semites such as Kurt Waldheim (WW2 Nazi, ex-UN secretary-general, ex-president of Austria) and the Austrian right-wing politician Joerg Haider.  

But it is surprising to see among those sending letters of thanks and congratulations to the Zayed Centre :

bulletthe President of France Jacques Chirac
bulletthe Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel
bulletthe former Swiss foreign minister and current Minister of Economic Affairs Joseph Dies, as well as  
bulletmultiple European ambassadors to the UAE.  

And its not just Europe's celebrity politicians.  

High-ranking US government officials, former presidents, and other notable personalities have also briefed the Zayed Centre or cooperated on projects. The list includes :

bullet Bill Clinton, who sent a letter of admiration in July 02 to the Zayed Centre expressing his appreciation of various efforts exerted by [the] Zayed Centre.
bullet Jimmy Carter, who lectured at the Zayed Centre in April 02 and in October 02 sent it a letter [appreciating the] Zayed Centre's support for the Carter Center's work to promote peace, health, and human rights around the world.
bulletAl Gore, who lectured at the Zayed Centre in January 02, saying, I have admired the research done here… it has been making good contributions to the kind of understanding that is essential.

I had always thought these celebrity politicians had professional advisers and witch-doctors to keep their noses clean, but I'm clearly wrong.  

Nevertheless, perhaps some understanding about the true nature of the Zayed Centre is at last emerging ... 

Earlier this month the Boston Globe reported that Harvard Divinity School is poised to return a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates after questions recently surfaced about his ties to a controversial Arab think tank with alleged anti-Semitic and anti-American leanings”, meaning the Zayed Centre.  The money was intended to fund a new professorship in Islamic studies. 

In reply, the Zayed Centre itself vigorously denies it is anti-Semitic or anti-West. 

It's publications and many of its guests say otherwise.  Loudly.  

But the celebrity politicians seem to be deaf as they blithely associate themselves with this sinister think-tank.  I for one will be watching it more closely in future and will report back.  

 The Centre is a very unassuming (and surprisingly small) building set back from one of the main roads out of the town” ... See Letters

Thanks, Graham, for this photograph 
of the Zayed Centre

 zccfu.jpg (18839 bytes)
Click to expand

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The Jessica Lynch Stories

We all remember the stirring tale of 19-year-old US Private Jessica Lynch, rescued from an Iraqi hospital, where she was being treated for war wounds after her squad were killed or captured in an ambush.  

Having been tipped off as to where she was being held, US special forces arrived by helicopter, stormed into the ward, grabbed the young soldier and whisked her to safety.  She is now recovering back in the US and Hollywood are considering a movie.  

But this story has spawned two unlikely further tales.  

  1. Firstly there's Jayson Blair (no relation to Tony).  A 27-year-old star reporter with the prestigious New York Times, his career came crashing down over a story he wrote about Jessica's father, when he described the bucolic view of tobacco fields and grazing cattle from the porch of their West Virginia home.  But there are no tobacco or cattle within miles of the Lynch residence.  And Blair never went to West Virginia - he did it all by cell phone.  It turned out that this was just one of some 73 fabricated and plagiarised articles over a period of several years.  Jayson had to resign, the newspaper is in disgrace and the head of the editor Howell Raines may also roll.  
    bulletActually, it's not unlike that story of Radio Swaziland's 
    Baghdad correspondent Phesheya Dubede, who filed all 
    his wartime dispatches live from a broom cupboard in the 
    Swazi capital, Mbane.

  2. Then there's the BBC report which claims that the whole rescue was a sham.  Always keen to discredit the hated Yanks, the Beeb tells us that the Iraqis tried to return Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance, but the GIs opened fire and so the vehicle retreated back to the hospital.  Then, two days later, knowing that the Iraqi troops had by then fled the hospital, the US Special Forces mounted their raid.  Like in a Hollywood movie, they arrived shooting blanks, shouting stuff like Go Go Go”, kicking down doors and rolling the video cameras.  
    bulletBut this version has been brilliantly refuted by a military 
    expert who demonstrates that the raiders absolutely could 
    not, by any stretch of the imagination, have been shooting 
    blanks.   Blank ammunition is not powerful enough to 
    force the weapon's mechanism through its full cycle of 
    operations ... it must be specially adapted ... it is very hard 
    to imagine how any Special Forces soldiers would agree 
    to enter a combat zone with their weapons primed for 
    blank ammunition ... in the movies the weapons used are 
    not real, they are replicas.

So if Hollywood were to build into the original rescue story the incompetence and chicanery of America's finest newspaper and Britain's finest broadcaster, then indeed The Jessica Lynch Storieswould make a great movie.  

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Collins : Hero or Villain ?

As the Iraq war commenced, 43-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Collins of Britain's Royal Irish Regiment drew worldwide admiration for his oratorical address to his troops, who are drawn mainly from Northern Ireland.  

bulletWe go to liberate, not to conquer, he said.  
bulletIf you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.
bulletAllow them dignity in death.
bulletYou will be shunned unless your conduct is of the highest - for your deeds will follow you down through history.

Some called his words Churchillian; others likened them to Shakespeare's Henry V's speech on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.  They drew praise from the Prince of Wales and President George Bush. 

But reality seems not to have matched up with the rhetoric.  

Firstly, Collins and his regiment never saw combat.  They spent most of the war protecting the Rumaila oilfields in southern Iraq and prisoners of war.

Now allegations are emerging of unsoldierly conduct - including war-crimes - by the colonel and his troops both during and before the war.  The claims include

bulletpistol-whipping of an Iraqi civil leader, 
bulletfiring at the feet of Iraqi civilians,
bulletshooting out the tyres of Iraqi vehicles when there was no threat to his soldiers, 
bulletcarrying out a mock execution of two prisoners, 
bullettolerating within the regiment a culture of bullying (which two years ago drove a soldier of 18 to suicide).  

The Ministry of Defence is conducting a far-reaching inquiry into the Royal Irish Regiment, to include the above complaints.   

So, first a hero, then a villain.  

But now he seems to be a hero again because he has left his regiment in preparation for promotion to full colonel in a new post yet to be announced.  

I am confused by these twists and turns, as you probably are.  Some say it is a plot by people (American people, of course)  jealous of the adulation wrought by his pre-war oration.  

Whatever.  It can't be doing much for the morale of the Royal Irish.  

Collins himself says, I'm astonished. I am confident my good name will be restored.”  One would like to think so.  

