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Ill-informed and Objectionable Comment by an anonymous reader

May 2009


ISSUE #192 - 10th May 2009


ISSUE #193 - 24th May 2009



Date & Time in
Westernmost Europe


Calendar/Clock Source 

ISSUE #193 - 24th May 2009 [274+2482=2756]


Irish Blasphemy


What a Palestinian State Will Look Like


Astronomical Perspective


Unfortunate Ainsley


British Politicians Are Sorry So Sorry


Issue 193’s Comments to Cyberspace


Quotes for Issue 193

Irish Blasphemy

The Irish Constitution of 1937, which happens to be older than every one of Europe's constitutions save Belgium's (and Britain's unwritten one), begins with the words

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, we, the people of Éire, humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial ... etc

Though an article granting special recognition to Christian churches and Judaism was removed in 1973, this preamble remains. 

So does Article 40.6.1.i:

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

However, since 1937 no blasphemy law has been enacted and only one case of blasphemy has been brought before the courts. The case in question was Corway v Independent Newspapers in 1999, in which Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that

in the absence of any legislative definition of the constitutional offence of blasphemy, it is impossible to say of what the offence of blasphemy consists

In other words, for over six decades, the constitutional ban on blasphemy has been happily dormant and evidently harming no-one. 

Yet last month, out of the blue and in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the founding of the State, Dermot Ahern, the Justice Minister suddenly finds he has too much time on his hands.  So decides to create an anti-blasphemy crime with an exceedingly low threshold and tough penalties. 

His new Defamation Act would define blasphemy merely as an utterance that is

grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage”. 

It would authorise the police to take a break from catching murderers, rapists, child-molesters and thieves so as to force their way into private premises in order to seek and seize blasphemous material.  Convicted blasphemers would face a hefty €100,000 fine. 


And why is the proposed definition so open-ended?  To be blasphemed against, all you have to do is to decide to get yourself outraged. 

Suppose my religion is kissing dog-turds and I have only managed to convert one other person.  Nevertheless, every Tuesday, our Holy Day, the pair of us go out looking for dog-turds to kiss.  Next thing, some thug comes along and disrespectfully kicks away a dog-turd I am planning to kiss, tells me my religious practice is stupid and unhygienic and guffaws loudly at me.  Well I and my co-religionist, who represent 100% of our congregation, are naturally outraged.  When the dog-turd kicker then goes on to mock my religious practices in his blog and dares us dog-turd-kissers to abandon our sacred faith, we decide that our outrage knows no bounds.  So naturally we whinge to the police and in due course the blasphemer has to cough up a hundred grand.  With any luck we can then bring a civil suit and claim another hundred grand in damages for ourselves. 

The proposed law is an open invitation to be outraged, on the part of not just conventional religions but wacky ones as well (some would ask how you can tell the difference).  There exists another unwritten but universal law that if you provide an incentive for certain behaviour, whether good or bad, you will get more of it. 

Thus Mr Ahern's Defamation Act can only foster more blasphemy (whatever that is), the very thing that it supposedly sets out to suppress. 

Again, why is he doing it?  Who wants it?

Mr Ahern's claim that the Constitution obliges him (after 62 years!) to formulate a blasphemy law is disingenuous.  For the way he is designing it runs far beyond what Eamon de Valera and his fellow framers could have envisaged.  It is quite clear that they wrote the Constitution with an overwhelmingly Catholic bias - you can see this from the Preamble alone - and perhaps also to a lesser extent a Christian bias.  So when Article 40.6.1.i was written proscribing blasphemous matter, and in the same breath indecent matter, it is clear that it was the Catholic/Christian faiths and morals that were to be protected.  Indeed, the provision dates back to English common law aimed at protecting the established church, the Church of England, from attack. 

The notion that the framers intended similar protections for non-Christian faiths is preposterous. 

It is similarly preposterous to think that today's Christians are going to start invoking the would-be blasphemy law, when for many decades they have accepted with equanimity outrageous insults to their religion without letting their outrage get out of control much less lead to mayhem and murder. 


Christ depicted


in urine,


as a practising homosexual,


as having married Mary Magdalene;


Christ's revered mother Mary shown


nursing a rat,


in a condom,


bleeding out her ass.   

If such blasphemies (to a Christian) don't cause havoc in the streets, it means that Christians have learnt to accept criticism.  Indeed, if a faith cannot stand up to slating and mockery, it isn't much of a faith.  Christians (and I am one) don't need the law to protect their religious beliefs. 

On the other hand, can you think of any particular group that might decide to be massively and easily offended by blasphemy, to the extent of rioting and killing hundreds of people?  Inflamed by, for example, a few pathetic cartoons, or a teddy bear, or remarks about a prophet's taste in good-looking women?  A group that would undoubtedly welcome a law which, should they wish certain blasphemers to be persecuted and punished, requires only that they express outrage?  A law that allows them alone to decide, by their level of outrage, what is blasphemy and what is not?

For the wilder elements of Islam is precisely whom the new law is intended to appease, or at any rate it is the only group who will “benefit” from it. 

Only the most cursory of analysis, such as I have just laid out, is sufficient to draw the conclusion that Mr Ahern's proposed new law is designed solely to appease Islamists not Christians.  Stupid as Ireland's hapless Justice minister may be, this will be obvious even to him.  Why he would want to present such appeasement and foster such mayhem is known only to him.  But it is part of a general trend among the enlightened intelligentsia in the west to accommodate the principles of sharia at every opportunity, from the Archbishop of Canterbury onwards. 

