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

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bulletISSUE #15 - 3rd November 2002
bulletISSUE #16 - 10th November 2002
bulletISSUE #17 - 17th November 2002
bulletISSUE #18 - 24th November 2002

ISSUE #18 - 24th November 2002 [49]
bulletSinking Prestige
bulletJail for Andreotti
bulletMisunderestimating Bush
bulletStripping for Peace
bulletMedication by Beer
bulletGhost House

Sinking Prestige

For anyone with but a modicum of knowledge about dealing with offshore oil spills, the bumbling approach of the authorities to the leaking, 26-year-old tanker Prestige over the period 13th to 19th November has been a laughable charade.  

The situation was, of course, not helped by the many countries involved.  The 82,000 tonne vessel, carrying 70,000 tonnes of fuel oil, was :

bulletGreek-managed ,
bulletUS-inspected. This voyage saw it 
bulletbringing Russian crude oil 
bulletfrom Latvia 
bulletto Singapore (or Gibraltar, say the Spanish)
bulletpassing by France, Spain, Portugal when it ran into trouble.  

It was extraordinary to note that, as she floated stricken, 

bulletno booms surrounded the tanker to contain the leakage and 
bulletthere was no evidence of trying to transfer the cargo to another tanker.  

The logical procedure was to tow the Prestige shoreward to calmer waters where containment and transfer could safely take place.  

But, in the best NIMBY tradition, France, Spain and Portugal each vetoed bringing the tanker any closer to their coastlines.  

Instead, for no scientific reason that anyone has put forward, it was towed 60 miles offshore into ever worsening weather, leaving a trail of some 10,000 tonnes fuel oil behind it to contaminate sealife, birds and 50 km of landfalls.  Unsurprisingly, the added mechanical stress of the towage in bad weather resulted in the ship breaking in half and sinking, bringing 60,000 tonnes of fuel oil down with it.  

It now lies under 3,600 metres of water.  The one saving grace is that the temperature at this enormous depth will be zero Celsius or colder.  So it is possible the fuel oil will solidify or thicken such that leakage is minimised over the long years ahead.  But any non-disastrous outcome will be no thanks to the non-planners who issued the orders.  

Meanwhile, lawyers are gearing up for litigation as everyone starts blaming everyone else and looking for compensation.  The complex international of web of responsibilities means this will be a wonderful earner for the legal profession for many years into the future.  

On the ecological front, the good news is that the birds and fisheries will with time fully recover, as they did in just a few years after the Exxon Valdez disaster.  

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Jail for Andreotti

The sentencing of 83-year-old Giulio Andreotti, seven times prime minister of Italy, to 24 years in jail has sent shockwaves though the Italian political classes and beyond.  Scion of the Christian Democrat party, he is convicted of contracting the murder in 1979 of a muckraking journalist to stop him publishing some of Mr Andreotti’s dirty deeds.  

Italy’s Clean Hands” campaign of the early 1990s swept much corruption from Italy’s political landscape.  Judges and prosecutors snared dozens of politicians and their financial sponsors in corruption trials that terminated the careers of a generation of political leaders and sank the Christian Democrats as a party.  Italians by and large welcomed the Clean Hands campaign as a much-needed civic revolution, but by now had thought it had run its course.  

Italy’s current prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, founder of Andreotti’s rival Forza Italia party, (says he) is outraged, Andreotti is the victim of an administration of justice that has abandoned every formal scruple and totally denies the right of people to have a fair trial”.  

Well he would, wouldn’t he ?  Throughout his own 1½-year tenure of the top job, he has been fighting corruption charges of his own and pushing through new laws that make it easier for him to escape a proper trial, much less imprisonment.  The last thing he wants is for “Clean Hands” to raise its ugly head again, for fear it points in his direction.  

Moreover, if a flaky country like Italy can administer savage punishments to its once untouchables, there is no excuse for the judiciary in any country not to apply the full force of anti-corruption law to the politically powerful and wealthy.  And there is no shortage of European candidates, from countries big and small.  For example, Chancellor Kohl of mighty Germany and Taoiseach Haughey of tiny Ireland spring to mind.  