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The Lady Was Bad

Sixty years ago, in April 1943, an American Liberator (B-24) bomber, nicknamed the Lady Be Good” after a 1924 Broadway musical, set out from Benghazi in Libya on her first combat flight to bomb Naples harbour, located due North across the Mediterranean.  It had a crew of nine, aged between 21 and 27, including a woefully undertrained navigator.  

The plane never found Naples, which was in the dark, so turned back toward home, but again got lost.  When it eventually ran out of fuel, the crew bailed out believing they were over or near the Libyan coastline and would soon be safe.  

But in fact, due to poor navigation exacerbated by a strong tail wind, they had flown no less than 385 miles inland.  One crew member died because his parachute failed to open; the other eight landed safely in the desert and the aircraft made its own crash landing some miles away. 

Lady Be Good - found by oil prospectors in the Libyan desert in 1959

They had arrived at the “Calanscio Sand Sea”, a broad plateau so formidable and lifeless that not even Arab nomads on camel-back dared enter.  

For the next eight nights, the eight men trudged northwards seeking safety, believing they were close to the sea.  They were sustained by nothing more than a few rations and half a canteen of water, and during  the blistering heat of the daytime (55ºC / 130ºF), they would rest beneath the shade of their parachutes.  We know this because the co-pilot kept a diary.  They covered an extraordinary 75 miles before six of them finally succumbed; and the diary tells us they welcomed the release that death brought.  Incredibly, the seventh man advanced a further 20 miles and the eighth another seven miles more - making a total of 102 miles, on just one cup of water per day.  But in the end, none survived the terrible ordeal.  

Meanwhile, the US Air Force searched in vain for the plane, and concluded it must have crashed into the Mediterranean with all hands lost.  

However, sixteen years later in February 1959, a BP oil prospecting team came upon the Lady Be Good”, crash-landed but marvellously preserved by the hot, dry, sterile air of the desert.  In her fuselage were canteens of still drinkable water and coffee, edible rations, weapons, ammunition, official documents, personal correspondence but, of course, no trace of her crew.  Nevertheless, unopened navigation charts and idle doodles by the navigator attested to his unsuitability for the job.  

A year later, another team of BP geophysicists found seven of the eight bodies, mummified, along with the diary, so that finally the whole tragic story could be reconstructed.  

I recall the outlines of this tale - by then almost a legend - being talked about when I myself worked in the oil business close to the Calanscio Sand Sea in 1969-70 (until Gaddaffi's coup).  Three decades were to pass until I had the opportunity to meet the original finder of the “Lady Be Good”, an Irish geologist called Don Sheridan.  His full account is included in his excellent book, “Fahud - the Mountain Leopard”, from whose cover the above illustration is taken.  

Once the wreck of the Lady Be Good was found back in 1959, numerous parts from her were returned to the US for technical study.  Ominously and rather surprisingly, some of the parts were then re-installed in other aircraft - which then experienced their own unexpected difficulties

bulletA C-54 in which several autosyn transmitters were installed had propeller trouble and made a safe landing only by throwing cargo overboard. 
bulletA C-47 in which a radio receiver was installed ditched in the Mediterranean.  
bulletA US Army Otter airplane, in which a Lady Be Good seat armrest was fitted, crashed in the Gulf of Sidra with 10 men aboard. No trace was ever found of any of them; one of the few pieces of wreckage washed ashore was that armrest from the Lady Be Good”.  

The lady was bad.  

Post-publication Note (11th June) : Since publishing the above story, Don Sheridan has advised me of the existence of a new site devoted exclusively to the Lady Be Good, which I was not aware of when I did my research.  

Click on  

Later note - much later (12th October 2016):

  1. A great account with more pictures appears at War History Online -
    B-24 ‘Lady Be Good’ – Crashed In 1943, Finally Discovered in 1958
  2. Sadly, Don Sheridan passed away a number of years ago. 

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World's Heftiest Tax Rate

I recently flew Ryanair from Dublin to Stansted in London for precisely one €uro-cent.  But when the Government taxes were added, the fare rose to €uro 16.22.  This is still pretty cheap for a one hour flight on a clean plane that left on time and (unlike the Lady Be Good”) did not crash, so I'm not really complaining.  

But a tax of €uro 16.21 on a fare of €uro 0.01 is a tax of - wait for it - 162,100 percent.  

Is there any good or service for sale anywhere in the world with a tax rate higher than this ?  

A free CD, Selection for 2003”, to the first person to send me details (write to  

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Deck of Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

This is getting to be a habit.  Last week I wrote about the new Deck of Weasels with Jacques Chirac as the Ace of Spades.  This week, someone's come up with a Deck of Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, the term invented by Hilary Clinton for those who didn't feel her husband made a worthy president.  The phrase was meant to be disparaging, but has become a badge of honour.  

The VRWC is “wanted” for : 

bulletLooting Social Security trust funds
bulletTaking the country to war under false pretenses
bulletRipping up the safety net
bulletEviscerating democracy
bulletStrangling civil rights
bulletAssaulting the New Deal
bulletBeing partisan hacks
bulletPeddling economic snake oil
bulletPerverting the Fourth Estate

Dick Cheney gets the top spot as the Ace of Spades slot, with poor old George Bush relegated to Ace of Clubs.  

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Foreign Policy By Eurovision

For more years than I care to remember, the Eurovision Song Contest has been played out and broadcast across Europe, Europestretching from, well, Europe to Turkey, Israel and Russia.  

bulletEach song every year is identical - cheery bumpy music with plenty of up and down notes but none that will stretch anyone's voice box.  
bulletEach singer and each group every year is identical - clean, fresh faced, with colourful costumes and lots of jumping up and down.  

Viewers in each competing country vote by phone or text for each song (except for their own country's) and the song with the most votes wins the contest.  

By tradition, the only entertainment from the dire evening is provided by Terry Wogan, the BBC's irrepressible Irish Eurovision commentator, with his steady stream of banter, witty observations and double-entendres.  

Another tradition is that viewers award their votes based mainly on national preferences, and only if they have none do they consider the merits of the song.  

Thus, the Scandinavian countries all vote for each other; Ireland attracts a lot of UK votes due to the Irish diaspora (though the favour is not reciprocated); Greece doesn't vote for Turkey and vice versa.  