If the Minister were really concerned about the constitutional provision, rather than kow-towing to Muslim sensibilities, he would construct his new law in terms of Christian blasphemy only, as the framers of the Constitution undoubtedly intended. 

Or he would remove the provision altogether.  The excuse he trots our for not doing so is that “in the current economic environment” it is not appropriate to hold a referendum to delete blasphemy from the Constitution.  But this is to ignore the referendum that will be held in October 2009 to vote down the Lisbon Treaty (for the second time).  A blasphemy referendum could be held simultaneously for little extra cost, and the problem would simply fade away, since the outcome is not in doubt. 

I am a Christian who hates encountering blasphemy against Christianity, though I am pretty relaxed when it targets other religions.  But I am firmly with the pro-blasphemy crowd on this.  I would not support even a Christianity-only blasphemy law. 

As I inferred earlier, if I fear that I and my co-religionists will lose our faith simply because people say offensive things about it, then we might as well let it go anyway because it means our convictions are entirely tenuous. 

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What a Palestinian State Will Look Like

Barack Obama is the latest in a long line of US presidents to try to strong-arm Israel into accepting a two-state solution.  (Actually, this would be a three-state solution since in 1946 the Palestinians were already given one, called Jordan, whose first significant act of foreign policy was to declare war on Israel when it was formed two years later.)     

Once again continuing the policies of the predecessor he despises, Mr Obama cites George Bush's Roadmap for Peace.  He urges Israel to fulfil its Roadmap commitments to halt West Bank settlements and open its borders to Gaza etc, while studiously ignoring the trivial requirement that Palestinians must immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence, to quote from the very first sentence. 

This is a momentous sentence indeed, because in just a few words it solves the whole Middle East conundrum: once the Palestinians stop attacking, the war is over and permanent negotiations can be quickly concluded.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work the other way round, as has been tried many times. 

However only Israel, it seems, it expected to stick to its side of the bargain.  It is too much to expect the other side to cease its violence. 

But the new Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, is a tough nut for Mr Obama to crack.  Indeed, it is likely that their recent meeting was the first time in his life that Mr Obama, cocooned hitherto in his Chicago left-wing semi-academic semi-crooked milieu, has encountered serious, rational, intellectual confrontation.  For Mr Netanyahu is not someone to roll over under the Messiah's charm and oratory; Israel's very survival depends on his fortitude.  And right now, Mr Netanyahu cannot foresee any circumstances in which he would dare countenance a new Palestinian State. 

Would you?

For what would it look like?

Well, actually there is already a model, called Gaza.  To all intents and purposes it is already a 100% Palestinian state, with its own elected government and - thanks to lavish funds from the EU, US and various Arab states - an income far beyond what it is actually able to earn, plus the support of 370 million Muslims, its Arab and Iranian neighbours.  And not a Jew in sight. 

If ever there was a laboratory to experiment with how Palestinian statehood might look, Gaza is surely it. 

And what a horror.  For its own people and for its neighbours, especially Israel under relentless rocket attack. 

Far from trying to build a nascent nation, with schools, hospitals, police, public services, government institutions, the Palestinian leadership immediately set about destroying whatever the Israelis had left behind when they unilaterally pulled out.  This included a thriving agricultural industry with revenue and profits and other businesses, yet within hours, the Palestinians had destroyed all those infidel green houses, and now - quel surprise - Gazans are short of food (and everything else).  And this early destruction occurred, remember, under the rule of moderate Fatah, not extremist Hamas (like there's a fundamental difference). 

Even mighty Egypt is horrified at what it sees on the other side of its eastern border.  That's why it continues to imprison Gaza's population rather than open its crossing at Rafah and risk having untold numbers of Gazan Palestinians run riot and cause mayhem within Egypt. 

Moreover, there is no sign that Gaza might just be going through a difficult birthing phase as it transits to some better place.  If anything, it’s getting worse under Hamas.  There is no sign of any mollification in the way Gaza is governed, or in the anti-Jew propaganda spewed over the airwaves or indoctrinated into schoolkids.  And the thought that Gaza - or Palestine - could ever become a normal state where, for example, Jews and Christians can freely live and participate, as Muslims do within Israel, is just laughable.  Racism, Judaeophobia, Christianophobia and apartheid are deeply ingrained in the soul of the Muslim and Palestinian world.  Hamas, Fatah, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia: not one has ever wanted to see a Palestinian state so long as Israel and Jews exist.  It is only deluded Westerners such as Mr Obama who dream of a two-state solution.  Everyone else wants a one-state Muslim-only Judenfrei solution. 

What you see in Gaza today is what you will get in a new Palestinian state.  Perpetual war until Israel is gone and every Jew is dead. 

And Mr Obama expects Mr Netanyahu to sign up to this?

Late Addition:

Some hostile remarks about this post appear on this discussion site (search with the term Tallrite), by anonymous contributors hugh”, “milker”, “The Scientician” (why are they so terrified of using their own full names?). 

Rather gratifyingly, none of them even attempts to refute a single point in my argument.  Their main counter-argument seems to be that I am a “neo-conservative right winger”.  This is clearly intended to be an ad-hominem insult designed to shut down all discussion, but I find their observation rather flattering.  ;-]

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Astronomical Perspective

Non-astronomers like me will find it fascinating and enlightening to see our planets and stars presented in the following way. 

Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury and Pluto

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury and Pluto

Our Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury and Pluto

Beyond our insignificant little sun, it's a big universe out there.

