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May 2007

ISSUE #150 - 6th May 2007


ISSUE #151 - 13th May 2007


ISSUE #152 - 27th May 2007


Time in



ISSUE #152 - 27th May 2007 [475]


Another Nobel Peace Laureate Goes Native, Over Iran


Ulster Says NO (to Hot-Pursuit)


Catfish to Arms


One-Man Stonehenge


Week 152's Letters to the Press


Quotes of Week 152

Another Nobel Peace Laureate Goes Native, Over Iran

Mohamed El-Baradei is the widely respected head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, which started out as the Atoms for Peace organization in 1957. 

I well remember Atoms for Peace” and its benign intentions because it put on an exhibition in Dublin in 1967 when I was an engineering student, and hired me as a presenter.  With slides and movie clips, my carefully scripted and memorised half-hour talk described peaceful innovative uses of nuclear technology, such as irradiating -


foodstuffs to increase their shelf life by killing off bacteria,


male mosquitoes so as to sterilised them, before then
releasing them into the wild to compete for females
who would then not reproduce, or


tinted decorative timber to fix the impregnated
dye which would ensure the colour remained fast. 

During the pre-Iraq-invasion period when the UN's chief weapons inspector Hans Blix was giving himself a fit of the vapours and saying anything that he thought might foil the imminent war, Mr El-Baradei was the voice of reason, prepared to not just examine the evidence for WMD but to weigh up realistic probabilities as well.  Moreover, as an Arab, he was trusted among the Middle East regimes much more than other UN apparatchiks. 

Recognising his contribution to nuclear safety, he and his agency were jointly awarded the 2005 Nobel peace price for their efforts both to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way. 

Thus, what he says today carries a great deal of weight. 

So when he says that Iran probably needs three to eight years to produce a nuclear bomb, he should be believed. 

But he recently followed this up by arguing that the West could and should deter the development of nuclear weapons by rogue states such as Iran not by threatening sanctions and military force, but by slashing their own arsenals, to set a benign example. 

When he says

I believe that demand [for enrichment suspension] has been superseded by events.  Instead, the important thing now is to concentrate on Iran not taking it to industrial scale”,

he is making the case that Iran should be allowed to continue enriching uranium in breach of no fewer than three UN resolutions. 

Let me see if I understand this correctly. 

The best way to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons is to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, because threats will only encourage Iran to develop nuclear weapons. 

If you want to check how Iran behaves when it is given a free pass on bad behaviour, it has provided plenty of examples over the years...


from 1979,

when it invaded sovereign US territory (the Teheran embassy) and kidnapped 52 Americans for 444 days, suffered no punishment and for the next two decades sponsored a succession of unprovoked attacks by its proxy Hezbollah against American targets killing over 300 Americans as well as hundreds of others, all with impunity, ...


to 2004, 

when the Iranians kidnapped eight British servicemen in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, paraded them blindfolded on TV, conducted mock executions, and then released them three days later, and - since this carried no adverse consequence - repeated their trick in March 2007, upping it to fifteen sailors and twelve days, again with no penalty; indeed it brought accolades. 

Iran has made it abundantly clear it has not the slightest intention of slowing down, much less abandoning, its uranium enrichment programme, which will eventually put nuclear weapons into its hands.  And it has also given plenty of notice that the vaporisation of Israel is its first objective.  There can be little doubt that terrifying its neighbours and the West is the next objective, nor that nuclear proliferation among those neighbours will be an inevitable result. 

As John Bolton said in a recent, brilliant BBC interview (minute 3:45) in which he eviscerates his supercilious left-wing interlocutor John Humphrys, Iran is not going to be chatted out of” its nuclear programme.  The so-called EU Three (France, Germany and Britain) have proven this conclusively over nearly four long years of fruitless “negotiations”. 

So if sweet talk doesn't work, and ignoring bad behaviour doesn't work, all you're left with is sanctions, threats and - ultimately, if they don't work - military action. 

Unless of course, you're relaxed about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's maniacal plans for welcoming the 12th Imam back from the 13th Century.  But I for one don't want to be in a world where he (Mr Ahmadinejad, not the preposterous 12th imam) can live out his fantasies.  And, of course, an infidel like me not living in this world is just one of the many such fantasies he would like to bring about. 

Mr El-Baradei's puerile remarks about letting him away with his nuclear transgressions thus far, and never threatening anything unpleasant, will provide only comfort to the Iranian theocratic leadership.  It will provide further proof - as if needed - of the West's failure of will when it comes to protecting its interests. 

Yet in my view, the West is like a drunken sleeping monster.  He does not notice, or else ignores, a succession of slings and arrows from vindictive Lilliputians.  But eventually, one of them just goes too far, he wakes up and wreaks a terrible vengeance.  We saw that happen -


when Hitler invaded Poland,


when Hirohito attacked Pearl Harbour and


when Osama perpetrated 9/11. 

All three aggressors and their regimes suffered terribly from the rage of the awakened monsters. 

Similarly, I think the present acquiescence of the West in the increasingly dangerous and provocative nuclear behaviour of the Iranian regime will ultimately only increase the likelihood of an eventual military showdown of terrible proportions when the Western monster is eventually woken up again.  Only sufficiently severe sanctions and belligerent enough threats applied now, whilst they can still have some effect, has a chance of averting a catastrophe. 

Maybe the Nobel Peace Prize goes to your head, and makes you think that no price is too high to pay for peace, even when peace means appeacement to a foul enemy that will show you no mercy.  In the previous issue, my lead post, about how Noble Peace laureates John Hume (1998) and Mairead Corrigan (1976), through their recent speeches grovelling to terrorism are in fact exacerbating war, seems to support such an hypothesis. 

In other contexts, you'd call it going native.  Mohammed El-Baradei, over Iran, seems to be the latest Nobel Peace laureate to go down that perilous path. 

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Ulster Says NO (to Hot-Pursuit)

If you are a criminal, the EU can be a bit of a nuisance. 

In the good ol' days, you robbed a bank and then raced over the border for safety in the neighbouring country, with the pursuing police halting in frustration at the frontier.   If Mexico were not a safe haven for fleeing crooks, escaped convicts and assorted gangsters, Hollywood would be out of business for want of movie storylines.  The Americans even go a step further, and forbid hot pursuit over State lines, never mind international ones. 