This year, however, the Eurovision Song Contest, hosted by last year's winner Latvia, became an instrument of European foreign policy.  

bulletNo-one voted for UK because they were all furious that it fought alongside America in Iraq.  Thus, UK won its first nul point” and secured bottom position out of 26.  (Of course Jemini, the singer, also sang out of tune, but that has never stopped you winning.)
bulletEvery time the female Russian duo Tatu, who were the bookies' favourites, came on stage they were booed by all the East Europeans for 50 years of USSR subjugation; also the singers were expected to strip naked but they didn't.  So they were pushed into third place.
bulletTurkey stole the European voters' hearts because it was the only country that had defied America over Iraq (wouldn't let them use Turkey to attack northern Iraq) and got away with it.  So the voters awarded the top spot to Miss Sertab Erener who won with the song Every Way That I Can”.  

Full results here.  

There'll be some real fun next year if America is allowed to join - after all, it's as European as Israel.  

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Quote of the Week

QuoteI am optimistic that in time, and it may take thousands of years, humanity will come to the viewpoint that it would be better to live in a communist society where people really were equal.

George Blake, British former double agent, now 80,
responsible for the deaths of 40 other agents,
who gave a very rare interview during May

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ISSUE #40 - 18th May 2003 [133]

bulletFrance's Curious Democratic Process
bulletIRA & Foreigners
bulletCheap Iraq War
bulletPositive About Negative Interest
bulletDeck of Weasels
bulletBlessed Coffee
bulletQuote of the Week

France's Curious Democratic Process

The French elect their president and parliamentary representatives in conventional and irreproachable democratic elections.  

But that's not how they practice democracy and public debate, for that is the function of the city streets.  

With its ageing population, strong employment protection and generous pension provision, especially for the massive State sector that employs one in three workers, France is heading for an economic fall unless it does something drastic.  

The necessary medicine, which no-one can relish, is well known - 

bulletlonger working lives, 
bullethigher pension contributions, and 
bulletlower pension payments.   

One year into the job, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has bravely drafted a law to tackle just the first of these - he proposes to raise working life (to earn a full pension) from 37½ years to 42 by 2020.  

The result of the horrified populace has been predictable - a huge, 36-hour strike from 12-14 May, with

bullet schools closed, 
bullet newspapers not printed, 
bullet highway toll booths unmanned, 
bullet postal deliveries stopped,
bullet80% of flights cancelled, 
bullet70% of TGV high-speed trains withdrawn,
bulletno buses or metros at all in Paris. 
bulleta million demonstrators - teachers, civil servants, doctors, nurses - marching through the streets in 115 cities

A further protest is planned for 25th May just before the cabinet will next discuss the proposed reform.  

The last time the French tried to reform their pension system, In December 1995, the strikes it triggered eventually brought down the rightist government of Prime Minister Alain Juppé.  This forced President Jacques Chirac into five years of unhappy cohabitation with the socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who didn't dare touch pensions.    

Everyone knows that the current pension system is heading for bankruptcy and is unsustainable.  

Yet the decisions about it will be taken based not on what is argued at cabinet, nor on the deliberations of parliament.  The main debate will be conducted using shoe leather on the cobblestones of France, or indeed hurling the cobblestones if deemed necessary.  

What the protesters demand, the Government will, as they always do, deliver.  And that will mean abandonment of serious pension reform in the hope that the problem will just go away.  

It won't.  

It seems a curious way to make decisions.  But who is to say that this process is any less democratic than methods applied in other democracies ?  The people demand and the people get.  And the people, ultimately, must live with the consequences.  

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IRA & Foreigners

Ireland is an extraordinarily homogeneous country.  Discounting the flood of immigrants that have entered during the past five years of Celtic Tiger times, the Irish are overwhelmingly white and Christian, born of parents and forebears that are Irish as far back as can be traced.  Pick up any Irish phonebook and as you plough through pages of Byrnes, Kellys, Murphys,  Nolans, O'Reillys, Sheehans, Walshes, you will be struck by the dearth of non-Irish names.   And if you phone up those few non-Irish names, you will almost certainly hear a non-Irish accent.  

If you are one of those (like me) with a non-Irish name and/or non-Irish accent, you are constantly questioned about your origins, not out of rudeness or suspicion, but because you are something of a curiosity.  

No other EU country would pass such tests of ethnic homogeneity.  

Irish nationalism is about a belief that such Irishness should pervade the island, north and south, and in particular that Britain should not rule Northern Ireland.  Whilst most nationalism is peaceful, a violent minority has found expression via the activities of the IRA (in its various guises) which has, in one form or or another, fought a terrorist war with Britain - and loyalist paramilitaries - for many decades in the (vain) hope of dislodging it from the North.  

Espionage is an intrinsic part of any war and the IRA have in recent months suffered two similar and serious spying setbacks.  

bulletDavid Rupert is a 50-year-old American trucker of German and Mohawk Indian extraction whose home is Chicago; he has a history of drugs, arms and human trafficking along the Canadian border.  However, via vigorous IRA fundraising activities in America starting in 1997, he became involved with the Real IRA within Ireland.  Over the next five years, he travelled back and forth across the Atlantic and was gradually accepted into their inner sanctum; becoming party to their secret activities.  But all the time, he was a paid informer for the FBI who in turn passed on intelligence to MI5 and the Irish police.  This eventually led to the arrest of Michael McKevitt, suspected head of the Real IRA, who is currently awaiting trial for directing terrorism” in relation to the 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29.  Mr Rupert will be the star prosecution witness, but with his cover now blown he is under a witness protection programme.  

bulletThe son of Italian immigrants, Alfredo 'Freddy' Scappaticci, or 'Scap', was born 58 years ago in Belfast where he grew up a Catholic in a strongly nationalist part of the city.  A bricklayer by trade, he joined the IRA in the 1970s, was interned for a time and rose up their ranks till be became head of the Provisional IRA's internal security, known as the Nutting Squad.  This was responsible for interrogation of suspected informers - what irony - and executions (of which he is suspected of involvement in up to 40).  As such, Scap was as close to the leadership and decision-making of the Provos as it was possible to be.  But, since suffering a punishment beating at the hands of colleagues in 1978, he apparently turned informer and has been in the pay of the British army's top secret Force Research Unit ever since, under the code name Stakeknife.  He was outed by several Irish and Scottish newspapers on 11th May, and has not been seen since, apart from a brief TV interview in which he denied everything - which you would expect.   The IRA are said to be in a state of shock, as he was the last person they would have suspected.

Rupert the American ?  Scappadicci the Italian ?  

How can the most extreme nationalist of nationalist organizations in the most sectarianised nationalist part of ethnically homogeneous Ireland have taken two such obvious foreigners to their bosom, trusting them and sharing with them their innermost secrets ?  Yet both were traitors to their erstwhile colleagues in exchange for large sums of money.  