Arcturus, Pollux, Sirius and the Sun

Antares, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Rigel, (tiny) Arcturus et al

Yet Antares, more than a thousand light-years away,  is only the fifteenth brightest star in our sky. It is more than 1000 light years away. Hubble Floating Above Earth, March 2002

How big are you and I?

Now, try to wrap your mind around this ... This one of hundreds of thousands of images beamed back  by NASA's Hubble orbiting space telescope

It is an ultra deep field infrared view of countless entire galaxies billions of light-years away.

 Entire galaxies seen from the Hubble space telescope

Below is a close-up of one of the darkest regions of the previous photo.

Dark Region ...

Humbling, isn't it?

So how big are you and I? And how big are the things that upset you and me today?

Let's keep life in astronomical perspective. We're not significant.  Don't let's sweat the small stuff! It's all under control!

Hat tip: Dave in Fuengirola, Spain

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Unfortunate Ainsley

Big, black and ebullient, Ainsley Harriott is Britain's best loved celebrity TV chef, so his recipes and endorsements are worth a lot. 

Here's one of them, sold in supermarkets in the UK and Ireland, until someone twigged ...

Prick with a fork

Hat tip: Frances in Exeter

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British Politicians are Sorry So Sorry

So long as you're not a member of the political class, and not British, the expenses scandal unfolding in Britain over the past couple of weeks has cheered everybody up.  Diddling taxpayers money for duck houses, moats and pornography: what a laugh for the non-diddlers and non taxpayers. 

A lot of the sniggers are, I predict, going to die out over the coming months however.  Because the more awful British politicians look and the more they set about putting their house back in order - and they are certainly doing this - the more politicians in the rest of the west are going to get nervous.  Already the expenses scrutiny is spreading to the target-rich area of EU politicians in Brussels, an entity whose financial accounts have not been signed off by the Auditors for 14 consecutive yeears. 

To me it is inconceivable that similar expenses shenanigans are not also going on in other upright European countries, France, Italy, Germany, Romania ...

And how long before the Americans too start shifting in their seats and examing their shoes?  We all know that President Obama is, how shall we say, relaxed about being surrounded by crooks.  Can he be the only one?  A lot of American politicians are going to be destroyed for expenses scandals, you can be sure. 

Remember, you read it here first.

Remember, you read it here first.

Here is a suggestion for Westminster.  Those MPs who represent constituencies outside London should receive just two sets of allowances and not a penny more:


One fixed monthly allowance, unvouched, sufficient to cover accommodation in London. 


How they spend it is their business. 


Taxpayers shouldn't care if they


decide to sleep on a park bench and pocket the difference


or reside in a palace paying the extra themselves. 


So long as they show up and carry out their parliamentary duties. 


The other allowance would be reimbursement for the vouched expenses to cover actual travel between the constituency and London, with prior agreement on the class of travel. 

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and the rest of the British political establishment are telling everyone that they're sorry, so sorry ...

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Issue 192’s Comments to Cyberspace

There were two cyber contributions this time, the second of which prompted me to write this issue's lead item about what a future Palestinian state would look like. 


Superheroes are starting to bug me
Comment to MacLeans, Canada's top-selling news magazine
Enjoyed this article. The proliferation of movie superheroes is most peculiar, and the way that these days they never encounter bad guys who resemble any actual bad guys like, for example, the ones that Daniel Pearl or Theo van Gogh met up with. But at the end you erroneously attribute to The Incredibles that famous epigram,
when everyone’s special ...


Learning nothing from history
Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog on 12th May 2009
Gaza is the model we must perforce look at when contemplating the creation of a second Palestinian state (the first being Jordan).  For Gaza is, to all intents and purposes, already a 100% Palestinian state, with its own elected government and - thanks to lavish funds from the EU, US and various Arab states - an income far beyond what it is actually able to earn.  And not a Jew in sight.  If ever there was a laboratory to experiment with how Palestinian statehood ...

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Quotes for Issue 193

- - - - - - S R I    L A N K A - - - - - -

Quote: “We are a government that defeated terrorism at a time when others told us that it was not possible ... We have been able to defeat one of the most heinous terrorist groups in the world.”

Mahinda Rajapakse, president of Sri Lankan, speaking to its parliament.

Just as peace came to Northern Ireland only
after the military defeat of the IRA, or at least its neutralisation,
we can now expect peace to follow in Sri Lanka.

Sadly, peace will not come to the Middle East
until Arab terrorism is militarily defeated,
and only Israel is making any effort t oward this.

And for those who say military violence solves nothing,
I would respond with only two words:
“Germany, Japan”.

- - - - - - U S A - - - - - -

Quote: We were not - I repeat - we were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Congress
and second in line for the presidency should Mr Obama die,
denies that she was briefed by the CIA in 2002 and 2003 about waterboarding, though the record shows she was. 

So since she failed to object at the time,
her objections now are hypocritical. 

She may be driven from office as a result.

Quote: We understood what the CIA was doing. We gave the CIA our bipartisan support.  We gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities. On a bipartisan basis, we asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission against al-Qaeda.  I do not recall a single objection from my colleagues.

Republican Congressman Porter Goss who was at the same briefing
as Ms Pelosi on 4th September 2002
in his capacity as chairman of the
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,
of which Ms Pelosi was a member.

Quote: I can now confirm that the Bibles shown on Al Jazeera's clip were, in fact, collected by the chaplains and later destroyed.” 