But the EU has been trying to do something about this as far as member countries are concerned.  That's why it set up Europol in 1999, to share criminal intelligence in order to improve effectiveness and co-operation of the members' police forces in combating terrorism, drug dealing and other serious forms of international organised crime, such as counterfeiting, piracy and human trafficking. 

Combined with improved extradition arrangements, this has, to the criminals' chagrin, made it it much more difficult for fugitives from one EU state to live it up in another on the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains.   For example, you no longer see British ganglords flaunting their wealth (and their women) in the once aptly-nicknamed Costa del Crime in southern Spain, for with Europol and other EU legislation, they can't rely on those pesky mañana police to leave them alone any more.   

And yet, hot pursuit, regardless of circumstances, is still a taboo throughout the EU.  National sovereignty is sacred. 

In one way, you can understand this, since even the Americans forebear to hot-pursue terrorist suspects in Iraq once they race across the border into the safe embrace of Iran or Syria.  Yet this is probably the single biggest mistake of the war, that Iran and Syria remain unscathed and unpunished regardless of the mayhem they promote and facilitate in Iraq.  So why would they stop? 

Nevertheless, to its credit, the EU has been trying to further toughen up the existing legislation.  It has drafted a new law which, to foster even more police co-operation, would enable EU police forces to share fingerprints, DNA and vehicle-registration data more easily.  But the key innovation is to allow hot pursuit across country borders where life or limb is endangered.  Apart from spoiling the plots of future EU movies, such hot-pursuit is a thoroughly admirable development.  Gunmen and terrorists should not be able to escape the gendarmerie simply by strolling across from France into Germany.  Under the Schengen agreement, there are no restrictions or barriers whatsoever between these two nations, which means anyone cross whenever he/she wants, in either direction, without challenge or even being counted. 

Except the police of one state whilst chasing criminals who flee into another.  This is a truly odd state of affairs, which the EU is trying to reverse. 

The EU is now a club of twenty-seven members and 490 million people.

Yet somehow, just 1.7m of them have managed to torpedo this new legislation.  And no, it's not one of the triumvirate of EUrodots - Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta.

It's the population of Ulster, of Northern Ireland.  They can't bear the idea of the Republic's police force, the Garda Síochána, charging into their jurisdiction in hot pursuit, regardless of how dangerous the prey might be to life or limb.  So, in the interests of the recently delivered peace process and avoiding upsetting any of the prima donnas who are at its centre, both the UK and Ireland have sought an opt-out from the hot-pursuit clause.    Better, they believe, that someone loses his life to a border-crossing criminal than that Northern Ireland's precious “sovereignty be violated.

The other 25 members, however, are so disgusted at the attempted opt-out that they are planning to drop the entire package of legislation altogether. 

Criminals across Europe must be toasting their Ulster compadres in smuggled champagne for their success in protecting their cross-border boltholes from pursuing cops.  And the EU movie industry can breathe a little more easily.   For years unionists opposed to the peace process have thrilled to the rallying call: “Ulster says NO!”.  And it's not gone away, y'know.   

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Catfish to Arms

The catfish is a curious creature from prehistoric times.  It is characterised by its barbels - slender, whiskerlike, tactile organs near the mouth - which resemble cat's whiskers, which give it its name. Some mistake the barbels to be arms, weapons for attacking their prey.  But they are not; they are simply the means by which the fish tastes its food before pouncing on it. 

Catfish, with the whisker-like "barbels" that give it its name

In its many sub-species, the catfish varies in length from 15 cm (the Candirú) to nearly 3 metres and 300 kg (the endangered Mekong Giant).  And on an individual basis it has remarkable survival skills.  It'll eat anything, and the bigger ones grow at an astonishing 2 kg per month.  Though they are either freshwater (mainly) or saltwater specialists, many can survive in either.  And indeed on dry land as well, for long periods, which makes them hard to kill when caught.  They are also known to come ashore and wriggle across land for tens of metres to find a more propitious body of water. 

The catfish's scavenging, eat-anything voracious diet is the reason many people refrain from eating it.  It is a specialty in the southern US, but eschewed as dirty in the Caribbean.  Much loved in West Africa, but viewed with suspicion in the Philippines. 

But if you don't want to eat him, he will be more than willing to eat you.

A couple of weeks ago, 38-year-old Phil Tanner, fishing off a pier in southern England, got a shock as he reeled one in – and the fish decided to fight back. His catch bit him on the nose and wouldn’t let go.  “It was agony,” he wailed, “I could feel it chomping as if it wanted me for its last meal”, which I am sure it did.

It reminded me of a true story some years ago when I lived in Nigeria. 

I was invited to a cocktail party in Port Harcourt and got talking to the prominent hostess, whose anonymity and blushes I will, er, spare since she is married to the president of OPEC. 

When I remarked on a bandage on her upper arm, she told me that the previous day she had gone to the fish market to buy a suitable specimen for the party.  She selected a large catfish and brought him home to the kitchen.  However, as she wielded her knife to gut him, he suddenly demonstrated his ability to survive for long periods out of water by leaping out of the kitchen sink and plunging his teeth deep into her arm.  No amount of manipulation, stabbing or screams would persuade him to let go, so she drove straight to the nearby hospital with the fish still relentlessly attached. 

There, only by decapitation (an operation not routinely performed in A&E), could the fish be removed, and then only after the complete dismemberment of his dead jaws using scalpels and pliers. 

The nasty wound on her arm was cleaned, stitched and bandaged up, she was given a tetanus shot, and sent on her way.  But not before she demanded the immediate return of her fish.  Catfish, deep-fried in beer batter

There was an altercation with the medical staff as patients do not usually demand the return of body parts.  But Mr Catfish was expensive, she explained, and she had a big party the next evening.  So they reluctantly fished him out of the hospital waste, rinsed him off and handed him back to her. 

I'm glad she hung on to him, just as he had hung on to her.  Cut into chunky pieces and deep fried in batter, he was delicious, arm or no arm. 