It will probably be a long long time before the IRA, or for that matter their unionist terrorist counterparts, place trust in anyone who does not 

bullet come from the clan, 
bullet have the right sounding name and 
bulletspeak with the appropriate accent.  

But meanwhile, you have to ask how many more paid informers, foreign or home-grown, are still embedded within Ireland's various private armies. Reports are already emerging that the Provisionals contain four more of even more importance than Scap.  Recent events have surely destroyed an awful lot of mutual trust, with everyone suspecting everyone else.  Morale must be at rock bottom.   

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Cheap Iraq War

A recent article by US talk-show host Jerry Bowyer assesses the cost of the recent Iraq war.  This was in response to Congress's Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Queen of Diamonds in the Deck of Weasels) who when Baghdad fell said We could probably have brought down that statue for a lot less.  There are much cheaper ways to tear down a statue”.  

Are there ?  

The Iraq war apparently cost $62.6 billion, which sounds a lot but amounts to only 0.6% of America's current GDP and is thus pretty affordable.  Mr Bower then compares this with the affordability of other US wars such as the American Civil War (105% of then GDP), World War 2 (130%), the Vietnam war (12%).  

Whatever else your objections to deposing Saddam, it was certainly a cheap operation.  The first Gulf War was even more affordable at only ½%.  

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Positive About Negative Interest

There is a paradigm, constantly put about by learned economists and business publications, that interest rates cannot be negative”, most recently by The Economist, twice in the same (subscription-only) article.  

The background is that, as economies falter, it is desirable get money moving again by lowering interest rates.  This tends to release pent-up money by discouraging saving, which thus makes fit available for spending or for borrowing for investment.  

The real” interest rate, say 2%, is equal to the nominal interest rate (5%) minus the inflation rate (3%).  The real interest is therefore the interest adjusted for inflation.  

A big problem arises however when inflation turns to deflation as it has done in Japan and threatens to in Germany.  

For if inflation becomes minus 3% (ie deflationary), the nominal interest rate would have to be minus 1% to maintain a real interest rate of 2%.  

A minus interest rate is what the learned economists say is impossible.  

But why not ?  When I put my car in someone else's garage, I pay for the
privilege and I do not expect the garage owner to deliver me back two cars.

Similarly, if in straightened economic times, I have an excess of cash that
I prefer to stash than to spend (perhaps hoping that deflation will deliver
lower prices in the future), why should not banks impose negative interest, in other words charge me for providing a storage service ?

Having done so, in order to maintain the real value of the stash, they could then lend it out for productive investment and pay the borrower negative interest to take the loan.

In the classic manner, therefore, spare money would flow to those who can make the most productive use of it, with banks making their usual margin.

And once the economy had recovered and deflation reverted to inflation,
helped by the fecund redistribution of resources, interest rates would
simply turn positive once more.

But two things are certain.  


The first bank to pay you to take out a loan will hit the headlines.  


And charging you for banking your money will raise wails of protest.  

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Deck of Weasels

It had to happen.  First the US Army's deck of cards, featuring Iraq's Most Wanted, with Saddam himself as the King of Spades.  

Now NewsMax, a US online news service, has produced a "Deck of Weasels", with one card for each of 54 leaders and celebrities who opposed America over the war.  

They include Gerhard Schröder,  Michael (Stupid White Men) Moore, Barbra Streisand, Teddy Kennedy, Kofi Annan and many more.  Each is shown wearing the beret of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, and includes an explanation of why he/she is featured.  

The Ace of Spades is, of course, none other than French President Jacques Chirac, Saddam Hussein’s partner in crime of 30 years, and includes his most infamous quote.  The Washington Times’ new revelation that France helped Saddam’s top aides to escape adds to the poignancy.

bulletThe Spades are the most treacherous of the world’s foreign leaders. 
bulletThe Diamonds are the most backstabbing US leaders. 
bulletThe (bleeding) Hearts, of course, consist of Hollywood’s woefully ill-informed would-be geopolitical “experts”.   
bulletThe Clubs include the worst of the biased media and self-appointed pundits.
bulletAnd the two Jokers, with their funny little hats, are Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson.

Here is the complete list.  

Spades Hearts Diamonds Clubs
A Jacques Chirac Martin Sheen Sen. Robert "KKK" Byrd Dan Rather
K Vicente Fox Michael Moore Sen. Teddy Kennedy Gore Vidal
Q Jean Chretien Barbra Steisand Rep. Nancy Pelosi Katie Couric
J Kofi Annan Chrissie Hynde Rep. Jim McDermott Bill Moyers
10 Vladimir Putin Susan Sarandon Rep. Charlie Rangel Peter Arnett
9 Gerhard Schroeder Tim Robbins Rep. Pete Stark Helen Thomas
8 Hans Blix Sean Penn Sen. Patty Murray Mary McGrory
7 Bashar al_Assad Janeane Garofalo Rep. Marcy Kaptur Robert Scheer
6 The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Natalie Maines Ramsey Clark Leslie Stahl
5 Moammar Gadhafi Woody Harrelson Rep Dennis Kucinich Walter Cronkite
4 Hugo Chavez George Clooney Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Jane Fonda
3 Fidel Castro Ed Asner Rep. Jim Moran Ted Turner
2 Kim Jong-il Jessica Lange Howard Dean Harry Belafonte
J Jimmy Carter Jesse Jackson

The deck is yours for $15.  Click here.  

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Blessed Coffee

Last month, more than 300 years after his death, Marco d’Aviano, a 17th-century friar, mystic and fiery preacher, was beatified by Pope John Paul.  

Friar d'Aviano is credited with halting a Muslim invasion of Europe.  When a vast Ottoman Turk army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, was marching on Vienna in 1683, the then Pope sent d’Aviano to unite the outnumbered Christian troops. After celebrating Mass for them just before battle and subjecting them to one of his fire and brimstone sermons, they were spurred to victory and routed the Turks. 

But this is where the friar's real claim to fame kicked in.  

As the Turks fled, they left behind a large cache of Turkish coffee. The Christians claimed it as booty, but when they tried to brew it they found that it was too strong and bitter for the unrefined European palate.  D’Aviano again stood up to the challenge of history, for he devised a method of brewing the coffee with milk and honey, thereby making it Italian and therefore drinkable.  

The new beverage was called cappuccino after the Capuchin order of monks to which d’Aviano belonged, whose robes were the colour of, well, a cappuccino.  Coffee houses sprung up all over Austria.  

