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
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#100 - 8th May 2005[250+880
I'm a Century old today!
Many people tell me I
look every day of it.
But what I mean is that this is the 100th issue of
the Tallrite Blog. Since it supposedly comes out every week, that
means it's two years old. Well, no, the first
issue came out nearly three years ago, in July 2002. That just
shows how cavalier I have been in claiming to write a weekly blog and how
many breaks I have given myself (and I'm taking another so #101 won't
appear until 19th June). Therefore I now claim, modestly,
be a nearly
the statistics-hungry, in those 100 blogs, I've published 627 posts,
containing 180,000 words and 1.1m characters. This is equivalent to
a book of around 350 pages, not counting illustrations.
for the nostalgic (ha!), here is the first blog's innocent content,
complete with those little red squares (each denoting the abject defeat of
to List of Contents
Sugar - Afraid of His Gobby Apprentices
Like millions of other viewers, I was riveted by the hugely popular BBC-2
TV show, the
Apprentice starring entrepreneur millionaire-businessman Sir
Alan Sugar. Its format replicates Donald
Trump's of the same name and now in its third successful series in the
Over a period of 12 weekly programmes, Sir Alan,
founder, chief executive
and largest shareholder of
electronics giant Amstrad,
set weekly business tasks for fourteen keen would-be recruits, and based
on their performance fired them one by one until there was a
Campbell was that winner when he won a £100,000 per year job with Sir
Alan, who uttered the magic words You're
instead of his usual You're
There had been something troubling me about Sir
Alan's assessment of the 14 candidates and weekly selection of firees, and
only in the final episode did it properly crystallise into two distinct though
Mr Trump makes plain that he is looking for someone
to run one of his companies, in other words a ready-made executive, and
thus his candidates seek to demonstrate they are fitted for such a
Sir Alan, on the other hand, repeatedly states that
he is looking for an Apprentice, yet he never explains, and the candidates
never ask, an apprentice for what and for how long before getting a
job? The candidates clearly think they are competing to waltz
straight into a senior managerial role, à la Trump, and try to impress accordingly,
with Sir Alan's encouragement. All the talk is about my
knowledge, my energy, my
people-management skills. But of the single most crucial
element for anyone hiring a youngster destined for great things, there is
not a single word from anyone throughout the series. And that word
well understand that athletes have sporting potential that they strive to
attain, but so do we all. For example, there is a maximum length you
can jump, and you will never jump further than that in your life, no matter how
hard and long you train. That maximum length is your longjump
potential, and you will not even reach it without the right coaching and
application. And yours is different from mine.
different people have different potentials, yet this applies in a
limitless array of human endeavour. Your potential will be better
than mine in one sphere; mine will be better in another. It's what makes every human special,
because each one of us is better than everybody else at something.
athletic coaches therefore try to do is to spot high potential for longjump
when the jumper is still a child, and then develop him/her to reach it in
the years ahead.
everyone has certain innate business potential; it is the natural ceiling,
or level of seniority, beyond which you are likely never to reach, no matter how many years you
work away at it and how good the coaching and mentoring is that you receive.
key quality to look for in high-calibre business apprentices is thus surely not what
they know and can do today, helpful though this is. It is instead their ability to
continuously and quickly learn and develop their skills and understanding in order to reach
the level required to, for instance, replace Sir Alan in a few short
years. Frankly, the candidates' present knowledge and experience
could be zero provided they can demonstrate that elusive property,
the candidates can be forgiven for not understanding the role of potential
if no-one explained it to them. But I find it extraordinary that it
seems alien to Sir Alan as well.
maybe this deficiency is related to the next.
candidates presented a wide range of personalities, most of them
extrovert, and not a few were particularly noisy, argumentative, arrogant,
Amongst the last five were two very noisy people,
the Pakistani and Paul
the Italian, who argued with everyone but especially each other. The
other three, James,
and Tim, were quieter and more cerebral. James was fired for
legitimate reasons; Miriam was also fired, but Sir Alan later admitted
that this was a mistake. That left two noisy and one quiet person.