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One-Man Stonehenge

StonehengeStonehenge is a circular setting of large standing stones, which stands in Salisbury Plain in Southern England.  Completed around 1600 BC, it is one of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, and is on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.  In fact, it took over 6,000 years to reach its final state, with evidence that construction on the site began around 8,000 BC, and continued in fits and starts over the succeeding millennia. 

In its final glory, it comprised two outer circles of 60 massive stones of up to 25 tons, within which stood a horseshoe of fifteen similar stones, with every two vertical stones supporting one horizontal lintel.  Whilst the purpose of the monument remains a mystery, an even bigger mystery is how people transported the stones and erected them.  Most theories are based upon the use of sledges, pulleys, levers and raw manpower, but no-one has yet managed to emulate those ancient construction workers. 

But Wally Wallington, from Flint in Michigan has come up with a completely radical approach, which postulates that Stonehenge could have been constructed by just one man.  Yes, one man.  And to demonstrate this, he is single-handedly building, in his own backyard, his own Stonehenge, comprising eight uprights and two lintels, each of them a ten-ton cast-concrete monolith. 

Have a look at the video clip below, and then learn more here

Thanks Vincent Huggins for putting me on to this. 

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Week 152's Letters to the Press

Two letters, the one about Bertie's character rather pathetic, the other more serious.  The second might eventually get published once the editor checks the veracity of my little history lesson, which few seem to be aware of, least of all Palestinian leaders.   


Tony Blair as a judge of Bertie's character
Tony Blair also considers George W. Bush to be a good man and a world statesman. Doesn't this suggest he is not a very good judge of character?


Palestinians have no historical claim to Israel
Palestinians had lived in the land of Palestine and cultivated it for thousands of years before the first Jewish tribes invaded that land, writes Dr  Hikmat Ajjuri, Delegate General of the General Delegation of Palestine in Ireland.  He is mistaken ... The Jews got it (via UN Mandate) from the British in 1948,  who took it in 1917 from the Ottomans, who took it in 1517 from the Egypt-based Mamluks, who in 1250 took it ... in the 12th and 13th centuries BC from the Canaanites, who ...

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Quotes of Week 152

Quote: We all wish that foreign troops would leave the region [ie Iraq and Afghanistan] and give a chance to countries in the region to establish security themselves.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a meeting with
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the UAE president.

You can bet that Mr Ahmadinejad would just love
to have the free run of the region,
unfettered by those pesky Yanks and Brits.

Quote: The vaunted international community would prefer the World Bank to allow rampant corruption to flourish in developing nations than see a reviled neocon [ie Paul Wolfowitz] succeed as its president – just as there are plenty of opponents of the Iraq war who would rather let a murderous civil war rip than give Bush the satisfaction of seeing democracy take root in place of a dreaded tyranny. In their own way they are both uncomfortable versions of the truth.

Columnist Sarah Baxter commenting on
the travails of neocon Paul Wolfowitz,
who was forced to resign as the World Bank's reformist president,
after nepotism in favour of his girlfriend

Quote: We cannot just be overtaken by globalisation.

New French president and pocket-dynamo, Nicolas Sarkozy

Globalisation: we mustn't fear it.

EU Commission president Manuel Barroso replies.

Expect fireworks ahead. 

Quote (Minute 8+ in this audio clip): You have no views at all. Your brain is empty, you have no views at all. Is that right?

In a hilarious interview on the BBC's flagship Today
early-morning radio programme,
the US's pugnacious former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton,
gives it with both barrels to his snotty left-wing interviewer
John Humphrys, who had just declaimed,
in defense of his non left-wing bias,

I would tell you that I'm neither conservative,
nor left wing, nor right wing, nor middle wing

Life's short.
Get a divorce


Pithy ad on a giant billboard, by a Chicago law firm touting for business,
on the basis that once you are
there are plenty of better options out there just waiting for you.

It trivializes divorce commented Rick Tivers,
a clinical social worker at the Center for Divorce Recovery in Chicago,
which is a bit rich since divorce exists
for the precise and sole purpose of trivialising marriage.

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #151 - 13th May 2007 [451+273=724]


Professional Peacemongers Exacerbate War


John Browne's Body of Lies A-Smoldering


Animals With Attitude


Week 151's Letter to the Press


Quotes of Week 151

Professional Peacemongers Exacerbate War

We all (well, most of us) believe in peace, prosperity and happiness for everyone.  That's what citizens of western Europe have enjoyed since the end of the second world war in 1945.  Though many are loath to admit we have America to thank for that. 


America, with the help of the Soviet Union, first destroyed Nazi Germany. 


American GI boots on the ground, together with American nuclear missiles pointed at Moscow, then kept its erstwhile ally, the ever-Evil Empire, out of the Western half of Europe (the Eastern part was less fortunate).


American treasure helped to build/rebuild European democracies.


America did much the same with Japan and South Korea, which kept the Far East safe for Europeans. 


The economy, arms race and determination of America destroyed the Soviet Empire, which liberated millions of East Europeans.


No wonder we all hate them. 


Europeans prefer to believe that their peace and prosperity began with the founding in Paris in 1952 of the European Coal and Steel Community, direct progenitor of the EEC (1957), the EC (1967) and European Union (1992), and that these institutions are what have fostered the good and peaceful times.

It's easy to forget that the EU's ability to spend vast sums on its own development, not to mention super-generous welfare systems, would not have been possible without neglecting its own security, earmarking just 1-2½% of GDP for military spending.  With the menace from the Kremlin, this was possible thanks only to the paternal umbrella of America, spending over 4% of its GDP on defence.  Even today, protective American troops in their tens of thousands are stationed on EU soil.  Of the Europeans, only Greece spends a chunky amount on soldiery - 4.3% - but that's only because America is not prepared to guarantee its security against its main threat (and NATO ally!), Turkey, which spends 5.3%

The sainted EU, as part of its Golden Jubilee celebrations (50 years since since the birth of the EEC), anointed 9th May as something called Europe Day”, and invited to Brussels thirteen assorted Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including two pairs from Northern Ireland.  Here's part of what two of them said in their formal speeches.

Mairead Corrigan, co-winner in 1976 for campaigning against violence in Northern Ireland (under the banner “Women for Peace), had a go at North European and American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The London, Dublin and Washington governments did not drop a bomb on us [in Northern Ireland] when we were struggling, so why should they drop a bomb on Afghanistan and Iraq when they are struggling with the same problems? There are double standards going on.” 