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Misunderestimating Bush

At the recent NATO summit in Prague, Canada’s communications director, Françoise Ducros described President George W Bush as a “moron”.  To Bush’s relief, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien accepted her apology but refused her offer to resign.   Gregory Weinkauf of the Dallas Observer calls him a  “retarded monkey”.  The internet joke circuit abounds with jokes about his dumbness and there is even a website called  

How W must be enjoying these epithets which emanate mainly from the West’s disgruntled intellectual Left, from people sometimes called champagne socialists.  For they demonstrate the Left’s continuing misunderestimation of the President.  This allows him to happily out-manoeuvre them at every turn, while he demonstrates some of his formidable leadership attributes : 

bulletIntellectual prowess
bulletUnblinking focus on just a handful of themes (eg tax cuts, the War on Terror)
bulletSteely determination, 
bulletCommunications skills on a par with those Great Communicators Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

Just a few of his achievements : 

bulletMassive tax cuts within a few weeks of taking office, 
bulletPopularity rating soaring from 48% on election to 65% today (equivalent to the entire population of Australia switching from Al Gore to Bush), 
bulletPersuading the UN Security Council to give unanimous backing to his no-wriggle-room resolution on Iraq, 
bulletRecapturing both Congress and the Senate with comfortable majorities.  

Until the Democrats learn to respect his abilities, they haven’t a hope of turfing him out of the White House in 2004.  Meanwhile, what must they feel like, being defeated by a retarded monkey moron ?  

Misunderestimate him at your peril.  Saddam is one who should heed this advice.  

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Stripping for Peace

On 14th November, fifty women from West Marin in the USA were serious enough about PEACE to spell it out, wearing nothing but the afternoon rain.  Making their bodies a figure of speech, they wanted to show solidarity with the people of Iraq and to commune in their nudity with the vulnerability of Iraqi innocents.”

They hope President Bush and news media take notice.  Not just salacious males.  

One wonders what the good Muslims of Iraq feel about being represented in this prurient un-Islamic manner.  

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Medication by Beer

We have known for some years that red wine is a healthy supplement to our diet, diminishing heart disease, improving the cholesterol count, reducing blood clots.   

If this were not good news enough, Scotland is now considering adding vitamin B1 (“thiamin”) to beer to to cut down on alcohol-related brain damage.  A study costing £1m has said it will work and that’s good enough for me.  No doubt Glasgow of a Saturday night is full of willing volunteers.  

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Ghost House

Read about the widow who waited in vain for her husband to return from the American Civil War.  Follow these instructions carefully.  It’ll take less than a minute.  

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ISSUE #17 - 17th November 2002 [42]
bulletBin Laden and the Latest Audio Tape
bulletFallacy of Gordon Brown’s Five €uro Tests
bulletBlockbuster Memory
bulletMichael Jackson’s Plastic Surgery
bulletKilling Your Own
bulletStand Aside Pamplona

Bin Laden and the Latest Audio Tape

Well, the four-minute bin Laden audiotape broadcast on Al Jazeera TV last week seems to be genuine according to US officials.  In it, the speaker praises the recent attacks in the Middle East and Bali and hits out at President Bush and Washington’s international allies, singling out Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Australia as countries that should “take heed.

With all their science, including the voiceprint technology that helped lead to the capture in Karachi of Ramzi Benalshibi last month, it is unlikely the unnamed US officials are wrong.  

If so, this is the first confirmation we have had of Osama bin Laden’s survival since he released a defiant hour-long videotape way back last December.  You have to wonder, therefore, why he produced no more than an audio tape of a mere four minutes, rather than another lengthy video tape ?  

It’s most probably because he is indeed 

bulletbadly injured, 
bulletunable to put in a protracted performance and 
bulletunwilling to let people see him in his reduced physical condition.  

He’s still out there; he’s still a threat; but clearly he is no longer a happy camper. 

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Fallacy of Gordon Brown’s Five €uro Tests

Gordon Brown has been Britain’s Chancellor (Finance Minister) since Tony Blair’s Labour party came storming to power in 1997.  A major reason for Labour’s landslide victory was the disarray and disunity within the ruling Tory party over whether Britain should join the common European currency, the €uro, egged on by rampant opposition to the €uro among the media and general public.  