The question that the Pope now needs to answer is what aspect of the good friar’s career is he rewarding with this beatification ?  


The politically correct invention of cappuccino or 


the politically incorrect routing of Muslims by Christians ?

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Quote of the Week

Quote : For years, many governments played down the threats of Islamic revolution, turned a blind eye to international terrorism and accepted the development of weaponry of mass destruction. Indeed, some politicians were happy to go further, collaborating with the self-proclaimed enemies of the West for their own short-term gain — but enough about the French leadership. So deep had the rot set in that the UN security council itself was paralysed ... Our own Prime Minister was staunch and our forces were superb. But, above all, it is President Bush who deserves the credit for victory ... There are too many people who imagine that there is something sophisticated about always believing the best of those who hate your country, and the worst of those who defend it.   

Margaret Thatcher, in New York, making a rare public address 
to Atlantic Bridge, an Anglo-US free market think-tank

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ISSUE #39 - 11th May 2003 [87]

bulletThe Dry-Drunk President
bulletReward Failure; Punish Success
bulletPolluting the Oceans
bulletThe iLoo
bulletEnglish Language Abuse
bulletQuote of the Week

The Dry-Drunk President

Can you recall when there was a youngish president of the USA, new to the job and dominated by a successful father ?  At the other end of the world was a totalitarian dictatorship with weapons of mass destruction.  The leader's behaviour led the president to believe that such weapons might be unleashed on America, and that he must do something to prevent this.  

So, in the face of opposition at home and across the globe, he mobilised American forces and took resolute action to remove the threat, while the world waited with baited breath for a humanitarian catastrophe to result.  

The cataclysm never happened, the threat was removed.  

His qualities in dealing with this crisis included : 

bulletA clear sense of right and wrong
bulletUnambiguous language, without fudge
bulletDetermination to achieve stated objectives

The president was celebrated as a great peace-maker, wise and skilful beyond his years.   

The crisis concerned Soviet missiles that the USSR's Nikita Khrushchev positioned in Cuba in 1962.  The president's name was John F Kennedy, and he was a Democrat beloved of the liberal left despite his belligerent response to the challenge thrown down by the communist Soviet Union and communist Cuba.  The missiles were shipped to Cuba in order to directly threaten the United States, just 90 miles away, with nuclear strikes.  

In the event, Kennedy didn't need to unleash his military force because Khrushchev backed down and withdrew the missiles; but he was fully prepared to do so.  Oh, and he had a personal weakness that he indulged to the full - women.  

Fast forward 40 years and you have the outlines of a similar story.  

This time it is George W Bush, youngish president of the USA, new to the job and dominated by his hugely more accomplished father George H Bush.  At the other end of the world was the totalitarian dictatorship ruling Iraq with weapons of mass destruction.  Saddam's behaviour led the president to believe that Saddam could easily release such weapons into the hands of ruthless terrorists with - in light of 9/11 - no compunction about unleashing them on America, and that he must do something to prevent this.  

W tried to disarm Iraq of its WMD by means of United Nations resolutions backed up by the threat of force.  He faced widespread opposition not just from France, Germany and Russia, but from leftists across America and the world who predicted a humanitarian catastrophe should war result (Amnesty International predicted 50,000 civilian deaths, 500,000 civilian injuries, 2m refugees, 10m in need of humanitarian assistance.)

But ultimately US diplomacy failed and so Bush launched the war that destroyed in just three weeks the regime that had (mis)ruled Iraq for three decades.  

And was the president then celebrated as a great peace-maker, wise and skilful beyond his years ?  Well, yes, by many.  

But W is a Republican and the leftists are outraged by his success at liberating the country from a fascist dictator, and are still thrashing around to find ways to tarnish his accomplishment.  

Some have lighted on W's well-known personal weakness.  He is an alcoholic.  But unlike Kennedy who indulged in womanising till his assassination, W stopped drinking when he turned 40 in 1986.  

GWB as a non-drinking alcoholic presents a far smaller risk to US security than JFK did with his daily supply of women, each one a potential Soviet spy.  

Typical of the outraged left are 

bulletKatherine van Wormer, a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa, 
bullet Alan Bisbort a columnist for the Hartford Advocate, and 
bulletMichael O'McCarthy a self-proclaimed poet, writer and political organizer.  

These three Bush-haters have extraordinarily managed to make the case that all those shared presidential virtues listed above, are actually, in the case of Bush, symptoms of brain damage caused by not just his years of binge drinking, but - wait for it - his 17 years of abstinence, abstinence being the only way to deal with the disease of alcoholism.  

Most people these days use terms that are scientific or at least sensitive when alluding to another's afflictions, such as autistic or with special needs.  But this trio, in order to develop their argument of mental derangement, feel no compunction about using the disparaging termdry-drunk” to describe Bush, with its implication - totally unsubstantiated - that he is not really off the booze.  

Actually, they cover all the bases : 

bulletif he's still drinking, alcohol explains the “dysfunctional” qualities of his conduct (see table below); 
bulletbut if he is truly off the liquor, this represents extreme behaviour - a classic symptom of residual brain damage caused by his prior drinking; 
bulletand if he's not drunk on booze, then he's certainly drunk on power, which manifests itself with exactly the same symptoms as alcohol.  

Let's go through the trio's publications to try and glean an explanation of why the five earlier listed qualities that JFK/GWB shared to deal with crises demonstrate that GWB (though not JFK) is brain damaged : 

 JFK/GWB Quality

“Symptoms” of GWB's Brain Damage



This is just grandiosity



Self-will that is running riot


A clear sense of right and wrong

Rigid judgmental outlook


Unambiguous language, without fudge

Obsessive thought patterns

bulletDetermination to achieve stated objectives
Egocentricity and ethnocentricity

Yes, I know, I don't understand all this either.  I just know that these people loathe George Bush and his Republicanism so much, that, lacking any rational basis for besmirching the commendable actions he has taken during his presidency, they are forced to invent preposterous theories.  Or simply propound unadulterated hate and venom as British novelist Margaret Drabble did last week in the Daily Telegraph.  

How they must wish W would just get drunk and disgrace himself in front of the TV cameras.  A virtuous person is so much harder to attack.  

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Reward Failure; Punish Success

I've previously written about the wickedness of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, the way it robs consumers to subsidise wealthy farmers to produce goods that people don't want which are then exported at subsidised prices to destroy agriculture in the developed world.  