Indeed there are; how very perceptive she is. 


There is one standard for dealing with unparalleled state-sponsored savagery and terrorism, of the sort embraced by despotic heads of state Mullah Omar (with his pal Osama bin Laden) in Afghanistan and by Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  To save the citizens from the hell they live in, and the murders they propagate outside their borders, this cancer requires

democratic nation-building, but this will only be possible following


forcible regime-change, which means, unfortunately, bombs, though not that many. 


There is certainly a quite different standard for dealing with terrorism perpetrated by gangs and thugs who seek to overthrow the democratic regimes in which they live.  For the sake of the democratic majority, whom they would systematically murder, this malignancy requires a combination of

military engagement (bullets not bombs) against those specific individuals perpetrating the terrorism,


law enforcement and


persuasion to change their minds towards a democratic avenue. 

But that, of course, is not what Ms Corrigan means.  She means that Mullah and Saddam should have been invited to a round-table discussion, perhaps in Belfast under the joint chairmanship of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, after which, with much hugging and kissing, they would have willingly and gaily converted their countries into jubilant democracies. 

She also, I suspect, considers the lethal marketplace bombs exploding in Afghanistan and Iraq are the fault of the Americans, who are trying to prevent them, not the deranged Islamicists who are actually setting them off. 

This woman has taken leave of her senses, and of her morality. 

Then there was the contribution of John Hume, a true hero who over many long and lonely years, who midwifed the Northern Ireland peace-process, only to see, once the peace really began to gain traction, his political party, the (nationalist) SDLP, destroyed in the polls in favour of Sinn Féin.    He was deservedly co-awarded, with David Trimble, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998. 

But his fatuous observation in Brussels was that

“we are now in a new millennium and the US and the EU should come together to create a world without war. 

Does he think the US and EU are fighting a war against each other?  Doesn't he know other parties are involved in the struggle?

Now I know that he, like the rest of us, does not particularly relish the notion of his head being sawn off without anaesthetic on prime time Al Jazeera TV.  But can he really not know that the Islamicists of - inter alia - Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, Indonesia, Hezbollah, Hamas and others have been engaged, since at least the Iranian revolution of 1979, in an openly declared global jihad aimed at the Koranic murder, enslavement or conversion of all infidels? Or does he think that that is a perfectly legitimate cultural aspiration, just like Irishmen who would prefer to see Ireland reunited? 

Shouldn't his priority be to demand that the jihadists be the ones who “should come together to create a world without war”.  If he can't figure this out, or is to too afraid to enunciate it, he should at least stay silent and enjoy his well-earned retirement, not add petrol to the flames. 

It is treasonous to give comfort to the enemy by pretending that the Americans and Europeans have precipitated the war against Islamism, when the very opposite is plainly the case.  What they are doing is defending western values of democracy, freedom and rule-of-law against the Islamists who would destroy them.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, overwhelming majorities have freely voted for a democratic future. 

Why do both these laureates, Ms Corrigan and Mr Hume, think such defence is somehow wrong?  

They, along with many of today's self-styled anti-war campaigners in the West (in practice pro-war pro the other side campaigners), suffer from the same sanctimonious blind-spot as other well-meaning and successful activists such as Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King.  The non-violent resistance of the latter two champions was successful solely because, notwithstanding their bravery, their adversaries - respectively the British and American nations -  were democratic and behaved in a civilised fashion.  Had they tried the same non-violent approach against, say, the Nazis, or the Soviets, or Mao, or Pol Pot, or Castro, or Saddam, or Mullah Omar, they would have been machine-gunned without compunction, and died as forgotten failures. 

Northern Ireland's Nobel winners, who clearly see themselves as professional peacemongers, have evidently never encountered and cannot imagine state machinery that is less gentlemanly than that of a typical Western democracy.  And therefore they irrationally conclude that those Western democracies which behave more robustly, such as America and Britain, are inherently thuggish and bad.  It is an extreme case of moral equivalence married to geopolitical ignorance, and serves only to exacerbate war not lessen it. 

I am shocked.  From such revered people, so much more maturity and morality are  expected.  They should realise that Northern Ireland's peace process, and thus their own expertise, hold very few lessons for the war against Islamism. 


Basque, Catalan and Corsican separatists yes;


the Falklands/Malvinas dispute yes;


Kosovo separatists maybe;


jihadists never. 

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John Browne's Body of Lies A-Smoldering

A few years ago, I wrote a piece entitled It’s the Lies that Get Them - Every Time” which recounted how, when prominent people commit a faux pas, it is rarely the original sin that gets them into trouble.  It is the lies they weave when they try and hide their peccadillo.  Recall ...


Cherie Booth, barrister wife of the UK's soon-to-be-ex Prime Minister, who (she not he) raided a Blind Trust and consulted a convicted fraudster for financial advice;


RIchard Nixon, Republican president of the US, who organised a break-in to steal campaign plans from the Democratic HQ in the Watergate Hotel in Washington;


John Profumo, Britain's war minister, who shared a call-girl, Christine Keeler, with the chief Soviet spy in London;


President Bill Clinton who cavorted with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office;


Jeffrey Archer who had a dalliance with a prostitute. 

In each case, they got into trouble (respectively tears, resignation, resignation, impeachment, prison) because when their sordid little stories came to light they lied about them, denying the truth. 

You would think that the mighty and the good would learn from the misery of their peers, but it appears not. 

Here in Ireland, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, currently on the campaign trail for a historic third term, is dodging and weaving from questions about his personal finances when he was Finance Minister in the early 1990s. 

First it was payments he received from businessmen at various functions  which, when exposed last year, turned suddenly - retrospectively - into loans”, unsecured and undocumented, which he then promptly repaid (with interest). 

Now, in the middle of an election campaign, it's cash given to his then girlfriend by his own landlord to refurbish the landlord's house (“keep the change”), which the Taoiseach wants us to believe


the Landlord bought only to immediately rent it to Mr Ahern, and


which he left in his (the landlord's) will to Mr Ahern and Mr Ahern's
descendents, and


then sold to Mr Ahern at a knock-down price a couple of years later, and


all this was really nothing to do with Mr Ahern or his position as
finance minister. 