But as soon as Labour took office, the €uromood changed to one of considered curiosity, and one of Mr Brown’s first acts was to declare that Britain would consider joining the €uro if and when five so-called economic tests were met.   These are

  1. Does the economic cycle of Euroland converge sufficiently with that of Britain ?
  2. Are €uroland markets flexible enough to cope with economic shocks ?
  3. Will Britain’s adoption of the €uro improve investment opportunities in Britain ?  
  4. Will the impact on Britain’s financial-services industry be positive ?
  5. Will adoption of the €uro be good for employment and growth ?

Think of each question.  Apply it to your own country.  

bulletCouldn’t you argue that the answer is YES ?  
bulletOr, as easily, NO ?

But Mr Brown presented these tests - and continues to do so - as things that are  measurable, objective, that will yield specific, unique answers, that are therefore not subject to political whim.    

Now if you were to set yourself some sort of measurable target, whether as something you really wanted to achieve or to avoid, wouldn’t you want to know whether over time you were getting closer to it or further away ?

Yet there is no desire or effort whatsoever by Labour or any party or anyone else to determine progress towards meeting these economic tests.  It is amazing that five long years after they were defined, no-one still has any idea if Britain is any nearer to them.  

Mr Brown’s position has simply been that at some point in the future an assessment will be made on the basis of which a €uro referendum will or won’t be called.  Most recently, the Queen’s Speech of 13th November said that a judgment on the five economic tests would be made by next June”.  

These economic tests are of course nothing of the sort.  They are merely a (not so) cunning ruse devised by Mr Brown as a cover for making a €uro decision to be driven solely by political considerations.  

The economic and business merits and demerits are playing no rôle whatsoever in the British Government’s decision-making.  There is, of course, nothing wrong in taking positions based on politics and ideology as your sole criteria, though you should at least be honest about it.  

But what is extraordinary is that both the opposition parties and the media seem more than happy to go along with the subterfuge of the five economic tests.  Here is a golden opportunity to show up the venality of the British Government, yet they are either too blind, too stupid or too timid to exploit it.  

Why ?

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Blockbuster Memory

How long would you take to thoroughly learn a 600-page book off by heart ?  Learn as in able to recite it from memory, cover to cover.  Learn it so exhaustively that you could recite any page when given the page number. And know how many words there are in the book, how many full stops.  Not only that, but recite it in a foreign language of which you cannot speak or read a single word.  Oh and recite the whole book backwards as well.  All 600 pages.  

Mehyar Hussein Boor from Iran achieved this feat in just six months, studying 2½ hours a day.  At the tender age of ten.  He’s now eleven.  

The book ?  The Holy Quran, written in classical Arabic.  

Mehyar, who now gives lectures on Islam and the Holy Quran in Iran and abroad, recently competed against 70 contestants for the Dubai International Holy Quran Award”.   

Each competitor must answer five queries from the judges and recite passages from the Holy Quran.  Seventy marks are given for memorisation and a further 30 marks for quality of recitation.  The winner receives 250,000 UAE Dirhams (= US$68,000), followed by Dh150,000 for second place and Dh100,000 for third place.

Mehyar, who was the youngest contestant, reached the final six though was not a winner. 

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Michael Jackson’s Plastic Surgery

Before you consider plastic surgery, have a look at what it’s done to the talented Michael Jackson.  He is so distressed by the publication of this and other photos of him attending a court case (where he is being sued for $21 million for allegedly backing out of two millennium concerts) that he has been skipping court appearances.  

Feb 03 Note : The above link seems to have been removed. Click here instead for a video clip.  

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Killing Your Own

He has bombed his own people. He has gassed his own people. He has a horde of weapons of mass destruction.

Let’s roll out the red carpet. Come on down, Vladimir Putin.  And a special round applause from Russia’s Chechens and theatre-goers.       (With apologies to Loman Ó Loingsigh)

Oh, and at a recent press conference in Brussels, he said that people who want to become Islamic radicals, such as impudent French reporters, should come to Moscow for circumcision and that nothing on you will grow again.  

What a charming man.  