Major Jennifer Willis, a US military spokeswoman,
explains the fate of privately-owned Bibles
translated into Afghanistan's Pashto and Dari languages,
after Al Jazeera TV ran a critical report. 

They were destined for US soldiers in Bagram
in case they wished, in their private time,
to give them, legally, to Afghan friends and colleagues.

The Obama administration wishes to deny to its own soldiers
the democratic ideals of freedom of religion and of the press
that such soldiers have given their lives to foster for others.

Quote: The new dog I have is only five months old and his name is Champ, ... the smartest, coolest dog in the world.  My dog is smarter than Bo, [President Obama's] dog.

Vice President Joe Biden, for reasons best known to himself,
decides to insult his boss's new pooch, who happens
to homonymously share a name with Mr Biden's son Beau.

Quote: “During the second hundred days, I will learn to go off the teleprompter and Joe Biden will learn to stay on the teleprompter.”

carrieprejeanPresident Obama gets his own back
with a self-deprecating joke
about his loose-cannon Vice President

Quote: There was also controversy when she [beauty queen Carrie Prejean, Miss California] stated her opposition to same-sex marriage. [Competition judge Donald] Trump pointed out that even Obama does not support same-sex marriage, and also he pointed out that he personally believes that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a series of progressively younger women.”

Jimmy Kimmel, US late night chat-show host

- - - - - - V A T I C A N - - - - - -

Quote: The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, and within internationally recognised borders.

Pope Benedict XVI supports the creation of an additional Palestinian state
(he seems to have forgotten about Jordan)
without, it seems, placing a conditional onus on Palestinians
to behave in a civilised manner,
and in particular to stop attacking and vilifying Jews
and hounding Christians from the Holy Land.

As such, his words amount to moral posturing. 

- - - - - - E N E R G Y - - - - - -

Quote: For every three new barrels that we find and bring onstream, two are needed to offset field declines.  And each  new barrel requires more money and brainpower to produce than the barrel it replaces.

Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive of Shell
[where I worked for thirty years]

- - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - -

Quote: Tesco should leave Ireland ... What has Tesco offered us since they came over to Ireland?  All we’ve seen is them exploiting Irish suppliers and continually pushing the prices down. They have been seeking price cuts of up to 20 per cent recently from Irish suppliers or else they will simply remove these products from their shelves. That’s disgraceful carry on.”

TD Ned O’Keeffe, a wealthy parliamentarian
from the discredited ruling Fianna Fáil party,
objects to Tesco, a  British supermarket chain,
providing cheaper goods to its Irish customers,
employing ten thousand mostly Irish people and
contributing millions in taxes to Ireland's exchequer

- - - - - - M O T O R S P O R T - - - - - -

Quote: “[Ferrari have been] rivalling the manufacturers of Viagra for cornering the market in cock-ups.”

Motor racing journalist Peter Gill
draws a conclusion after the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix

[Hat tip: Graham in Perth]

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ISSUE #192 - 10th May 2009 [317+236=553]


Corporate Manslaughter to Lawmakers' Manslaughter


Gerry Adams the Sanctimonious “Catholic


Turkey: Obama's 60th United State


Pigs and Pirates


Issue 192’s Comments to Cyberspace


Quotes for Issue 192

Corporate Manslaughter to Lawmakers' Manslaughter

Click to view published column as JPG imageIn 1987, a front-loading roll-on-roll-off vehicular ferry called the Herald of Free Enterprise, laden with vehicles and passengers, sailed out of Zeebrugge in Belgium on a routine crossing to Dover in England.  It was 7 pm on a dark Friday evening in March.  However, with the vessel barely beyond the confines of the harbour and sailing at a brisk 33 km/hr, the Assistant Bosun had not closed the bow doors.  As a result water flowed in to the vehicle deck, quickly flooded it and within five minutes capsized the entire vessel onto her port side, with the tragic loss of 193 lives

Herald of Free Enterprise, in 1984The cause of the catastrophe was straightforward: the Assistant Bosun's inability to read Japanese. 

Shortly before the ship sailed he had taken a nap, having first set his brand new alarm clock - a gift from his loving wife - to wake him in good time to close the bow doors.  Yet because the instructions were all in Japanese he set the alarm wrongly and overslept.  Could happen to anyone who didn't pay attention in  Japanese classes at school. 

To prevent such a disaster from recurring, the Assistant Bosun was fired and all other Assistant Bosuns were given intensive Japanese lessons.  As a result, ferry operations resumed in total safety. 

What's that?  You don't think this would arrest such accidents?  You think it's preposterous to blame the Japanese language?  Even though had the Assistant Bosun understood the alarm clock instructions he would have woken up in time and closed the doors?

Well how about these as alternative explanations. 


There was no system, automated or human, to check that the bow doors were closed.


Indeed there was, as the official enquiry concluded, a disease of sloppiness, and negligence at every level of the company's hierarchy”. 


There was a rush to get going in order not to be late for the time-limited slot available in Dover, as waiting for another one would lead to major delays. 


During loading, the bow of the ship had to be ballasted down to lower the upper deck in order to make it level with Zeebrugge's loading ramp, as the two facilities were not designed for each other. 


Under time-pressure to depart, the ship had to set sail before she could fully de-ballast the bow-end, so she remained low in the water.


And the speed at which she raced off - 33 km/hr - generated in the shallow water of the harbour a particularly big bow wave right in front of the lowered bow and the open bow doors.  So the water simply poured in. 


The car deck was one big chamber with no watertight bulkheads which could have prevented sinking or capsizing by confining the flooding to a few compartments. 