Last week, Ireland's Department of Agriculture and Food published its 2002/2003 Annual Review and Outlook (a 800 kb PDF file accessible here).    It contains some interesting statistics for Ireland, but they will be indicative for farmers across the EU.  

Farmers average income in 2002 was €30,959, an income comparable to the rest of Irish society.  However, the EU paid each of them an average subsidy of €13,000.  

Moreover the tax system is enormously rigged in farmers' favour : 

Type of Worker

Tax paid 2002







So, Irish farmers thrive due only to 

bullet subsidies from the EU courtesy of the CAP and 
bullettax breaks courtesy of the Irish state, 

which together approach €20,000 a year, or over 60% of farmers' income.  

And the irony is that, since the EU subsidy is based on production, the more they produce of food people don't want, the more money they make, and the more food must be dumped at below-prices on third world markets.  This pernicious, self-perpetuating system has an in-built mechanism that ensures farmers will never make decisions based on profit and loss.  

And, like every subsidy paid to a non-economic loss-making industry like farming, it is funded 100% by industries and people that are economic and so generate profits that can be taxed.  

Talk about rewarding failure and punishing success.  

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Polluting the Oceans

According the US National Academy of Sciences, every year the oil companies with their offshore exploration and production activities pour into the world's oceans 39,000 tonnes of oil, or nearly 300,000 barrels, as I discussed last September.  

A grim figure.  But the oil industry is by no means the oceans' worst polluter.  

For example, on 27th May 1990, the freighter Hansa Carrier was caught in a violent storm in the North Pacific while heading for the United States from Korea. A number of shipping containers were washed overboard, among them four containers which spilled their contents into the Pacific - some 130,000 individual Nike shoes, from children's footwear to trainers to large hiking boots.  But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

On 10th January 1992, another vessel crossing the North Pacific from Hong Kong to Washington State, lost a dozen containers in a similar storm.  According to reports, the containers released approximately 29,000 bath toys, including rubber ducks, turtles, frogs and beavers. So now the Nike shoes are drifting around the Pacific followed by a horde of rubber ducks and friends in hot pursuit.  

After about 10 months, in each case, these items began to drift ashore along the northwest coast of the United States and Canada.

Of course only a portion of the lost shipments came ashore. Some were caught in circular currents and came ashore on other continents. Some still drift, a forlorn collection of abandoned ducks and mismatched footwear. Some, along with objects from other spills, may be caught in moving polar ice and eventually end up on the coast of Northern Europe. No one knows how many might have been consumed by large fish and aquatic mammals, nor how many may have simply sunk and added to the growing collection of refuse on the sea floor.

Unlike oil spills, most of this stuff floating around in the world's oceans is neither biodegradable nor benign. And it is everywhere - a pair of athletic shoes can float for 10 years.  

Scientists, however, far from decrying the pollution, actively welcomed the drifting menagerie.  They began to track ocean currents by recording landing places of rubber ducks and shoes, up and down the west coast of North America and even as far away as Hawaii. In fact, a whole cottage industry seems to have developed around the world's floating debris.  Around now, some of those floating animals should have completed a northern passage to reach the Atlantic and beach in Greenland, Iceland, Norway, the UK, Ireland.  So if you should find a Nike on the beach, check the serial number on the insole then contact the nearest oceanographic institute.

But the trainers and rubber toys are from just two voyages over a decade ago.  More than 10,000 containers are lost overboard each year, each with a capacity of 2,560 cu ft (26 tonnes) of cargo. That is ocean spillage equivalent volume-wise to 4.6 million barrels of oil, or weight-wise to 1.9 million.  

But of course, because it's not oil, no-one hears about it, no-one cares, everything is rosy, especially for the oceanographers.  

Funny how that works isn't it?  

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The iLoo

Whilst we're on the subject of pollution ... 

You know the scene.  You've been eating far too much protein over the last couple of days, you feel distinctly uncomfortable, so you head for the little room and there you sit.  Waiting.  If only, if only ...  

If only I could check my e-mail and do a bit of surfing to while away the time.  

Well, Bill Gates to the rescue.  Microsoft have designed the world's first iLoo, with a wireless keyboard and extending, height-adjustable plasma screen in front of the seat, as well as tissue imprinted with exciting Web addresses.

According to Microsoft, “the Internet's so much a part of everyday life now that surfing on the loo was the next natural step.  People used to reach for a book or magazine when they were on the loo, but now they'll be logging on.

You have been warned.  

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English Language Abuse

And now for some music ...

Do you remember the day 
When if you said that you were gay
It meant with joy you could sing and shout ?
A fairy was enchanting,
And dressing up and camping
Was something you did with the Scouts

That carefree age
When an urgent case of AIDS
Was powdered milk we sent to the Sahara. 
A fruit was something nice to eat,
A poof was something for your feet,
And a queen was an old tart in a tiara.     

This is the beginning of “Look What We've Done”, an entertaining little song with great words and lyrics delivered by an unknown but delightful songstress.  

bulletTo hear it, switch on your speakers and click here (it's a 1.4 Mb WMA audio file, but well worth the few minutes wait)
bulletTo see all the words, click here
bulletTo buy the CD, which includes 14 other cheerful tracks (€7 or $7 for one CD, €10 or $10 for two), click here

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “When Tony Blair was 20 a joint was something you smoked.  At 40 it was something you carved.  At 50 he's on the verge of it being something that creaks.

Jeremy Paxman, the BBC's much feared rottweiler interviewer, 
commenting on Tony Blair's 50th birthday on 6th May 2003.
But the crack that “
a joint was something you smoked” 
was clearly prompted by the second verse of the above song

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ISSUE #38 - 4th May 2003 [88]

bulletAbu Mazen : A Great Hope for Palestinians
bulletProgress in the War on Terrorism
bulletSuckling Till Death
bulletBeautiful Ian Paisley
bulletName Changers
bulletHeligoland & Dune
bulletQuote of the Week

Abu Mazen : A Great Hope for Palestinians

At last there seems to be a slight glimmer of light in what is laughingly called the Palestinian/Israeli peace process.  

Chairman Yasser Arafat, through his devious, lying and murderous behaviour, has utterly discredited himself as a peace partner.  These attributes sit well on the shoulders of a charismatic guerilla leader, which he was for so many decades, but have no place at the negotiating table.  Many politicians prove themselves in one role only to fail in another.  Winston Churchill is one of the most familiar exponents of this trait - a brilliant war leader but utterly inept in peacetime; Yasser Arafat bears some similarity.  