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Stand Aside Pamplona

You’ve heard of Pamplona’s annual running of the bulls.  Well that is tame compared to what the Spanish town of Pedraza gets up to.  They don’t rely on boring old bulls to terrify the young men.  No - for them it’s squirrels.  Click here.  But be patient, it’s a 4.8 Mb video file

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ISSUE #16 - 10th November 2002 [41]
bulletIraq Anti-Warriors' Sterile Arguments
bulletFlying Guantanamo Class
bulletPanchen Lama
bulletNigeria Picking Fights
bulletAmerican Tale of Two Shoplifters
bulletHarry Potter and the Vibrating Broomstick
bulletHat Trick of North Over South

Iraq Anti-Warriors' Sterile Arguments

There are countless westerners in the US and (especially) Europe who are virulently opposed to the concept of a war against the Iraqi regime for any reason.  Gerhard Schroeder, Chancellor of Germany, is but one. Others include US citizens, UK parliamentary backbenchers, Australian Unions, US celebrities, religious organizations.  But such anti-warriors seem to share three telling characteristics which together expose the sterility of their arguments.   

The first is a singular lack of appreciation of how the world has changed since the Twin Towers attacks last year. That dreadful event, 

bulletfollowed by among others the recent attacks on the French oil tanker, in Bali, in Moscow, and 
bulletpreceded by the bombings in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania and - yes - the Twin Towers in 1993

show the unrelenting face of organized, Islamic-centred terrorism that is already engaged in a merciless and savage war against the free, democratic world. 

Next, the anti-warriors never ever come up with a coherent alternative strategy for dealing with the terrorism, other than 

bullet to do nothing, or 
bullet to negotiate but with no fallback proposals should negotiation fail. 

They also bandy around speculative figures such as tens of thousands of civilians will be killed without a shred of evidence, not least from the recent wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo. 

Thirdly, they bring up 

bullet the West's lamentable acceptance in the 1980s of the bad behaviour of Saddam - if not complicity with it, as well as 
bullet the presence of oil in Iraq, 

as two classic - but utterly non-sequitur - reasons for doing nothing about him today.

Saddam's track record of : 

bulletinvading neighbours, 
bulletgassing his own people, 
bulletrepressing their freedoms, 
bulletfinancing Palestinian suicide bombers, 
bulletflouting 16 UN binding resolutions, 
bulletbuilding up weapons of mass destruction (WMD), 

demonstrates his malevolence beyond all reasonable doubt. He cannot be allowed to continue, because it is inevitable he will sooner or later use, or allow to be used, his WMD to terrorist ends. 

bullet9/11 showed the necessity for pre-emption; 
bulletPresident Clinton showed the folly of doing nothing substantive. 

Security Council members are to be congratulated for their rôle in disarming Iraq by backing the recent UN Security Council resolution (you can find the full text here).  Those who are actually providing tangible support should be even prouder.  Such behaviour will help make the world a safer place for all. 

Meanwhile, read this chilling post-2004 letter from Saddam Hussein which starts, Dear Madam President Clinton .  Share it with your friends.  It might further stiffen spines when considering whether or not Saddam must be stopped.  

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Flying Guantanamo Class

View these four grim photos that have just emerged of prisoners being transported by air, presumably Al Qaeda suspects on their way to Guantanamo Bay.  Hooded, restrained, sitting/lying on the floor, under military police guard, you really do not want to make this trip yourself.  

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Panchen Lama

Somewhere within the vast landmass of China live a man and woman and their  twelve-year-old son.  The family were kidnapped by the Chinese Government in December 1995 and have been held incommunicado ever since, under protective custody say the Chinese.  The boy, then five, is the cause of this.  His name is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and seven years ago the Dalai Lama identified him as as the eleventh Panchen Lama of Tibet. 

The Panchen Lama personage originates back to the Fifth Dalai Lama who in 1642 gave the title Panchen Lama, meaning Great Scholar, to his teacher the Abbot of Tashilhunpo Monastery in order to consolidate power.  Since then, the Panchen Lama, held as the protector of all the world's living beings, has been second only to the Dalai Lama in the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhist religion, culture and politics.  Reincarnations have followed the death of either.  

The tenth Panchen Lama died in 1989 aged 51, of a heart attack say the Chinese, of murder say many Tibetans.  A lengthy search in accordance with Tibetan Buddhist tradition ensued, and eventually in May 1995 the Dalai Lama decided that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is the latest reincarnated Panchen Lama.  