The reason for the time pressure was that Dover was too small a port to comfortably accommodate current levels of ferry traffic.  So if a ship missed its slot, it was in for long wait, which would then mess up the schedules for days ahead. 


This was a notorious and well known problem but, pleading poverty, the Dover Town Council had repeatedly rejected plans to extend the harbour so as to relieve the pressure, or alternatively to restrict the number of ships using the port. 

I give this real life (and death) example to illustrate that, when industrial accidents occur, you can always find a quick and easy answer, in this case

 the assistant bosun couldn't read the Japanese instructions for his new alarm-clock, so he overslept and didn't close the bow doors when the ship set sail, which let the water in and resulted in the ship capsizing”. 

But such an answer will always be wrong, and to take action on it will do nothing at all to prevent future accidents. 

Leading to a given accident, there is always an array of much more complex factors, and many different people in diverse organisations, always difficult to discover and unravel.  That series of red bullet points illustrates this - poor management of the ship, of the ports, of the council; sloppy systems design; inadequate maritime design; succumbing to time pressure; wilfully neglecting known problems.  Responsible in varying degrees were the ship's crew, its officers and its owners/directors; the port managements in Zeebrugge and Dover; the leaders of Dover Town Council; the designers of the ship and of the port; the marine regulators. 

Yet if a company's intention is to avoid future injuries in an activity for which it is responsible, it is these more complex issues it must explore and uncover and rectify, not the simple and easy things.  The same goes if it is society as a whole that wishes to minimise accidental harm and death, which it surely does, and which is why an extensive official enquiry followed the Herald of Free Enterprise accident.  Indeed, the only comfort that victims and their families might draw from an accident is that the lessons learned from it will help prevent the creation of future victims. 

As I have often exhorted investigation teams, it is fundamentally immoral to allow such deaths and injuries to be valueless, to be in vain. 

Actual accidents (and near-misses) provide golden opportunities because they prove - beyond any doubt - that part of a given system is seriously malfunctioning, and will continue to do so until put right.  The challenge is to ferret out the malfunctions and fix them. 

That is why I was concerned when I read last month that Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings, an engineering consultancy, along with Peter Eaton one of its directors, became the first company and individual to be prosecuted under the UK's new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, designed to impose tougher penalties for deaths in the workplace.  Alexander Wright, 27, a geologist was taking samples inside a pit on a building site in Gloucestershire when the pit collapsed on him, killing him.

The Act provides for brutal penalties that cannot be ignored: Mr Eaton faces a life sentence; his consultancy an unlimited fine. 

The legislation was prompted by public outrage following major accidents such as the Paddington rail collision in 1999, attributed to a catalogue of [management] failures to act”, which killed 31 people and injured 400.  Over 300 people are slaughtered at work in the UK every year, or 4.9 per million of population.  (The figure in Ireland is proportionately much worse - nearly 70 such fatalities, or 15.5 per million).  That is an awful lot of unnecessary death and suffering. 

The desire of the general public, on viewing some ghastly accident on their TV screens, to see guilty corporations crushed and heads rolling is understandable.  But the real question is whether punitive legislation such as the UK is now enacting will improve the overall safety situation or not. 

The answer is unequivocal: No, it will not. 

And here's the reason.  Every accident, by definition, is the result of an array of failures.  To dig right down to uncover these failures, the root causes of the accident, requires a very thorough investigation,


of the scene of the accident,


of re-enactments,


of the systems in place,


of the existing documentation,


of the training provided,


of the work practices of employees,


of intangibles such as morale, attitudes and relationships, 


of all the associated bodies that might or might not impinge on the accident - contractors, subcontractors, clients, suppliers, partners, government functionaries, to name but a few. 

Such discoveries can only come from talking in depth to real people close and not so close to the event in question, and trying to elicit honest information and recollection, and persuading them to divulge documents and data.  People hate talking to investigators in such circumstances and it is a hard job to encourage and reassure them. 

Responsible, ethical companies will always do their best to make all this happen and to co-operate with the authorities to the fullest extent.  But this requires a kind of Faustian bargain - that, short of deliberate sabotage, the failures uncovered by disclosure and openness do not lead to punishment. 

Britain's Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 breaks this pact spectacularly and the law of unintended consequences will ensue as night follows day. 

From now on, the objective of any major investigation, from the Corporate perspective, will no longer be to uncover the truth but to protect companies and individuals from the rigours of the law.  And it will not just be senior managers trying to keep their heads down, but everyone involved in an enterprise, for fear he/she might be the next to be marched off to prison for a silly mistake at work (all mistakes are silly). 

How can it be otherwise?  When do turkeys vote for Christmas? 

So future Heralds of Free Enterprise will be sunk because junior employees don't speak Japanese, and that will be the focus of the remedial action. 

Since the real causes of accidents will not be found out or put right, the unintended consequence of punishing Corporate Manslaughter will therefore be to foster more, not less, Corporate Manslaughter.  And those victims will die in vain, solely to satisfy the conceit of rabble-rousing, thoughtless, amoral lawmakers.  Those extra deaths would better be called Lawmakers Manslaughter. 

I sincerely hope Ireland does not follow the UK path, though it has been mooted and Sinn Fein is keen.

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Gerry Adams the Sanctimonious Catholic

Some people (eg me) are viscerally allergic to Gerry Adams and his cohorts in Sinn Féin.  Nevertheless, I have always had to acknowledge that they, the odious IRA and I share the Catholic faith, for better or worse.  However it has not stopped me wondering why the Vatican rarely if ever excommunicated the avowed murderers and apologists of these outfits, a sanction that in their sanctimony they would have hated. 