Sir Alan had several times said there was room in his company for only one
loudmouth - himself, and as the programme progressed you realised this was
For no proper reason that he
was able to adequately articulate, he fired Paul and Saira, who were among
the most able and energetic, clearly possessed great potential, but were
very difficult to manage and control because of their fiery headstrong
personalities. Of Paul, he had once said, I
see a little of me in you,
so he was afraid, very afraid, at the thought of being confronted by Paul
in the future; similarly with Saira. So he hired the clever but docile Tim.
However, when you look at
Sir Alan's two
assistants Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, who every week tailed and reported back (ratted) on
the candidates' business exercises, and
three executives he engaged to interview the
candidates in the penultimate show,
you can finally understand why.
five were exceptionally
demure, polite, deferential to Sir Alan. He also bragged that gentlemanly
people like Richard Branson and Bill Gates were his personal friends, but
couldn't bring himself even to utter the name of the equally abrasive
conclude that Sir Alan is a bully who likes to surround himself with
yes-men, and that yesmanship is a more important quality to him than potential.
He fears gobby people like Paul and Saira
(to use Saira's own self-description), who are prepared to stand up
to him and tell him he's wrong about something and why.
Like most bullies, he can
dish it out but he can't take it.
Contrast him with Saira, someone else with bullyish
tendencies. Why did
she select her worst antagonist, the misogynistic fellow-bully Paul as her
teammate for the crucial final project? Because she knew he also possessed enormous
ability, and reckoned it was worth trying to manage his tantrums and
personal abuse in order to avail of his excellent business qualities, a judgment
and a demonstration of gritty leadership courage which were vindicated in the business success of that final exercise. A
success, incidentally, that Sir Alan ignored when he hired Tim whose
performance was not so prosperous.
Sir Alan's fear of challenge led him
to get rid of all
the assertive candidates in order to select a
lesser candidate who will make life easier for Sir Alan. After twelve
weeks of TV, it was obvious to anyone that the invisible but stalwart
Tim simply does not possess the potential for ever replacing him in the
chief executive's chair.
He should have
chosen Saira, but was afraid of her, as of all the assertive, gobby
candidates for his apprenticeship. Had be been confronted with
Jack Welch of GE fame, bursting with potential and fire, he would have
been similarly intimidated. Though conversely, the demonstrably
gutsy Mr Welch would have hired Saira instantly.
If Sir Alan wasn't such a hugely successful businessman, I
would have said that his own potential was strictly limited.
Shows how much I know.
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by the Sunday Times's intrepid Liam Clarke about a
pending reshuffle of IRA management caught my eye. Not because of
who may step down from or step up to senior positions in the coming weeks,
but because of the arcane command structure that is casually
described. I've drawn it here.
In red is the bit of the IRA that actually does the
business, a GHQ with various departments. But, on a one-on-one
basis, the GHQ is oversat by no fewer than three boards, shown in green. By any
measure of management efficiency, this is a clumsy piece of machinery for
making decisions, which would not survive long in a competitive business
It is of course fairly typical of state-owned
monopoly enterprises where board after board, packed with appointees that the
government of the day wants to reward, sit on top of a management team,
getting in the way of the day-to-day business.
However, insofar as the IRA considers itself the legitimate
and only government of Ireland (north and south), it is perhaps
not surprising that it is structured like one of those state
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So, despite Iraq, Tony Blair is re-ascending the prime
ministerial throne, bolstered by his creditable economic
Hmmm. The Motley Fool asks
has been Britain's best [post-WW2] prime minister? Churchill? Macmillan? Thatcher? Or Blair?
In terms of annualised
[British} stock market performance during their time at Number 10, the most successful PM since 1945 has been... James
Sunny Jim presided over no less than 19% per annum growth
in the FTSE-100 index, until Margaret Thatcher turfed him out as
voters reacted to his incompetent handling of, among other things, the, er,
This is astonishing news. Just as astonishing
is that Tony Blair, with the sainted, charisma-free Chancellor Gordon
Browne masterminding the economy for him, comes second from bottom with a
measly 2% pa. Allow for inflation and this actually turns negative,
indicating a real-terms regression of 1.4% in stockmarket value.
(Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Elect Blair, get
There are of course excuses.
Under Callaghan's watch (April 1976 to May 1979), but
with little or no input from him,
a global recovery occurred following the 1973-74 oil crisis and recession,
the IMF helped stabilise the British economy and sterling,
North Sea Oil began to fill up the treasury,
interest rates to be lowed from 15% to
So it's perhaps no great wonder that the FTSE-100
leapt by 71% in that short period.
Conversely, Tony Blair has been done down by the
global reverse and slowdown, for which he can hardly be blamed, that began in March 2000 when the dotcom
bubble popped, triggering a longrunning downturn in the rest of industry.
Stockmarkets have still not recovered.
Still, if we look far enough ahead, history
note only the bald figures, 19% vs 2%,
dismiss or ignore the other guff and
draw its conclusion about prime ministerial
Hope nobody tells Britain's newly re-elected
Mrs Thatcher, by the way, came third with a healthy
12% pa, and Anthony Eden, of Suez fame, was last on 1%.
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Health Cover for European Trippers
May is here; the rain has lessened; flowers are
blooming; barbecues are sizzling. For many, this all smells of trips
abroad to sunnier climes.
People may not be aware (I wasn't) that EU residents
are entitled to free or discounted medical treatment when visiting another
European Union or European Economic Area country. But you need to be carrying a post-August 2004,
validated E111 form, which UK residents can download from here
and Irish from here.
(For others, search your national health department website.)
Sickness and injury represent the only big-ticket
financial risk that most travellers face (what, you lost your suitcase?
your ran over your digital camera? - big deal). So it's not at all
worth squandering your precious funds on conventional travel insurance if
you're remaining within Europe.
Live on the edge; take a chance on not having your
umbrella snatched by a shady-looking foreigner abroad.
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in Public in
week I drank beer rather than take a European Constitutional, dubbed the TEACoFEe, or tea-and-coffee. So this week I need to, well, dispose of
So let's go to the Paris of nearly four decades ago,
when as a student looking for a job I well remember making use, during the student riots of 1968 that nearly toppled de
Gaulle (but that's something for a future post), of a device like the
classic one photographed by Fred Gurner of New York. Follow the
link to find the full-sized version with his full contact details
(he has kindly given me permission to use this thumbnail).
Going back another three decades or so
and if you're lucky you might find this image, unearthed in (Britain's)
Cartier-Bresson's classic photograph of
editor and film-maker
Charles Henri Ford doing up his flies,
with evident relief on his face,
in a Parisian pissoir in 1935.
Note also the subtle tongue-in-fly allusion
Though everyone called them pissoirs, the
public urinals that littered Paris were officially called vespasiennes
after the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus, who succeeded the
fiddling Nero in AD68 and who first had the idea of facilitating public
He installed large earthenware urns all over Rome for the
convenience of citizens, and to pay for them levied on each household a
four-yearly headage tax, counting not only the humans in the house but
also the animals. (Did he also invent the Vespa motor
In Paris, the first pissoir was built in 1841 and
according to a new biography
of Paris, it blossomed throughout Napoleon III's empire days.
Along with his lamp posts, benches, kiosks and water fountains, the humble
pissoir formed part of the embourgeoisement of the Paris street,
with architectural styles ranging from Gothic through classical to the
What first struck me as a callow,
repressed youth was the complete lack of embarrassment on
the part of anyone using them, upper torso and lower legs on public
display, or of passers by of either sex.
When war broke out in 1914, there were over 4,000
pissoirs in Paris. Sadly, though, by the mid-1950s, thanks to
domestic sanitary improvements, these quintessentially Parisian icons had dwindled to some 300 and
today are but museum pieces, like stuffed dodos.