The avowedly athestic Chinese, who have occupied (and brutalized) Tibet since 1949, were furious because they wanted to make their own nomination so as to obtain greater control over Tibetan Buddhism.  Upstaged, they nevertheless went ahead and enthroned six year old Gyaltsen Norbu as Panchen Lama  in December 1995, and have been promoting the unfortunate child as an icon with pictures of him hung throughout Tibet.  

This battle of grown-ups over two young children is truly depressing, a reminder of the Chinese government's oppression of the Tibetan people and their religious freedom for over 50 years. It is hard to see 

bulleteither the Chinese releasing the Dalai Lama's nominee thereby undermining their own, 
bulletor the Tibetans hailing the Chinese nominee as their true Panchen Lama.  

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Nigeria Picking Fights

Nigeria, known as the Giant Of Africa for its giant population of 130 million, has had a relatively peaceful relationship with its neighbours for most of its 40 years of independence.  Its only significant conflict was the Biafran civil war of the 1960s.  Since then the military, notwithstanding repression and corruption under its various military dictatorships, has nevertheless done itself considerable credit in the role of UN peacekeeper in a number of West African countries, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, as well as elsewhere.   

In the post 9/11 environment and immanency of war with Iraq, Nigeria's
bullethigh quality of oil, 
bulletabundant reserves of both oil and gas, 
bulletproximity to the US, 
bulletacceptable, democratish, comparatively stable regime

has caused America to take a new and special look at the country.  American investment in the hydrocarbon industry is already being stepped up. ChevronTexaco's recent decision to spend $1.3 bn on a new gas plant is but one example.  

This new found influence and respectability has perhaps emboldened the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in his foreign policy.   

For in the space of a few weeks, he has started picking fights with two of his nearest neighbours - Cameroon on its eastern border and the tiny island country of Sao Tome and Principe to the south-east.  

Over oil.  

bulletThe row with Cameroon concerns the disputed 50 km2 Bakassi Peninsular which divides them, which is populated 95% by Nigerians and which has great oil potential.  The dispute dates back to a 1913 border treaty between Germany and Britain who were then the colonial masters of Cameroon and Nigeria respectively. 

The UN International Court of Justice has recently ruled that it is  Cameroon that is the rightful owner of the rich Bakassi region including its offshore provinces, and of course the associated natural resources.  But President Obasanjo doesn't accept the finding and says he wants to meet with Cameroon's President Paul Biya to "forestall a tragic border war", which is clearly a thinly-veiled threat of military action.  He asserts that “the judges of the international court may just look at treaties and give judgment, but we cannot do that ... What may be legally right may not be politically expedient to Nigeria.”  

Cameroon would be no match for mighty Nigeria, so the latter will probably get its way in the end, UN court or no UN court.  

bulletThe issue with former Portugese colony Sao Tome and Principe (let's call it “STaP”) is a slightly different border dispute.  This 1,000 km2 little country comprises a pair of eponymous islands lying 500 km due south of eastern Nigeria and west of Equatorial Guinea.  Between the seas off the two countries is a disputed band of water known as the Joint Development Zone (“JDZ”) where oil development is supposed to be conducted on a joint basis.  It seems STaP's President Fradique de Menezes , without consulting Nigeria, has signed agreements with ExxonMobil and other companies giving them special rights in the JDZ.  To add salt to the wound, he has apparently compared STaP's relationship with Nigeria to that of Kuwait with Iraq. 

All this has infuriated President Obasanjo who has blocked the scheduled joint auction by Nigeria and STaP of exploration acreage in the JDZ.  

But this dispute may be solved without war.  The STaP parliament says the president acted beyond his powers, so it will remove the portfolio from his remit altogether.   No doubt little STaP will bow to the Giant of Africa.   

Both incidents illustrate the old unjust adage, Might is Right.  Though to be fair, in the case of STaP, you could say right is right.  

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American Tale of Two Shoplifters

Australia's The Age newspaper reports that never can there have been a greater shoplifting scandal in California than the one that unfolded this week.  Leonardo Andrade was appealing to the Supreme Court his 50-year sentence for stealing just $300-worth of videotapes to watch with his kids.  Although he had never committed a violent offence, he had two previous convictions for theft, so the savage sentence followed from California's three strikes and you're out law.  