The murders have stopped, thank God, but the sanctimony, it seems, lives on ...

Gerry Adams was baptised and brought up a Catholic.  He still declares himself a practicing Catholic, religiously attending Mass every Sunday and receiving Holy Communion.  And of course Catholicism is a de-rigeur distinguishing feature of Irish Republicanism, as compared to Northern Ireland's Unionists who are, of course, Protestants.  The struggle is not about religion per se or proselytisation, one side is not trying to convert the other; but religion is the team jersey that the respective sides wear. 

Republican sanctimony was revealed in a recent TV interview, called The Meaning of Life in which Mr Adams attempted to demonstrate his Catholic spirituality”.  In fact he exposed himself as a sham and a fraud, so bound up in his own hubris that he cannot see that his own words give the game away. 

Gerry Adams

A few examples from the Q&A session, with my (sarcastic) observations in navy italics.  


Do you believe in God? 


It depends. 


In other words, no. 


Do you believe in Guardian Angels




This is a surprise, as it seems to be his only supernatural belief. 


Do you believe Jesus was God? 


I don't know. He was a mighty man, but it would be better if he weren't God.


You cannot be a Christian, never mind a Catholic, if you don't believe Jesus was God. 


The Resurrection (of Jesus from death after his crucifixion)? 


I don't know. 


Again, the Resurrection is a founding tenet of Christianity. 


Will you come face to face with your Creator after death? 


I'm not sure.


Ah, so even theism itself is a doubt in his mind. 


What do you feel about other Christian faiths? 


I often feel Protestant, eg Methodist or Presbyterian. 


You obviously don't feel Catholic, but neither are your beliefs Christian or even, apparently, theistic.


Do you go to Confession?


No; I have no need of a middle man. 


Especially one who might learn your dark secrets. 


Yet for Catholics, Confession of your sins to a priest, an annual obligation, is the only certain way to get them forgiven and so avoid hell.  Moreover, you are not allowed to receive Holy Communion unless you have been to Confession. 


Do you believe in the real presence in Holy Communion?


I don't know. 


Such transubstantiation is another of the founding tenets of Catholicism, ie that bread and wine are transformed at Mass into the body and blood of Christ.  If you don't believe it, you cannot be a practicing Catholic. 


What do you believe when receiving Holy Communion? 


The breaking of bread is symbolic; other than that I don't know.


So why do you receive it?  To impress others?


Whom do you pray to when you pray? 


To those who have gone before me. 


But not, evidently, to God, so what's the point of your prayers?


What do you pray for? 


I say children's prayers, the Hail Mary & Our Father - and in the Irish language. 


No wonder God loves the Irish. 


Do you believe your prayers are listened to? 


Isn't that the big question? 


You pray only to unspecified dead people (suicidist Bobby Sands?), pray to no apparent purpose, don't believe your prayers are listened to, don't seem to believe there is even a God.


So why bother?


Did you go to Mass during the Troubles?


Yes, and I resolved to remain a Catholic, even though the Catholic hierarchy supported internment and other anti-IRA measures. 


What has that to do with your Faith?  You either believe the Catholic truths or you don't.  Priests' behaviour, good or bad, doesn't alter the truths. 


Do you have any ground rules of what you would or would not do for the Republican movement?




But he gave not a single detail or example, in particular whether, in the name of Republicanism killing, knee-capping, bank-robbery etc are OK for a Catholic. 


Wonder why not? 


I don't remember Jesus advocating such things. 


Were you in the IRA?


I was not and am not a member of the IRA. 


Yeah, right, Gerry, we all believe you. 

These are the words of a man who thinks it makes him look good if people think he is a Catholic, but has absolutely no conviction about Catholicism at all, or even Christianity or even the existence of God. 

Moreover, every Sunday when he goes to Mass, he undoubtedly joins with the rest of the congregation in reciting aloud the Nicene Creed (We believe in God ... in Jesus Christ the only Son of God ... [who] became man etc).  This public affirmation of Catholic faith is crystal clear about such matters. 

Mr Adams is quite entitled to whatever supernatural beliefs or non-beliefs he wants.  From a moral or legal point of view in a secular world, there's nothing wrong with being an agnostic or atheist (until you're dead).  But his behaviour in regard to Catholicism, as revealed in this interview, is pure sanctimony.  He is the epitome of someone for whom the great 17th century French playwright Molière coined the name Tartuffe

Why am I not surprised?  What else can you not believe about his words?

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Turkey: Obama's 60th United State

Successive US presidents (eg Bush I, Clinton, Bush II) have for decades overstepped the mark in demanding that the EU admit Turkey to its Club.  Somehow they seem to think that America has a say, if not a right, in determining membership, though EU leaders continue to try to disabuse them of such a notion.  Of course it is understandable that America would like to be nice to its NATO ally, especially at the expense of others than itself.  To America, it is immaterial that Turkey is a country which  


is situated (but for a tiny chunk) outwith the geographical confines of Europe,


with a GDP of $12k pp sits far outwith the economic envelope of Europe ($33k pp), and


with 77 million Muslims is even more outwith the ancient Judaeo-Christian culture and Graeco-Roman historical legacies of Europe, 

and that as such its admission to the EU would cause massive upheaval within Europe, changing its face and dynamic forever, and not for the better. 