No wonder Israel, the US, Britain, the EU and Russia all now refuse to do business with Mr Arafat any more.  He has been effectively under Israeli house-arrest for the past 18 months and few are protesting.  

Now, however, with great reluctance, he has appointed a prime minister with real powers, Abu Mazen (born as Mahmoud Abbas), who in turn has appointed a cabinet, though only after six weeks of argument with his boss.  

Abu Mazen, who has been close to Mr Arafat for many years, appears to be an interesting character with potential for real hope.  

I read a lengthy two-part review by Memri which quotes extensively from Mr Mazen's speeches and lectures as published in Arabic over the past few years, and it is quite enlightening.  

His Palestinian credentials are impeccable, due to 


his long association with the Palestinian cause, 


his proximity to Mr Arafat, 


his pivotal role in negotiating the 1993 Oslo peace accords and 


his participation in the Camp David discussions of 2000.  

Most surprisingly, while supporting the struggle for Palestinian autonomy, statehood and restitution of land etc, he utterly rejects the use of military force to advance the Palestinian cause.  This is not for any moral reasons; it is pure pragmatism.  He says -  


that use of arms is going nowhere, 


that it plays to Israel's strength, 


that the Palestinians can never overcome by military means a country that can defeat the entire Arab nation at once.  

He makes the point that militarization of the Intifada has invited vicious Israeli retaliation that has brought about the complete destruction of the Palestinian Authority, disproportionate Palestinian deaths, and unspeakable hardships on the Palestinian people.  

He therefore believes that the Palestinians should focus not on weapons but on the political arena.  This, he believes, will force Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon either to negotiate seriously or (as happened to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999) to fall.  Don't play Israel's war game, he says.  

We must be statesmen in order to obtain achievements diplomatically that we cannot obtain militarily” he lectured Fatah officials and commanders in July last year.  He reckons, probably rightly, that if the Palestinians stop their attacks and attempt to negotiate seriously, the Americans will force the Israeli leadership to do likewise.  

He also castigates other states for encouraging the armed struggle.  “Many Arab and Islamic countries want to fight Israel through us, or, as they say, they want to fight Israel to the last Palestinian, and through us achieve what their armies could not.”  Brave and true words.  

He is equally tough on his fellow Palestinians.  He argues that as regards attempts to deal with Israel, the various Palestinian factions must - if necessary by force - tow the line of the Palestinian Authority.  The suicide-loving likes of Hamas, Fatah, the PFLP, the DFLP, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aksa Brigade do not like hearing stuff like this.  But once a deal is made, as far as Mr Mazen is concerned, the factions can then say and do what they want - there will no longer be the need for a single Palestinian voice.  

So, to sum up, what we seem to have in Mr Mazen, is a man 


with a very clear vision, 


with Tony Blair's gifted ability to articulate it, and 


above all with a massive sense of what is realistic and what is not.  

As discussed in an earlier blog, sense of reality is the single biggest void in the countries and peoples of the Middle East and as such is the biggest blockage to their ability to achieve their potential in almost any sphere you care to mention.  Nothing else is so responsible for their rage, frustration and lack of progress as the failure to appreciate what is realistic and what is not. 

(You can be sure that Saddam Hussein and his cohorts, with their unrealistic sense of invulnerability, felt these emotions in abundance when America simply marched across their country almost unopposed.)  

Realistic Abu Mazen looks like a godsend for the suffering Palestinians.  He's going to cause enormous (non-military) problems for the Israelis in the upcoming negotiations, but in the end I believe he is the man to deliver a lasting peace to his people.  

And through this to open the way to a much more stable, prosperous and content Middle East.  

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Progress in the War on Terrorism

The Coordinator for Counterterrorism” in the US Dept of State has just issued its annual report entitled, Patterns of Global Terrorism - 2002”, stuffed with interesting global details, including a brief account of every single terrorist incident during 2002.    

The results are somewhat mixed.  During 2002, terrorist casualties, compared with 2001, increased in the Middle East, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East.  However these losses were swamped by the gain in North America because of the US not suffering a second Twin-Towers attack.  Thus, globally, the number of casualties decreased from 7,432 in 2001 to 4,840 in 2002, and at the same time the number of attacks went down from 355 to 199.  

However, the average ferocity of attacks increased from 21 casualties per attack to 24.   So while terrorist attacks and deaths are decreasing in number they are getting more severe.  

On balance, I guess this is a positive trend - fewer dead.  But it is far too soon to get any sense of complacency about success in the continuing War Against Terrorism.  

The data are summarised below.  And you can view some interesting charts by clicking on the thumbnail on the right.  

 intl_terrorist_attacks_p185.jpg (120052 bytes)

International Casualties from Terrorist Attacks 1997-2002


1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 97-02


28 5,379 185 102 150 12 5,856


344 635 690 904 651 1,281 4,505


27 12 8 103 0 615 765

Latin America

11 195 10 20 6 52 294

Middle East

480 68 31 76 513 772 1,940

North America

7 0 0 0 4,091 0 4,098

Western Europe

17 405 16 4 20 6 468

Total Casualties

2,911 8,692 2,939 3,209 7,432 4,740 29,923



Nbr of Attacks

304 274 395 426 355 199 1,953



per Attack

9.6 31.7 7.4 7.5 20.9 23.8 15.3

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Suckling Till Death

The Nigerian Supreme Court recently upheld the death sentence imposed by a provincial Sharia court on Amina Lawal for the crime of adultery. She is to be buried up to her neck and stoned to death; it will not be quick. 

Her execution has been postponed for one month, to 3rd June 2003, so that she can continue to suckle her baby a little longer.  Appalling as the sentence itself is, the Nigerian judiciary are particularly grotesque in congratulating themselves for their humanity in making the postponement.    

The Spanish branch of Amnesty International is attempting to put together enough signatures to make the Nigerian government rescind Amina's death sentence. (A similar campaign saved another Nigerian woman, Safiya, condemned in similar circumstances.) 

You can add your voice to the campaign to save Amina Lawal's life by simply clicking on Amnesty International's online petition.  

The site is in Spanish and asks for your 

bullet Nombre (first name), 
bullet Apellidos (surname), 
bullet Provincia (province, county), 
bullet Pais (country) and, 

after you click on Seguir, it invites you to provide an e-mail address if you want to receive further information.  

You then click on Acceptar to register your vote.  

As of 7th April, the petition had amassed over 4.1 million signatures. 

Please add yours.  