And then there was convicted filmstar shoplifter Winona Ryder (who, interestingly, is the god-daughter of the 1960s rebellious, LSD-proponent hippy professor Timothy Leary).  She stole $10,000 of designer clothes, but won't be going to jail.  Instead a bit of community service for her - typically cleaning highway litter in a fetching orange jumpsuit.  Her defence was that she was practicing for a movie role, so I suppose we're lucky the rôle wasn't that of a serial killer.  

For a country built on a foundation of justice, the disparity of treatment between a nobody and a celebrity is extraordinary.  

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Harry Potter and the Vibrating Broomstick

The second Harry Potter movie, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, will be released on 15th November and no doubt will soon be on its way to breaking more records.  

You can buy all kinds of Harry Potter memorabilia for your kids, such as cups, costumes, puzzles, ornaments, posters, T-shirts, towels, even a Nimbus 2000 broomstick from the first blockbuster, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone”.  

But not just a boring one - toymaker Mattel have come with a $20 broomstick which uses batteries to make noises and vibrate.    As you can see from the this picture, boys sit astride it and imagine they are flying just like Harry Potter, with the broom emitting realistic whooshing sounds, while quivering as if alive.  

It has excited (if that's the word) lots of sober comment.  Boys love it, apparently, but get this.  It seems their sisters love it even more and keep stealing it.  Parents don't seem to know why, but they note that the girls lose interest when the batteries are removed.  

Oh, and the manufacturer Mattel - while asserting there is nothing, er, inappropriate about this enterprising little product - have nevertheless removed all trace of it from their website.  Do you think they're embarrassed ?  

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Hat Trick of North Over South

Savour it; it rarely happens.  On a single day, the Northern Hemisphere defeated the three behemoths of Southern Hemisphere rugby.  

bullet England beat New Zealand's All Blacks in London for the first time since 1983, with a scoreline of 31-28;  
bulletFrance cruised to their biggest ever victory over South Africa's Springboks by winning 30-10 in Marseille; 
bulletAnd in Dublin, Ireland beat Australia's world champion Wallabies for the first time in 23 years; the score was 18-9.   

In the coming 12 months, expect a terrible revenge !

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ISSUE #15 - 3rd November 2002  [34]
bulletWhy Must US Action on Iraq Go Through the UN ?  
bulletGeneration and Disposal of Solid Waste
bulletFiasco Over Diana's Butler
bulletMaking a Bad Deal Good 
bulletMixing Miles and Kilometres

Social Insecurity in the US  

Why Must US Action on Iraq Go Through the UN ?

The Americans are bending over backwards to secure a workable United Nations Security Council resolution that will support an attack on Iraq in the event weapons inspection fails to disarm Saddam.  


Britain is the only permanent member to support this approach.  


The other permanent members France, Russia and current president China are all threatening to veto it if its teeth are too sharp or are even there.  


The Council’s ten non-permanent members (Bulgaria, Cameroon, Colombia, Guinea, Ireland, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Singapore and Syria) are split in their support to say the least.  

In the end, America’s threat to exclude non-supporting countries from any role in a post-Saddam Iraq may be sufficient to secure a satisfactory resolution, though this is not certain. 

But answer this, “why should America go through the UN anyway ?”.  No-one else does.  


Not India retaliating against Pakistan for allowing Kashmiri terrorists to attack its parliament in December 2001.    


Not Eritrea and Ethiopia who fought a bitter 1998-2000 war over demarcation. 


Not a slew of African countries who from 1997 piled into Congo on the side of either the Government or the rebels.  


Not Iran or Iraq when they engaged in a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s

bulletNot Britain when it sent a task force to reclaim the Falklands/Malvinas Islands from Argentina in 1982.  
bulletNot Turkey in 1974 when it invaded and occupied northern Cyprus.  
bulletNot when Honduras and El Salvador decided to go to war in 1969 after a soccer match
bulletNot China which attacked Tibet in 1949 and has occupied it ever since.  

They just decide to act and then act.  But everyone every time thinks America should go through the UN. 