These days, the pissoir has been replaced on the
Parisian streets by the
ultimate pay toilet — the sanisette,
though there are only 420 of them.
the outside the sanisette looks like a six-foot aluminum can; inside it
has a clean chemical smell and is slightly larger than an airplane
bathroom. A small fee, 30 €urocents, entitles you to ten minutes of rest
before the door automatically opens — ready or not (a time limit
designed to dissuade hanky panky). Then, allowing you just enough
time to exit, the door closes in order for the sanisette to go
through its auto-sanitization process. And woe to the innocent who has not
I promise not to return to this kind of foetid subject for a
very long time ... not before issue number 200.
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Quotes of Week
Quote: Our full support for the McCartney family remains our guiding principle at this
A Sinn Féin spokesman explains why
the EU grouping to which it belongs, the European United Left,
rejects an EU parliamentary motion tabled by five other groupings
accounting for 86% of MEPs.
The motion offers financial aid to the family of
Robert McCartney, whom the IRA murdered in February,
to pursue a civil action,
as well as urging Sinn Féin to cooperate with the police,
and condemning IRA violence and criminality
trade liberalisation ... forces choices on vulnerable countries, whose effects may be – in the short to medium term – very costly indeed to a whole generation of workers, to the environment, to political
The challenge that has to be put to a naïve confidence in free trade to deliver a flourishing human environment is a challenge about what is needed for a country to play the part it wants and needs to play in the global economy, what is needed to give it appropriate economic power.
And the answer is unlikely to be a simple recommendation for a universal and instant end to protection or preference.
That noted economics giant Rowan
who as Archbishop of Canterbury
leads 70 million Anglicans around the world,
argues in convoluted ecclesiastical language that, in effect,
trade protection and preference
are more beneficial to workers than free trade,
despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary
throughout human history. North Korea anyone?
(I do not recall any Archbishop of
of recent times who did not spend all his time with the fairies)
an opposition backbench MP is the lowest form of life
ex Conservative MP and ex John Major lover,
comments on Irish radio (Newstalk 106)
on the latest Conservative election defeat
I am a five-times-a-night man. At least. I can do it more, depending how I feel.”
Tony Blair, during the election campaign.
When asked whether he was up to it,
Cherie said firmly, “He always
Whatever are they talking about?
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the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
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#99 - 1st May 2005
Tea or Coffee Constitution
The deeper the EU Constitution delves into its ratification
process, the wobblier it looks. That is because in those countries
who will hold a referendum, whether as a legislative requirement (Ireland)
or through foolish choice (France, Britain), people are beginning to
scrutinise it and the more they do so the more its flaws are
exposed. I'm sure close scrutiny was the last thing ex-French
president Giscard d'Estaing had in mind when he autocratically chaired the
convention that drew it up (in fairness, without his autocratic overruling
of objections, it would never have seen the light of day).
Even so, scrutiny is a lot less easy than downloading its 1.9 Mb
bulk from here.
For it comprises 485 turgid pages with 246 articles and sub-articles. And just as a
camel is a race horse designed by committee, so this document, the result
of deliberations and arguments by 105 delegates,
is anything but sleek and fast. Nor is it straight. For
it is riddled with contradictions that have been deliberately introduced
so that opposing factions can both claim their whims have been catered for.
Constructive ambiguity this is sometimes called.
This approach works fine provided it involves only the
cognoscenti, which in this case includes those who did the drafting, the
25 Governments who have signed the paper and the thousands of
EUrocrats who realise it is going to be their feeding trough for as far into the
future as anyone can imagine. Those knowing people will take out of it
such interpretations that suit their particular agendas, and ignore any
But once the great unwashed masses get their hands on the
wretched document the process works in exact reverse. Whipped up by
awkward domestic politicians and various partisan journalists, it is those aspects
that displease them that are seized upon and the favourable
Start with the name, Treaty
Establishing A Constitution For Europe.
Is it a Treaty? Is it a Constitution? Choose whichever you hate
I'm going to call it the
or coffee, whatever you're having yourself, take your pick, so
long as it's weak and insipid.