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Beautiful Ian Paisley

The Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley


scourge of Northern Ireland's political processes for more than 30 years, 


founder and head of Northern Ireland's ultra-protestant Democratic Unionist Party, 


chief recruitment officer of his bitter enemy the IRA (think about it), 


rabid anti-Catholic, 

has always had a way with fiery words.  And for a man of 77 he is remarkably active.  

Apart from dominating his political party, he is an elected member of 


the (currently suspended) Northern Ireland Assembly, 


the British Parliament and 


the European Parliament.  

He also founded and runs the Free Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland and several branches of it in Africa.   

And he travels around and attends all these institutions as regularly as someone half his age who works full time in each of them.  

In addition, he set up his own newspaper, the Protestant Telegraph, and is always at conferences or being interviewed on TV or radio.

But dear oh dear, his words sometimes get the better of him.  

Naturally, he loathes the so-called Good Friday Agreement which all communities throughout Ireland endorsed in a referendum in 1998, because it requires Protestants to rule in concert with the hated Catholics and allows the government of (the Republic of) Ireland a say in Northern Ireland's affairs.  

An election campaign for the Northern Ireland Assembly was launched last Tuesday and politicians were instantly in full vocal flow.  (Just as well as the election was cancelled two days later, because the IRA could not bring themselves to declare an end to their paramilitary activities).  

Nevertheless, on the first day of the campaign, the Rev Paisley had a go at Ireland's Foreign Minister Brian Cowan, who has so far never won a beauty contest, though could give Mick (Lips”) Jagger a run for his money.  

That man of God Ian Paisley was obviously in a Christian state of mind when, in a fit of rage, he described Brian Cowen as that strange character coming from Dublin who had no right to have a say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.”  

He went on, “Someone told me the other day that the reason his lips were so thick was that when his mother was bringing him up he was a very disobedient young boy, so she used to put glue on his lips and put him to the floor to keep him there and that has been recorded in his physical make-up.

“Away with him indeed and if he wants to use his lips to better effect, he should do it somewhere else, and go to people of like physical looks,” 

Brian Cowan

Pots, kettles and black spring to mind.  

You tell me.  Imagine each of them in a skimpy swimsuit with plunging neckline.  Which would you say would win the beauty contest ?

And where is this strange place where only people of like physical looks” may go ?  


Anyway, that's the intellectual level of discourse amongst some of Northern Ireland's top politicians.  

And they want to be allowed to govern the province ?  

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Name Changers

Movie stars and pop singers are not the only ones who like to assume new monikers.  

Some western political leaders also seem curiously reluctant to use their own names.  Bill Clinton uses the surname of his adoptive not his actual father.  Tony Blair goes by the name of his father's adoptive parents.  John Major for some reason prefers his father's stage name.   From a genealogical point of view, they should actually be called 

bulletPresident Bill Blythe
bulletPrime Minister Tony Parsons and
bulletPrime Minister John Bull

Ireland's beloved Taoiseach, who answers to Bertie Ahern, is tainted with a similar brush, as he was christened not Albert or Bertrand, but Bartholomew, same as Bart Simpson.  

Just thought you'd like to know. 

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Heligoland & Dune

In German waters, about 70 km north of Wilhelmshaven lies Heligoland, or Helgoland, an island of just one square kilometre, formed of red sandstone, rising to 60 metres above the sea and largely covered with grazing land.  As a child in the 1950s, I recall collecting stamps from Heligoland but never had the faintest idea of where or what it was.   

It has an interesting bit of imperial history. 

In 1714, the Danes captured the island and an even smaller neighbouring satellite, Dune.  But the British occupied them in 1807 and seven years later Denmark formally ceded them to the occupiers.  But, frankly, the British didn’t know what to do with this pair of worthless rocks.  This engraving of Heligoland is from 1867.  

Meanwhile, however, Germany in 1885 had annexed the 1,651 square kilometre island of Zanzibar, faraway off the east coast of Africa and then a thriving exporter of cloves and (more discreetly) slaves.  This was part of a general imperial sharing out of East Africa among the Germans, British and French.  

So in 1890, the British and Germans did what seemed at the time an excellent deal, especially for the British.  They simply swapped tiny Heligoland and Dune for giant Zanzibar.  Just across the water, the British had already colonised vast swathes of the mainland - Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Kenya and Uganda - so Zanzibar fitted in well with this imperial portfolio.  

In the years that followed the 1890 swap, however, airplanes, submarines and long-range guns were invented, and the British and Germans found themselves in a naval race.  

Consequently those useless specks of land in the North Sea suddenly became formidable, fortified  military bases with which Germany sought to dominate the North Sea and Atlantic during the First World War.  

But, as we know, Germany and its allies were defeated and a six-month victors' conference followed in 1919 which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.  This established a new world order - basically a carve-up of Europe by the victorious British, French and Americans, with the Germans sentenced to permanent disarmament.  

During the negotiations, what to do about Heligoland and its fortifications arose, which were deemed to be of an offensive (and thus unacceptable) nature rather than defensive (acceptable) nature.  

The British had a simple solution: “The key of the mad dog's kennel must be in our pocket, for there is no knowing when the evil beast will get another attack of hydrophobia.”   

Sir Edward Grey, leader of Britain's House of Lords, noting that the islands were a resting place for millions of migratory birds, came up with an imaginative solution that would allow the islands to remain in German hands and warm the heart of any of today's environmentalists.   The fortifications and harbours were destroyed and the islands were designated a natural bird sanctuary under the management of Australia.   

But this didn't last for long.  In 1936, Germany, resurgent under the Nazis, refortified Heligoland and used it as an effective naval and U-boat base in World War II.  The evil beast had indeed got another attack of hydrophobia.  

So in 1947, with Germany again defeated, the British occupation authorities evacuated the islanders (mostly fishermen).  Then in mankind's largest, deliberate, non-atomic blast, they once more blew up the fortifications as well as part of the island.   

The island was largely rebuilt after British occupation forces returned it to West Germany in 1952, and it is now a popular tax-free tourist resort with a population of some 2,000 people.  It is is also a centre for scientific research, particularly ornithology, so the birds are happy again.

Worth a visit.    

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Quote of the Week

Quote : In defeating Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days.  Today ... with new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war. Yet it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.

President George W Bush, addressing US armed forces 
aboard aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, on 1st May 2003

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
May, June, and July 2010


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.


Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,


part of a death march to Thailand,


a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,


torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,


a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.


Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.


This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.


Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.


Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 


Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.


False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:


Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 


Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.


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