The UN is not a supreme body; it is a collection of States trying to resolve things through talks.  


But UN representatives are not all from democratic governments appointed by their people.  Many – in fact most – are dictatorships in one form or another with no mandate from their people.  


They also vary hugely in size, from China (pop 1.3 bn) to the Pacific island “dot” called Nauru (pop 12,000).  

Should they all carry the same legitimacy and weight ?  And insofar as America sees its move against Iraq as part of its own self-defence, is anyone entitled to tell it not to proceed ? Another country may disagree that America is under threat, but does the simple fact of disagreeing give it the same authority over America's security needs as America itself has ?

The UN cannot prevent American action against Iraq, which remember will merely be the enforcement of the UN's own binding resolutions on disarmament.  If it fails to support America, the UN will therefore be failing to enforce its own resolutions, which is to advertise their worthlessness to the rest of the world.  

Moreover, no resolution will ever condemn America's behaviour in Iraq or anywhere else, no matter how outrageous, because America would obviously veto it.  (Same goes for Britain, China, France and Russia).  

So why does America even bother with the UN ?  

bullet it is at heart multilateralist, 
bullet it believes in the UN, and 
bullet it wants to maintain the UN's moral authority and standing.  

But maintaining the UN's moral authority and standing can only happen if the other members of the Security Council also desire this.  It is their commitment to the UN ideal, not America's, that is truly on test.  

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Generation and Disposal of Solid Waste

There is a widespread belief that consumerist Western societies are drowning - or will before long drown - in a sea of solid waste.  

bulletAl Gore, in his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance”, spoke of the floodtide of garbage spilling out of our cities and factoriesand vast mountain ranges of waste.  
bulletIsaac Asimov and Frederic Pohl in Our Angry Earth”, used phrases like we are running out of places to put [new] landfills.

It is true that as people increase their wealth so they increase the amount of waste they generate.  This chart, based on World Bank and other published data,  illustrates the effect across 39 countries.

wastvswealth.jpg (47275 bytes)
Click to enlarge

According to the OECD using 1999 data, Americans produce the most garbage - 2 kg/day each, compared with 

bullet1.3 kg/day for France and Britain, 
bullet1.2 for Germans and 
bullet1.1 for the Japanese.  

Moreover, the amounts are double what they were in 1966 and are still increasing.  

However, the environmental impact is not what these figures might suggest.  This is because, due mainly to incineration, recycling and composting, the amount going to landfill has actually been on the decrease since the 1980s, even while total garbage has been increasing.  

This chart, which uses data from the USA's Environmental Protection Agency and its Census Bureau, illustrates this point dramatically in respect of Americans - the world's greatest waste generators.  

wasteinusa60-05.jpg (58740 bytes)
Click to enlarge

Moreover, modern lifestyle changes have in many cases actually reduced waste - for example 100 years ago each American generated 1.8 kg of coal ash alone.  At the same time, the streets were awash, if that's the term, with horse manure, flies and disease.  This meant that the arrival of the motor-car was seen to bring major health and environmental benefits.  

In trying to assess the magnitude of the waste problem, we need however to look not to the past but to the future, and America is the best place to use as the model as it is the biggest refuse producer.  Currently America sends 110 million tons of garbage a year to landfill.  If we assume this figure will increase to take account of generally accepted estimates of : 

bulletincreasing wealth and
bulletincreasing population

then how much landfill space is needed for the next 100 years ? 

The calculation says 900 billion square feet.  It sounds a massive amount, but look at it this way.  A typical landfill is 100 feet deep; this would require a site of 324 square miles to take care of all America's needs.  

Again a large-sounding figure.  But it is only 0.009 percent of the landmass of the USA.  Put in this context, there is without question plenty of landfill space available for the next 100 years, in America and everywhere else.  

And when you think of how the world is likely to develop in the next century, the picture looks even better.  Future economic growth in the developed world, where most of the waste is produced, is going to be concentrated in the service industries and IT, which are much less waste-producing than old-style heavy industry.  And even in manufacturing, competitive pressures will ensure that the trend towards “lean and mean”, and “producing more with less” continues.  For example, just think how light-weight plastics and composites have replaced clunky steel in the manufacture of cars.  And look how packaging has been slimmed down over the past decade.  