He has just about got away with the first cock-and-bull story, but the second is still live.  The longer his preposterous explanation floats in the wind the more likely investigative journalists will seek out the flaws.  The obvious answer is that Mr Ahern asked the Landlord to buy the house for him in trust because, for whatever reason he didn't want his name appearing on the deeds. 


“Been there, bought the Taoiseach”; click to enlargeThe Taoiseach's career is going to crash around his ears over his economy with the truth with regard to his financial affairs.  It's just a matter of time.  Meanwhile, one wag had himself photographed shaking his hand as he wears a T-shirt emblazoned with Been there, bought the Taoiseach (pronounced T-Shock, geddit?).


Mr Ahern should seriously contemplate the case of Lord John Browne, whose glittering career has just disintegrated in a flash. 


For 12 years he was chief executive of BP, but by the end of his tenure he had also become



President of the Royal Academy of Engineering;


President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science;


Fellow of the Royal Society;


A knight;


A Lord (Baron Browne of Madingley);


A crossbencher in the House of Lords;


A non-executive director of Goldman Sachs;


A trustee of the British Museum;


A governor of the London Business School;


A member of the Supervisory Board of DaimlerChrysler;


Emeritus chairman of the Advisory Board of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Judge Business School, Cambridge


A vice president of the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum;


Chairman of the private equity firm Apax Partners

Whew!  You would wonder how he ever had time for his day job.  Perhaps he didn't, for his achievements were not unmarred.

Threefold increase in the early years; then stagnationHe spent over £50 billion acquiring rivals Amoco, Arco, Burmah Castrol and a stake in Veba, swelling BP's value to £111 billion, making it Europe's largest company.  And steadfast shareholders, reinvesting dividends, would have seen their investment swell by a factor of 3.7 during his watch. 

Yet the share price today, at around £5, is pretty much what it was back in 1999.  Moreover, a catastrophic 2005 refinery fire in Texas which killed fifteen people is blamed on BP's over-zealous cost-cutting, as is a dreadful 200,000 barrel oil spill from a ruptured pipeline in Alaska in 2006. 

Nevertheless Lord Browne has always been held in extremely high esteem, both within and outside the company.  Jeff Chevalier, Lord Browne's 27-year-old first proper boyfriend

For years, it has been an open secret that he's gay.  Yet no-one cared.  However he recently fell out with his boyfriend, who then went to the press with his kiss-and-tell story.  In the course of legal proceedings to prevent publication, Lord Browne lied, under oath, about how he first met Jeff Chevalier: he said it was in Battersea Park whereas they found each other via an internet escort agency.  I mean, who cares?  He also told a string of lies about Mr Chevalier's drink and drug habits. 

For a fortnight, John Browne's body of lies a-smoldered in a grave of silence.  But when the truth at last came out, the Judge was incensed at his perjury and castigated him as if he were an errant  schoolboy.  The Lord was forced to resign from BP in ignominy, and with immediate forfeiture of £15m in retirement benefits. 

Being born a homosexual?  That's not his fault.  Hiring rent-boys?  Frankly no-one gives a damn.  But telling porkies.  Now that's unforgivable. 

When will they ever learn?

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Animals With Attitude

When I give talks about safety management, I always stress the importance of attitude.  Attitude, which costs no money, is often the crucial difference between safe and unsafe behaviour, between workers going home to their families in one piece, or stopping en-route for a couple of weeks in the local hospital's intensive care unit.  It is no good knowing what to do and having the skills to do it, if you don't have the attitude to do it properly.  For example, when I drive my car, my personal attitude and nothing else determines whether I keep to the speed limit or break it. 

Attitude is a hugely powerful human force, whether for good or ill.  It can often mean overcoming extraordinary odds, as countless sportsmen, not to mention military heroes, can attest. 

The same goes for the animal kingdom, where a smaller or weaker creature, even a vegan, can use attitude alone to defeat a thuggish predator.  A pet tortoise chasing cats off a lawn? A rabbit hounding a killer snake up a tree? A zebra drowning a lioness? 

These are truly animals with attitude.  See for yourself!

A tortoise with attitude defends his home territory (2 min 14 secs).

A very determined rabbit sees off a vicious snake (57 secs).

A zebra with attitude doesn't always end up as lunch (2:44). 

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Week 151's Letter to the Press

One letter this week, and it was published, in the Sunday Times.  Also, a letter I wrote a week ago  about an Irish politician's curious makeover was also published (on, effectively, my fourth assault on three different newspapers), in the Irish Independent, a week after I had sent it.


Low Carbon Through Demographic Suicide P!
BABY BOOM: John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning at University College London, thinks “The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child”.  Britain's self-propagation rate, at just 1.7 babies per woman, is already strongly negative.  It would be demographic suicide.   

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Quotes of Week 151

- - - - - - - - - - J I H A D - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: As we have surged our forces, al Qaeda is responding with their own surge. Al Qaeda is ratcheting up its campaign of high-profile attacks, including deadly suicide bombings carried out by foreign terrorists. America responded, along with coalition forces, to help this young democracy, and a brutal enemy has responded, as well. These attacks are part of a calculated campaign to reignite sectarian violence in Baghdad, and to convince the people here in America that the effort can't succeed. 

President George Bush explains the nature of his surge in Baghdad

Quote: Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one.

Sheik Ahmad Bahr, Hamas member and
acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council no less,
calls openly for genocide. 

As I've remarked previously,
it is important that we believe such people. 
They are not mad; they're deadly [sic] serious. 
I wish they were mad. 

- - - - - - - - - - I M M I G R A T I O N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: “They [immigrants] do not come to be subsumed into our way of life. They come to make their own distinctive contribution to our country.

Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh Dr Gerard Clifford,
at a commemoration of Ireland's 1916 Rising (against British rule),
encourages the politically correct yet ultimately destructive
ideology of multiculturism.

Immigrants, unless they are temporary, are under an inherent obligation
to become as much like the native population as they can. 
If they want to preserve their native cultures,
they should return to their native lands.

The host country has no obligation, as the bishop infers,
to assimilate to the incomers,
only to give them the same legal protections as the host citizens.