America has no business lecturing EU leaders on this issue.  And this coming from me, an avowed Americaphile and EU sceptic. 

The latest president has, as in so much else, continued his much disparaged predecessor's policy, by calling for the EU to admit Turkey.  On his recent Apology Tour, he backed Turkey's application, saying

Turkey is an important part of Europe ... the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union ... Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more.” [Once more?]

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was the first EU leader to tell President Barack Obama to mind his own f***ing business.  

Washington wants to suck up to Turkey in order to strengthen the NATO alliance, a totally laudable objective.  But there is more than one way to skin a cat.  Instead of its long-standing campaign of strong-arming the EU to admit its friend, why not admit Turkey into the US instead? 

There is plenty of scope and it would allow Mr Obama to demonstrate that America is truly multicultural and indeed not at war with Islam” (even though Islam remains at war with it). 

50 stars? 57? 59? Whatever!Moreover, Americans, if Mr Obama is typical, would probably not even notice they had gone up to 60 States because they don't know how many they have anyway (it's so hard to count those fifty little stars).  Furthermore, the precedent of distant, non-contiguous States, large and small, becoming an integral part of the the Union, was established back in 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii were both granted statehood. 

Not yet in office, and already Mr Obama had lost track of the size of his future empire.  As this video clip shows, he bragged during his campaign that he had so far visited 57 States and that only two remained unvisited by the Messiah: the land of his birth (Kenya Hawaii) and the land of his much-feared vice-presidential rival (Alaska), interestingly the two non-contiguous States. 

So that makes it 59 US States in all. 

Let Mr Obama admit Turkey as the 60th.  I'm sure no-one will notice another big non-contiguous one. 

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Pigs and Pirates
A modest - if odorous - proposal 

Guest-Blogger Allen kindly provides technical information of use for those worldwide who are up to their chins trying to handle claims which


relate to agricultural pollution problems relative to intensive pig production on land and/or


relate to claims in respect of piracy and shipping off East Africa and Indian Ocean. 



Pig slurry: the perfect pirate repellant


Richard X




Allen Y


 9th May 2009



Pig Slurry /
a Sweeter Smell in Southern Netherlands /
a Safer Sea off the Somali Coast

Dear Richard,

Recalling how you speak in such depreciative terms of the manner in which the pig population of the Southern Netherlands contributes in a less than positive manner to the “scent” of the countryside not to mention killing fish in the rivers and, given your own close connections to the sea, I thought that I’d pass on a novel idea of an Irish friend who has been involved at various times with oil exploration, development, importation, shipping and distribution.     

His idea is to fit super-tankers and ordinary tankers and all manner of other merchant marine, passenger and naval ships with pig slurry tanks to be filled from suitable pig slurry storage systems at ports in countries around the world where there is substantial pig production and resulting slurry disposal problems.   

The ship-board slurry tank systems would be fitted with powerful fire-hydrant type pump and hose systems so that the slurry could be discharged at sea and in particular, discharged at other craft at sea that might be manned by persons unknown who are desirous to board without invitation and to take over the said super-tankers etc.        

There are parts of the world, eg the Somali coasts, the Gulf of Aden etc, where pigs and everything associated with them including pig slurry, are considered abhorrent by the local population for some inexplicable religious reasons.    

I believe that my friend’s idea would help you to become a national hero for eliminating the odour of pig slurry from vast areas of the Netherlands and a world-wide hero for solving all the piracy issues currently plaguing shipping on the Somali coasts, the Gulf of Aden etc firing only foul pig slurry but not a single bullet!  

There could even be a Nobel Prize for advancing the cases of a Greener Environment and Peace at Sea!

When would you plan to start?




Editor's Note: The same technique would work admirably at the security fence protecting Israel, except those Jews, no less than Muslims, won't touch the dreaded porcine waste.  That's the problem with a shared heritage. 

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Issue 192’s Comments to Cyberspace

Just a couple of contributions over the past month:


Lazy journalism exposed by online hoax
Comment in the Irish Times
Well done, Shane, a magnificent experiment that has exposed journalistic laziness across the globe. Though not, of course, within the Irish Times ;-]  But how can you be so sure that ...


Do you think the US is less vulnerable to terrorist attack
under the presidency of Barack Obama?

Comment to poll question in the Irish Times
The Appeaser-in-Chief, who

bows and grovels to the feudal King Abdullah of Sharia Saudi - as he did during his recent European Apology Tour,


and is so casual about ...

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Quotes for Issue 192

- - - - - - O B A M A - - - - - -

Quote: Hey, Mister Obama! It's me, Berlusconi!

Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister of Italy,
yells across at the US president during a G20 group photoshoot. 

Queen Elizabeth looked around and complained,
Why does he have to shout?

Quote: Economists on both the left and right agree that the last thing a government should do in the middle of a recession is to cut back on spending.” 

President Barack Obama. 

But if I as an individual short of money
must cut back on my spending,
where is the logic that a government
- which is but an assembly of individuals - should increase spending?

Quote: I think it is important for Europe to understand that even though I am president and George Bush is not president, al-Qaeda is still a threat and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as president, suddenly everything's going to be OK.

In Strasbourg during his Apology Tour,
President Obama trashes the previous president
- to non-Americans, as usual

Quote: We meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common  goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A rare and welcome display of unequivocal belligerence
from President Barack Obama, after meeting with
Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zadari of Pakistan.

Mr Obama has never talked of defeating” anyone before,
other than his political opponents.