But problems will remain.  Though landfill might require only 0.009% of space, no-one wants such a site in his or her own backyard; we're all NIMBYs at heart.  But this makes it not a problem of physical space but something for politics and society to resolve through the democratic process.  

A lot of people dislike hearing that disposing of waste is merely a management issue not an environmental one.  

But it is, and should therefore be tackled with reason not emotion.  

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Fiasco Over Diana's Butler

So the trial of Paul Burrell - butler and “rock” to the late Princess Diana - for stealing 310 of her possessions, has collapsed in a farce.   Out of the blue, the very day before he was due to testify in open court, Queen Elizabeth has suddenly confirmed that Burrell informed her five years previously that he was hanging on to “some” of the items for safekeeping, meaning there was no intent to thieve.  

21 months ago, a few hours before the police arrested him, Burrell submitted to them a 39-page statement on the matter.  This, among other things, claimed he had had a private conversation (lasting three hours, no less) about the items with the Queen.  

This is where it gets curious : 
bulletWhy did the police neither 
bulletask him what transpired in the conversation, nor 
bulletask the Queen for her version ?
bulletWhy did Burrell not inform even his own defence team about the conversation until now ?
bulletWhy did the Queen remain silent for so long, and abruptly come clean now ? 
bulletDoes Burrell have information that the Establishment would prefer not brought out in open court ?
bulletWhat about the remainder of the 310 items ?  

Conspiracy or cock-up ?  

I go for the cock-up theory every time, because conspiracy is usually far too complicated for the incompetent players to engineer.  

But the police, Burrell and the Queen, all making themselves look utterly foolish all at the same time ?  

It does make you wonder ..........  

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Making a Bad Deal Good 

According to World Oil magazine, Andy, a city boy, moved to the country and bought a donkey from an old farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day.

A day later, the farmer came rattling up in his old truck and said, “Sorry son, but I have some bad news, the donkey died.”

Andy replied, “Well then, just give me my money back.”

Can't do that,” the farmer said, “I spent it already.”

Andy said, “OK, at least give me the donkey.”

The farmer laughed and asked, “What are you going do with a dead donkey?

I'm going to raffle him off,” Andy replied.

Now laughing even harder, the farmer said, “You can't do that!

Sure I can,” said Andy, “I just won't tell anybody he's dead.”

A month later the farmer happened to run into Andy and asked, “What happened with that dead donkey?

I raffled him off,” Andy explained. “I sold 500 tickets at $2 a piece and made a profit of $898.

Didn't anybody complain?” asked the farmer.

Just the guy who won,” replied Andy. “So I gave him back his $2

Then, Andy, whose surname was Fastow grew up, eventually becoming the Chief Financial Officer of Enron.

40 year old Andrew Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer, has been charged in a criminal complaint with fraud and conspiracy. When he was called before the House Energy and Commerce Committee early in 2002, he exercised his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.

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Mixing Miles and Kilometres

Ireland, rather like a number of other ex-colonies, likes to do many things simply because they are not British.  In the 1970s, it adopted kilometers as the official unit of measurement of distance instead of Britain's miles, and at the same time was able to demonstrate its Europhilia.  Road direction signs were changed throughout the land.  (Though not all.  To this day, you can drive past an old direction sign saying “Ballina 10”, meaning miles,  and a few minutes later see a new one proclaiming “Ballina 15”, this time meaning kilometers).  

Meanwhile, Ireland continues to drive on the left like Britain, which is a tenfold bigger car market.  Therefore right-hand-drive cars are supplied to British specs with the speedometer in mph.  For this reason, speed limits were not changed.   

So you have the odd situation that miles are in kilometres and speed in miles per hour.  

Well a new minister has promised to fix this and change all the speed limit signs to kph.  And if the speedo of your British-spec car reads mph and your odometer reads miles ?  Tough.  We'll still fine you for doing 50 mph in a 50 kph zone.  

Truly, an Irish solution for an Irish-created problem !

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Social Insecurity in the US

Switch on your speakers and enjoy this little animated cartoon designed to frighten Americans into voting Democrat in the upcoming Congressional elections.  

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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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