- - - - - - - - - - F R A N C E - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: “People accuse me of encouraging public anger. But who’s angry – the yobs? The drug traffickers? I can assure you: I do not seek to be the friend of yobs. My aim is not to make myself popular among the traffickers and the fraudsters.

Future and past French presidents; best of friendsNicholas Sarkozy,
t-elect of France,
talks  tough

Quote: With a name like yours, you'll never get anywhere in France.

Advice from Hungary's
Pál Sárközy de Nagy-Bócsa,

to his son Nicolas

See how happy
the French election results make Sarkozy Junior's predecessor,
Jacques Chirac

- - - - - - - - - - C U R I O U S   A P P O I N T M E N T S - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: “When I think about the victims of genocide committed by Mladic and Karadzic, I find it rather embarrassing ... Both fugitives are in Serbia.

Carle Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal,
protests at the extraordinary appointment of Serbia
to chair Europe's human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe,
whilst Serbia continues - in violation of the UN Genocide Convention -
to harbour indicted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic

Quote: “We don't think that Zimbabwe would be a particularly effective leader of this body ... It has been going in only one direction - and it's backwards.

Tom Casey, the US State Department deputy spokesman,
on the laughable election of
Zimbabwe's environment and tourism minister, Francis Nheme,
as chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development,
the main UN inter-governmental body on the environment.

What has sustainable development to do with human rights?
retorts Zimbabwe's UN ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku.

With Iran and Israel as co-vice-chairs,
much bonhomie and progress can be expected at meetings of this august body.

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ISSUE #150 - 6th May 2007 [472]


Offended, Vindictive Ruskies


Ultra Large Football Pitch Carrier


Mosquitos at a Tropical BBQ


Propitious Moments


Week 150's Letters to the Press


Quotes of Week 150

Yeah, yeah, I know.  It's issue #150

So here's some kind of a champagne bottle. 


Offended, Vindictive Ruskies

I have occasionally mentioned that for some years I have been helping an elderly friend, whom I will call Peter, to complete the memoirs of his very colourful life.  He needs my input because, sadly, macular degeneration robbed him of sight rather early on in the project.  I have included a few of his stories as blogposts, notably,


The Baralong Affair (December 2002)


Who Was the Man Who Never Was? (July 2003)


Piteous White Faces in an Arctic Convoy (July 2005)

The last of these recounts Peter's wartime service, as a ships engineer, in a November 1944 convoy (designation JW61A) of ships bringing, at great peril from German U-Convoys to Murmansk and Archangel, in Northern Russia. Click to enlargeboats, arms and freed Soviet prisoners-of-war to Murmansk. This was an icy place in the Kola Inlet in the northwest of the USSR, 200 km kilometres inside the Arctic Circle.  The British and Americans, who organized these Arctic convoys, 41 in all, were of course at that time allies of Stalin's Soviet Union against the common enemy, which was why they were providing succour, beleaguered as the Soviets had been by Hitler's advance on Moscow and the aftermath. 

In June 2005, I happened to notice in an Irish newspaper an article and photo where the Russian Ambassador was awarding Arctic Convoy medals to six Irishmen, naval and airforce veterans, as a token of Russia's appreciation of their help and bravery in a very fretful time.  So I encouraged Peter to apply for one, which he duly did.  He sent a number of letters to the embassy enclosing all kinds of documentary evidence gleaned from the UK's National Archives in Kew Gardens as well as the internet, and providing a link to his memoirs. 

These searches also revealed that a Russian Convoy Association in Britain had for almost six decades been pressurising the British authorities to award special recognition to survivors of the Arctic Arctic Star, recognizing service in wartime Artic Convoys to Russia in the 1940sconvoys, rather than the more general Atlantic Star that had been issued after the war to cover all service in the Atlantic.  And, sixty years later, the Ministry of Defence had finally relented. 

Within two weeks of Peter applying, he received this rather handsome Arctic Star emblem, together with a nice citation from the MoD. 

This was added to the evidence supporting Peter's application to the Russians, but still their medal eluded him. 

Finally, an informal phone call revealed what the problem was.  Peter will never get his medal. 


During the early 1950s, as an engineering student in Dublin, he earned a bit of pin money by writing an article about his Arctic convoy experience in a now defunct newspaper called the Irish Standard.  He described how, walking around the city of Murmansk while his ship was docked there offloading matériel, he came across a large field on the outskirts.  It was full of American and British tanks, aircraft, vehicles and other appurtenances of war, sitting there idle and ignored. 

It was plain that the Soviets were simply not using much of the equipment which their allies were providing to them at enormous personal and economic cost: at the height of the effort 50% of convoy ships were being sunk, usually with the loss of all hands in those Arctic conditions. 

This non-use was a little known scandal. 


His memoirs state that many of the freed Soviet POWs on his ship, despite having been liberated from Nazi slave-labour camps in France, were not at all happy about being returned to the Motherland. 

As the book recalls, we now know they had good reason, for Stalin executed huge numbers of his own soldiers as traitors simply for the “crime” of having been captured by the Germans.  As some kind of vengeful portent, the already gaunt ex-prisoners were kept on restricted rations throughout the voyage. 


Then, in a later chapter, he tells of a routine post-war voyage on a cargo trader from Hamburg to Archangel in Russia's north.  He was a student, and used to take holiday jobs as a ships engineer. 

The dockers who offloaded the cargo in Archangel were female – emaciated, half-starved political prisoners who had opposed the Soviet regime in one way or another.

Late one night, inebriated crewmen had returned to the ship, collected a large tray of meat and fish from the galley and brought it up on deck for the woebegone women.  But the Russian sentry knocked the tray into the water with his rifle, whereupon an incensed crewman knocked the sentry into the water.  Mayhem ensued, with police and KGB rushing aboard intent, no doubt, on shooting the crewman.  Peter, who is something of a linguist, was on hand to interpret, and eventually when things calmed down the offenders, including Peter, were all marched off to jail, while their ship was impounded.  It took over a week to negotiate their release and then only after the ship's owners had handed over large sums of money to the local nomenklatura. 