1.3.3 of the TEACoFEe tells us The
Union shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on ... a
highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and
Compassionate-sounding social market or rough-sounding highly competitive
market? Help yourself.
In Article 1.6, The Constitution and law adopted by the institutions of
the Union in exercising competences conferred
on it shall have primacy over the law of the Member States.
Your own parliament is now toothless.
Article I-16-1/2 tells us The
Union's competence in matters of common foreign and security policy shall
cover all areas of foreign policy and ... a common defence policy ...
[and] Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's
common foreign and security policy, refrain[ing] from action contrary to
the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness.”
fire your foreign and defence ministers, and goodbye to your neutrality
(if you have any left).
about the €uro's long term stability as well as growth within the €urozone?
III-184-17 reaffirms the Stability and Growth Pact (that Germany insisted
on as a condition of the €uro, and then was one of the first to breach
it, heavily and repeatedly). It contains severe penalties for persistent
offenders, but the article then ends by saying nothing
prejudges the future debate.
In other words, the Pact is
secure - until it's not.
Article I-III-130: The Union shall adopt measures with
the aim of establishing or ensuring the functioning of the
market ... compris[ing] an area without internal frontiers in which the
free movement of
persons, services, goods and capital is ensured.
Clear enough to strike fear into any
statist state (France? Germany?).
Derogations (ie let-outs) start appearing just three
There are frequent clauses (try Article III-134) about
abolish restrictions, so plenty of wriggle room there.
Trade prohibitions are acceptable on grounds (Article
public policy ... or the protection of industrial and commercial
property, which can pretty much cover as much as you
even think about interfering with the sacred State monopolies (Article
III-155) that litter (and bleed) the EU.
restrictions are fine provided they contribute
to improving the production or distribution of goods or to promoting
technical or economic progress (Article III-161-3), which
can cover what you like.
does the TEACoFEe turn the EU into a Federation, a United States of Europe
that can thumb its nose at the other United States? Well, to those
who want a Federation (eg Germans, French, Belgians) it doesn't - it's
anti-Federalist. But the same document is pro-Federalist to the antis (eg British, ex Communist states), in both cases
depending on your definition of Federal.
ultimately, the French in their referendum on 29th May are going to say no to
the TEACoFEe, because they
read the free
trade anti-Federalist bits, which smell to them of brutal Anglo-Saxon commercialism
and liberalism, while ignoring the numerous escape hatches.
President Chirac confirms their fears when he plaintively wonders
Brussels will stand up for French interests or has
it been captured by free-trade neo-liberalists.
the herd instinct, the Dutch, exacerbated by anti-Muslim feeling whipped
up by the murder of Theo van Gogh (nothing in this debate is logical),
will probably also vote no when they get their turn three days later.
Meanwhile, the Brits are
obviously going to say no, but for diametrically opposite reasons. They
will be concentrating on those escape hatches. They see the TEACoFEe
as being full of restrictions and Brussels
diktats, which fulfils all their innate anti-EU prejudice, and are
moreover terrified of a United States of Europe.
is curious, by the way, that the noes seem for no reason to divide into
Rumsfeld's notorious Old Europe and New Europe.
Europe fears wider integration with no deepening and the demise of the
New Europe feels the model will be unilaterally
imposed, accompanied by deeper integration and not much widening.
And the tea-or-coffee
indeed all the things it is both vilified and
praised for. A tome for everyone to hate - and love.
is perhaps the
strongest reason of all to vote no. For if you vote yes, you don't
know what you're getting, other than endless and expensive legal rows as lawyers line
their pockets, at everyone's expense, as they try to interpret its 485
contradictory and ambiguous pages, decades into the future. (If you are a
young lawyer, of course, with a long career ahead of you, then you should definitely
is needed is, in fact, two documents (which after enough failed
referendums might be what we eventually get).