- - - - - - M I D D L E   E A S T - - - - - -

Quote: “[Syria] can demand the Golan Heights in exchange for peace, we will demand peace for peace.”

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hardline new foreign minister,
makes a startlingly simple demand of Syria
who want to re-open peace negotiations.

Quote: If a woman says no, the man has the right not to feed her.

Ayatollah Mohammed Asef Mohseni
explains the workings of the new Afghan law
signed by president Hamid Karzai
which mandates that Shi'ite women must submit to their husbands
- or go hungry.

Apparently this generous arrangement
means he is not allowed to rape her. 

Quote: In the early years of Muslim history, the 8th-9th century of the Christian era, the battle over free or rational thinking was fought and lost in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate and the heart of the rapidly expanding Islamic empire and civilization.

The Muslim free thinkers, those who insisted upon rational inquiry and reason to be taken legitimately as one of the means to understand and explain revelation, were officially labelled as blasphemers and apostates, hounded in public and silenced by imprisonment or capital punishment.

Then the inevitable followed, the lights began to go out in the Islamic civilization and eventually darkness prevailed.

Salim Mansur, associate professor of political science
at the University of Western Ontario in Canada,

explains how, over a thousand years ago, denial of free speech
brought a burgeoning Islamic civilization
to an abrupt halt. 

It drove the Muslim world into what he calls
black hole of ignorance, bigotry and violence

which prevails to this day.

Quote: We expect these tourists will convey a positive message to their citizens back home that the situation in Iraq is good.

Abdul Zahra al-Telagani, a spokesman for Iraq's tourism and antiquities ministry,
is talking about newlyweds who (for €165)
have spent their nuptial night in Saddam's palatial boudoir
in his presidential palace at Hillah, some 100 km south of Baghdad.  

Though Mr al-Telgani is undoubtedly a determined optimist
in the face of Iraq’s remaining violence,
this nevertheless is another example of the normality
that is creeping up on Iraq
thanks to the crushing defeat of Al Qaeda there.

- - - - - - C A M B O D I A - - - - - -

Kaing Guek Eav, the face of evil, now looking patheticQuote: I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution of the people there. May I be permitted to apologise to the survivors of the regime and also the families of the victims whose loved ones died brutally at S-21 ... I beg their forgiveness.

Kaing Guek Eav, a senior Khmer Rouge apparatchik
known as Comrade Duch,
at his trial for war crimes at a UN-backed tribunal
in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. 

He used to be the director of Tuol Sleng, or S-21,
the regime's most notorious prison and main torture centre,
where between 1977 and 1979 thousands of men, women and children
were tortured and up to 17,000 of them killed.

- - - - - - S O U T H   A F R I C A - - - - - -

Quote: You touch the ANC, you touch a lion.”

Jacob Zuma, party leader of the ANC and new president of South Africa,
following the ANC's third landslide victory in a row in South Africa

- - - - - - U K - - - - -

Quote: Mayday, mayday - oh, f***.”

The last, despairing call from the pilot of a Super Puma helicopter
flying from BP's Miller platform in the North Sea,
just before it crashed into the sea with the loss of all sixteen lives,
18 kilometres east of Aberdeen in Scotland. 

The Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy poignantly observed
Every day brave men and women work [in the North Sea]
to bring us the oil and gas our country needs

Quote: I take full responsibility for what happen[ed] , and that's why the person responsible went immediately.”

Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown takes full responsibility
by making one of his senior personal aides responsible, after he
tried to orchestrate a smear campaign against senior Conservatives

Details here.

Quote: Just give us a big grin to the camera ... No, no, let's see your teeth.  He hasn't got the best teeth in the world, but you can afford to go and get them done now if you like.” 

Liam Treadwell, with his winning smile

Claire Balding, smart-alecky BBC TV sports commentator,
embarrasses jockey Liam Treadwell,
just after he has heroically won the Grand National
outsider Mon Mome at 100-1. 

She and the BBC later apologised.

- - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - -

Quote: “The report contains not one single piece of evidence to support the assertion that the museum contains any looted art objects.  No evidence has ever been produced by Dr Samuels that the Hunts had any connection of any kind with any Nazi in the pre-war period, apart from contact in the normal course of his business as an art dealer with the director of the National Museum of Ireland, Adolf Mahr.

Brian O’Connell, director of Shannon Heritage,
refutes the calumny that Ireland's Hunt Museum,
a legacy of philanthropists John & Gertrude Hunt,
contains artefacts looted from Jews by the Nazis.

Though this slur was comprehensively debunked two years ago,
the Simon Wiesenthal Centre continues to peddle it.

Quote: One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.” 

Maurice Jarre, prolific, Oscar-winning French composer who died last month. 

He wrote the scores for 170 TV and cinema productions,
including Dr Zhivago, The Longest Day, Fatal Attraction, Gorillas in the Mist. 

Except he never used these words. 

The quote is a self-confessed fake inserted, as a globalisation experiment,
by Dublin sociology undergraduate Shane Fitzgerald
into Wikipedia, and then picked up by countless lazy journalists
for obituaries in the BBC, the Guardian and across the world. 

Quote: Be seen, be heard, be blue, believe!

Captains of Munster (Paul O'Connell) and Leinster (Leo Cullen), with the Heineken CupThe frantic, pessimistic call to arms
for Leinster rugby supporters
prior to underdog Leinster's astonishing 25-6 demolition
of European champions Munster
in the Heineken Cup Semi-Final. 

The 82,208 fans filling Croke Park made this
the world's biggest club game in rugby history anywhere.

I was one of them. 

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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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