The Russian Embassy in Dublin has in its files all three stories.  They have apparently got a copy of the 1950s newspaper article, dutifully clipped from a minor publication at the height of the Cold War, as well as having downloaded Peter's memoirs from my website.  When you consider that theirs has never been more than an insignificant diplomatic outpost of almost no strategic value, you have to admire their diligence and the quality of their archiving stretching back over five-plus decades. 

But, armed with this damning evidence, the Ruskie officials are not happy, and when they're not happy they're vindictive.  Though Peter also writes much that is complimentary about Russia, particularly its artistic prowess, this counts as naught compared to the offence they have taken.  As does his long and supportive involvement with the Ireland-USSR Society.  Also of no value, in their eyes, is the fact that he risked life and limb helping their countrymen in their hour of need, and as a volunteer not a conscript. 

So no medal, ever.  But frankly, I would regard the reason for withholding the medal as a greater source of pride than to have actually been awarded it. 

Hell hath no fury like a Russian confronted with an unflattering truth. 

Late Note (3 June 2007):
Subsequent events showed I was completely wrong
when I made these these disparaging remarks, which I now deeply regret. 

See my post Apology to the Russians”. 

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Ultra Large Football Pitch Carrier

Ever heard of the Knock Nevis?  Me neither. 

It's a ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier) that the Japanese built in 1979-81 at the height of the second - Iranian-inspired - oil crisis. 

Biggest ship ever built; click to enlarge

Prior to 1967, most oil from the Middle East was shipped westward through the Suez Canal.  But in 1967 the canal had to be closed due to the sinking of shipping during the Six Day War (between Israel and pretty much everyone else).  It remained closed until and beyond the return engagement, the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, which added more sunk shipping. 

The latter conflict triggered the first oil crisis of 1973-75, which pushed the oilprice up five-fold.  So, since tankers delivering high-price oil from the Middle East to Europe/USA were forced to go round southern Africa, they were built ever bigger to reap economies of scale.  So much so that, by the law of unintended consequences, when Suez eventually reopened in 1975, these huge ships had rendered use of the canal both


impossible for big tankers and


uneconomic for small ones. 

A little later, the second oil crisis was sparked by Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in Iran in 1979/80, which tripled prices.  Thus oil which cost $3 a barrel (bbl) in 1973 was selling for $38 in 1980.  No surprise that the developed world slumped into recession.  And no surprise that tankers just got bigger. 

The Knock Nevis, or Seawise Giant as she was first known in 1979, was - and remains - the Big Daddy of them all, not just the largest ULCC, but the mightiest ship ever built, to this day.   

She is a whopping 484m long by 69m wide, with a draft of 25m and a deadweight of 565,000 tonnes.  Fully laden, she can carry 4.1 million barrels of oil, which in many countries constitutes a small oilfield that would justify drilling several wells.  No wonder she takes 3½ miles to stop.

For a while, she made money for her owners, notwithstanding damage from a bad attack during the Iran/Iraq war by Iraqi Exocet missiles whilst carrying Iranian oil through the Straits of Hormuz in 1986. 

But then in 1989, a drunken captain crashed the supertanker Exxon Valdez (also big, but only half the size of the Knock Nevis) into the rocks in Prince William Sound, spilling into the pristine Alaskan sea 260,000 barrels of filthy crude oil, out of its cargo of 1.3m bbl. 

This unprecedented environmental (and economic) disaster provoked public opinion into demanding that all oil tanker hulls be double-skinned.  Thus single-skinned vessels such as Knock Nevis were gradually phased out, whilst the mechanics of double-skinning made it impractical to ever build such a huge tanker again.  She last transported crude in 2004. 

Over the years, the ship several times changed hands - and names, ranging from from Seawise Giant to Happy Giant to Jarhe Viking to its current Knock Nevis.

Nowadays, no longer allowed to ply the seas moving crude, she is just an immobile, anchored, offshore storage platform servicing one of Qatar's oil fields. 

But things are stirring.  She may yet find a new, revolutionary use. 

It seems that plans were recently released for an an ambitious project, hatched over dinner during last year’s Football World Cup in Germany.

International footballing legends Sir Bobby Charlton, Johann Cruyff and Franz Bekenbaur have announced their intention to acquire the Knock Nevis.

Their plan is to have the deck of the tanker completely cleared and laid with two full size Astro-Turf football pitches, in order to host matches for a proposed European Football “Summer Super League”. Further schemes include a world class football training academy, with all the necessary medical, fitness, and sports psychology facilities, as well as luxury accommodation for players and guests.  Several computer simulated “virtual golf courses” projected on to mega screens will also be installed  inside some of the huge cargo spaces.

Some heavyweight backing has apparently been secured already, with Greek-Cypriot entrepreneur and former chairman of Millwall football club Theo Paphitis (of TV's “Dragons Den” fame) and Virgin Airline’s boss Richard Branson joining the consortium, with more billionaires expected to participate, once the global satellite TV rights are secured.

A spokesman for the so-called Project Realisation Team said that several locations are under consideration, with the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean being one of the front-runners due to their climate, and ease of access. He also said that a team of specialists is looking at the latest technology for dynamically positioning and stabilising the ship (without anchors). 

Another idea is to open up the hull plating to one of the cavernous oil tanks, in order to provide floating docks within the shelter of the superstructure, for mooring a number of yachts of up to 25m.

I picked this story up from the  print edition in April of an English-language publication in Spain, The Islander, but have been unable to substantiate it further through web searches. 

It's an interesting story nevertheless.  An Ultra Large Football Pitch Carrier, eh?  Let's see will it happen ... 

But even if nothing does, it is fascinating just to learn something about the most ginormous vehicle ever built by mankind. 

I should add that there is a remark at the bottom of the web version of the story in “The Islander” that mystifies me. 

Late Note (January 2008):
I note that the link to the web version of the story in “
The Islander” has unfortunately corrupted itself, so I better tell you what it said.  

It confessed that the whole thing is a hoax. What a shame!

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Mosquitos at a Tropical BBQ

The Daily Telegraph recently ran a story about how to combat the scourge of mosquitoes when you are hosting a barbecue in the tropics, specifically Costa Rica.  Between the article itself and the readers' comments from around the world, a list of therapies emerged.