purely for ease of understanding and administration, an uncontroversial integration of all that has already been agreed
heretofore (the Treaties of Rome, Maastricht, Nice etc);
other a short, meaningful and equally uncontroversial Constitution confined
to the EU's values and objectives, together with its citizens' rights
changes to either document should then be debated and negotiated, openly and on their merits,
not smuggled in via a vast, obscure TEACoFEe type all-seeing all-dancing
or coffee? Neither thanks. I think I'll have a
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Non-News about Iraq Legal Advice
What a fuss about the two pieces of advice concerning the
legality of the Iraq war, which were given to Tony Blair by his Attorney
General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, two weeks before and then three days before
the war was launched. The issue is that the first advice (7th March
2003) which Downing Street kept secret until making it available last week
as a 693
kb PDF file, contains caveats, whereas the second
one (17th March) does not. Moreover, though the second advice
was published at the time, Tony Blair shared the contents of the earlier
one with neither his Cabinet nor Parliament. His opponents
accuse him of two things -
hiding relevant information, ie the first advice, and
leaning on Lord Goldsmith
to produce a more helpful, definitive piece of advice the second time,
indeed advice that contradicts the first.
The situation is more prosaic and less conspiratorial.
The first advice presents all the pros and cons, including
how others might act, particularly those who opposed war. For
example, failure of Iraq to comply with UN
Resolution 1441, which threatened serious
was to be considered
by the UN Security Council. Lord Goldsmith presents the pros and
cons of two interpretations of considered:
as in talk about but don't necessarily decide anything one way or the
as in no military action to be taken unless subsequently so decided by
the Security Council.
second advice, of 17th March, baldly conveys his judgment that interpretation nbr 1
because if the Security Council meant decide instead of
consider, it would have written decide
into 1441. This is neither incompatible with nor contradictory to
the first advice littered with all those pros and cons.
He also says in his first advice that a second UN Resolution explicitly
authorising war would be the
safest legal course.
D'oh. But this is a long way from saying it is
And disgruntled people might try to take the UK to court
for an illegal war and we cannot be certain that they would not
both parts of which again fall into the bleedin' obvious category,
resolution or no resolution.
having presented a series of such arguments in his first advice of 7th
March, he drew his conclusion in his second of the 17th.
had failed to disarm as required by 1441 (and earlier resolutions),
military action was allowed under the revived First Gulf War resolution
678, the one which authorised that war, because this been only suspended - not cancelled - by the 1991 ceasefire resolution 687.
demanded was a consideration/discussion
of Iraq's breaches, which duly took place, not a further decision or resolution about going to
this was the essence of his second missive to Tony Blair, which presented
pure advice without repeating all the pros and cons that underpinned
the other matter about leaning on Lord Goldsmith? So what if Mr Blair
did lean on him to alter
his advice? That's part of his job. Everyone tries to persuade
his lawyer. But Goldsmith is a grown-up and responsible for his own
advice and personal integrity. So if people truly think Goldsmith in
drawing up his second advice document was influenced against his better
judgment by Tony's whingeing , it is Goldsmith who should resign not
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handsome fellow, a native of America, was believed to have been extinct
since its last confirmed sighting was reported in
But in February 2004 and several times subsequently,
according to last week's Science
Magazine (PDF, 585 kb), he was spotted, and fleetingly filmed, flying
within a forest in Arkansas. The point was apparently proved by
grainy TV pictures revealing his unique dorsal wing pattern and audio
matching of his distinctive squawk - which you can listen to here.
The original spotter, Gene Sparling, said seeing it was the
most unbelievable moment of my life
(maybe he needs to stay in more).
There were cursory media reports about all this last week,
including a blurry video clip, but nothing much about the bird itself, so
like the ivory-billed woodpecker, I pecked away to find some details.
ivory-billed woodpecker was in his day the biggest woodpecker in America,
standing 20 magnificent inches tall, with stiff tail feathers that it
would lean back on. The American Indians loved him
because his striking plumage looked great in their own huge feathery headdresses,
and they also used to trade his tough, ivory-white beak.
and Mrs Ivory Bill lived in
thick lowland primary forest in the deep South near the Gulf of Mexico and
each breeding pair needed 2,000 acres of timberland to live comfortably.
climbers thanks to two toes pointing forward and two backwards, they would
nest 40 foot up a tree, where they would peck a two-foot deep cavity in
which to lay a clutch of two or three eggs, though rarely.
enjoyed eating the fruit of magnolia and pecan trees, but their main diet
- comprising 70% of intake - was Insects, many of them noxious. This
included wood-boring beetles, both adults and larvae, many caterpillars
species that burrow into trees, and ants that live in and off decaying
wood. Many ants are particularly harmful to timber, for if they find a
small spot of decay in the vacant burrow of some wood-borers, they enlarge
the hole, and as their colony is always on the increase, continue to eat
away the wood until the whole trunk is honeycombed. Moreover, these
insects are not accessible to other birds, and could pursue their career
of destruction unmolested were it not for the appetite and skills of the
ivory-billed and other woodpeckers,
with beaks and tongues especially fitted for such work. Thus they
save many trees.
But for our ivory-billed woodpecker, alas, it worked the
other way round. If the Indians didn't trap them for their feathers
or ornithologists for their collections, loggers relentlessly chopped down the trees leaving
nowhere for the birds to live. So they died.
It is a miracle, however, that a few seemed to have
survived these past sixty years, far from the prying eyes of man, and in a
piece of land that is both forest and being re-forested. This
area is an ideal habitat for, well, 270 happy couples. With proper conservation of
the woodland, this means the numbers should with
luck now slowly increase.
For a change, an environmental story that is heart-warming
instead of global-warming.
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Ian Revue and the
Many people lead double lives, some have aliases, others
work under a nom-de-plum or nom-de-guerre.
But Ian Macfarlane, who earned £138,000 a year as a
conveyancing (real estate) solicitor in Dorset, took a different
tack. Back in 1996, he strolled into his bank and opened a new
account in the name of (a non-existent) Mr Ian Revue with a fictitious
address. Then he began writing company cheques for stamp duty made payable
“I Revue”, in bad handwriting so it looked as though the payment was being made to the Inland
Revenue tax authority (“I Revenue”), and deposited them into Ian Revue's account.
It was a simple scam, and by last July, he had paid in no
fewer than 163 cheques in this way, totalling £825,000. He and his
family had then had a merry
old time with the proceeds.
But he attracted attention when one day he paid in a cheque for a
property that didn't need stamp duty, and so the law eventually caught up
with the lawyer.
He's currently waiting to hear the length of his jail
The thing that puzzles me, though, which has not been
raised in the press reports, is how come the Inland Revenue over a period
of eight years never noticed that they weren't receiving the stamp duty
they were due? Was it an inside job?
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Quotes of Week 99
First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the
century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin
reveals his love
of the Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist murder-empire that was the USSR,
in his annual state of the nation address
to parliament, to the country's top political leaders
and to Orthodox Church clergy
Quote: The purpose of the advice was to show how the war could proceed
Blair, in defending the advice he received
from Lord Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General,
reinforces the traditional instruction to lawyers,
Don't tell me what I cannot do;
tell me how I can do what I want to do.
Quote: From the left window I could see a women-only carriage that had toppled
Passenger Sadao Hayashi,
describing the immediate aftermath
of Japan's Amagasaki train crash,
tells us that Japanese trains have
women only carriages
: The President is “usually in bed by now ... If you really want to end tyranny in the world,
[George], you’re going to have to stay up later ... At nine o’clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep and I’m watching ‘Desperate
Housewives’ ... With Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate
Lady Laura Bush brings the house down
at the 91st annual White House Correspondents’ dinner
which honours award-winning journalists
: Scary is a very strange word to use to express your feeling of the possibility of seeing me on the street with hot pants
... Everyone can be still sexy after 50.
Ono, at 71, and in hot pants,
demonstrates that she can't
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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
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Broom of Anger
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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