Eat bananas


Don't eat bananas


Chew garlic


Swallow vitamin B6


Apply Vicks VapoRub


Apply marmite, and/or eat it


Cultivate mosquito-predators such as bats, dragonflies, damselflies


Smoke cigarettes copiously


Don't get hot (doesn't apply to young women, obviously)


Stay cool by wearing white clothes ...


and quaffing your drinks very cold, such as


Plenty of beer


Plenty of gin & tonic (it's for the quinine in the tonic)


Plenty of white (not red) wine


Take periodic shots of whisky


Invite a friend who is more mosquito-prone than you


Burn a mosquito coil under the table.

I can confirm from my own research that none of the above are reliable.

Here is my infallible and little-known solution, proven through decades of BBQs on hot sweaty evenings in the swamps of Nigeria, the rainforests of the Philippines, the humid coasts of the Middle East. 

The key is indeed the humble mosquito coil.  But first you need to understand the lifestyle of the mosquito. 

It is during the early afternoon that he flies around looking for a suitable spot to drop anchor for the night.  Somewhere shady, warm, not too much breeze, with a chance for some nice fresh meat.  Having made his mind up, he then flies off for the rest of the day doing whatever mosquitoes do and swapping notes about where to spend the evening. 

Then, as the shades of night are falling, he returns to settle down, with his buddies.  And naturally, it having been a hard day, they all tuck into the nearest and tastiest leg. 

And once he's made his decision about where to spend the night, no mosquito coil is going to change his mind. 

So the trick is to put out the mosquito coils - plenty of them - in the early afternoon and keep them burning until the end of your BBQ.  Mr M will then, during his reconnaissance, decide that your house is horrible and inhospitable and set his sights on your neighbour's instead. 

Inviting your mosquito-prone friend is also good insurance, just in case. 

With the relentless march of global warming, those of us living in what is now temperate Europe are going to have to learn such anti-mosquito skills, for the balmy, beer-sodden, BBQ evenings ahead. 

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Propitious Moments

I hope you didn't miss it.  Early today (that is, Sunday) a special instant occurred, of which there will only be two more this year and then none. 

At three minutes and four seconds after 2 o'clock this morning, May the 6th, the time and date were

02:03:04 05/06/07

Europeans may have missed it by now, but thanks to the miracle of time-difference, American readers still have a chance, depending how far west they are. 

European readers, however, can await a further month, until 5th June, when we can experience the same event again, since unlike the Americans we write the day before the month, so 05/06 means 5th June not May 6th. 

Then in July, we all have yet a third reason to break out the champagne, because at seven minutes and seven seconds after 7 am on 7th July, the magical time/date will be - for Americans, Europeans and everyone else alike -

07:07:07 07/07/07

This is especially lucky for Chinese readers as they revere the number seven.

These things will never happen again in our lifetimes.  So enjoy. 

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Week 150's Letters to the Press

Three letters this week, all unpublished (as usual).  I've started to write to the Irish Independent instead of the Irish Times, but I guess it's too soon to expect success. 


Enda Kenny's Mystery Makeover
I was amazed when no-one seemed to comment or even notice that Enda Kenny [leader of Ireland's main opposition party] underwent a radical makeover last January.  In a flash, his face changed from baby-pink to tough-guy tan, his locks from blond to dark (with just a touch of patrician grey), his eyebrows likewise and reshaped, his hair backswept, almost bouffant, instead of parted on the left, his eyes narrowed to make him look less, well, gullible.  Even his voice seemed to have dropped a tone or two. In short, his boyishness was replaced by a measure of urbane gravitas ...

The pink, boyish Enda Kenny
The tanned, tough-guy7 Enda Kenny


Drugs are Much Cheaper Elsewhere in the EU
Your reporter Jamie Smyth tells us that Pharmaceutical prices are 19 per cent higher than the EU average in the Republic. What a scandalous figure. Who is doing the research? It's far too low. Here is the result of my own recent survey ...


Raymond Deane on Palestine and Israel
The amount of air time, the count now up to 112 times since 1997, that you give to Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Aosdána for his vitriolic views against democratic Israel, beleaguered on all sides by hostile tyrannies, is astonishing. Why don't you just give him a permanent column? And here's an idea ...

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Quotes of Week 150 ‘’ ‘’ “”“”“”“”“”“”

Quote: I ask you to forgive me for not fulfilling the hopes of those people who believed that we would be able to jump from the grey, stagnating, totalitarian past into a bright, rich and civilised future in one go. I myself believed in this. But it could not be done in one fell swoop ... I am leaving. I have done everything I could ... In saying farewell, I wish to say to each of you the following. Be happy. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness and peace.

The wistful yet hopeful valedictory address of Boris Yelstsin,
who died a couple of weeks ago,
on handing over the presidency to Vladimir Putin,
the first Russian leader in history ever to do such a thing voluntarily.

Quote: I am not sure which woman he was afraid of: the woman in the red dress or the Secretary of State.

Sean McCormack, the US state department spokesman,
commenting on the abrupt departure, in a huff,
of Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki
prior to the arrival of Condoleeza Rice at a dinner
in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. 

Mr Mottaki blamed his flight on the evening's entertainer,
a Russian violinist, because she wore a low-cut red dress.

Quote: These results provide a perfectly good springboard to go on and win the next General Election.

Tony Blair, blasé after a night of setbacks
in local and regional elections across the UK, when Labour lost ...



400 council seats,


control of a string of local authorities,


a majority in the Welsh Assembly, and,


albeit by a knife-edge, to the Scottish National Party.

 Apparently reeling backwards is a good way to spring forward.

Quote: Franco-German friendship, the unity between Germany and France, have made peace take hold, have affirmed democracy in Europe.

Jacques Chirac, in his last, tear-stained meeting
with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel,
seems to have forgotten that GI boots on the ground
together with the American nuclear umbrella
are what kept France and western Germany out of the Soviet empire,
allowing peace and democracy to prosper

The sooner this sleeveen is replaced the better,
whether by a tigress or a tomcat ...

Quote: A scratching tigress and a tomcat

France's Sud Ouest newspaper compares
Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy
after their marathon 2½ hour TV debate.

Le Parisien newspaper called Ségo a cobra who hypnotised Sarko.

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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.


Other books here

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