This archive, organized into months, contains all issues prior to the current week and the three
preceding weeks, which are published in
the main Tallrite Blog (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm).
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July
You can write to blog-at-tallrite-dot-com
#59 - 30th November 2003 
One of the UNs laudable Millennium Development Goals
Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from
help pursue this, the FAO (the UNs Food and
Agriculture Organization) has been issuing
progress reports every year since 1999.
The latest report
(pdf, 495 kb) was launched on 25th November, entitled The
State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003,
together with a news
release that a number of newspapers picked up on.
news release begins with,
Hunger is on the rise again after falling steadily during the
first half of the 1990s,
and goes on,
After falling by 37 million during the first half of the 1990s,
the number of hungry people in developing countries increased by 18
million in the second half of the decade.
were echoed by a number of newspapers.
When you read the report, you
see, however, that the tone this sets is misleading, if not dishonest.
These are relevant figures taken from Table 1 of the report (the
italicised remarks are mine).
(2 points down)
(1 point down)
In terms of absolute numbers of undernourished people in the developing
world, it is true that they went up by 18m in 1999-2001 compared with a
drop of 37m during the 1990s. However, the population also went
up. When this is factored in, the proportion of undernourished
people has continued to fall albeit more slowly, ie from 20% to 18% in
five years and then to 17% in the next four years to 2001.
Of course, elimination of hunger can never be fast enough, but
the performance over the last four years hardly constitutes a
rise in hunger. Moreover, the UN goal is to
reduce by half the proportion of hungry people, not the absolute
a (1997) starting point of 18%, there is still a long way to go (ie from
17% to 9%) but the programme is certainly not failing as the
publicity about it would have you believe.
is noteworthy, however, that since the 1990s undernourishment in Eastern
Europe and the ex-Soviet Union has indeed increased in both absolute
numbers (from 25m to 34m) and proportionate terms (6% to 8%), but the
absolute numbers and populations are not large enough to reverse the
favourable global trend of hunger
you doubt whether an increase in hunger numbers by 18m is actually an
improvement if accompanied by a proportionate drop from 18% to 17%, think
about the following.
two countries, X and Y. In X, 8m die of hunger, in Y its 20m who
die. So it looks like X is better than Y.
But if the
population of X is 10m and the population of Y is 100m, the proportions
are 80% dead for X and only 20% in Y. If I were a subsistence
peasant, I know which of those two
countries I would feel safer to live in, and its not X.
The FAO should be less eager to claim failure when the figures indicate
Benevolent organizations (FAO, Oxfam, Amnesty, Greenpeace etc) often love bad news because they believe that
brings in higher donations than good news. But they should draw the
line at misrepresentation.
EU Deals Unravelling
Two sacred EU deals seemed to be coming apart last week.
Firstly, the Growth and Stability Pact.
How quickly a year flies by. In October 2002, I moaned
about the way France and Germany were being allowed to flaunt the rules of
the uros Growth and
Stability Pact by running a deficit exceeding 3% of GDP without
suffering the concomitant penalty.
It was Germany, aided and abetted by France, which put great pressure
on EU members to sign the pact in 1997, fearing that flaky countries like Greece or Italy would
undermine the uro with profligate fiscal policies and uncontrolled
spending. How ironic that these are the very crimes being
committed by Germany and France, whilst Greece is behaving
Thirteen months ago, when their sins first became apparent, they were
nevertheless given an extra year by the combined EU finance ministers to drag their deficits down, even through France
said it had no intention of doing so.
The year is up, France has kept its word, and Germany too is still
running a deficit larger than 3%.
But once again, most of the other
finance ministers (Austria,
Finland, Holland and Spain being thee honourable exceptions) blinked
first and let the recidivists off the massive fine of 1% of GDP that could
have been levied. No doubt a lot of backroom deals were being made
and we can expect, in return, to see different States pet projects being supported by
France and Germany (for example, Ireland wants to breach its public sector
borrowing limits to build roads etc).
Nevertheless, the European Commission and the European Central Bank are
understandably furious, as is the main German opposition party. For
if this fundamental pillar of the uro is to be undermined at its first
real test, and by the self-appointed leaders of the EU no less, who also
happen to be its biggest economies, then it can never be enforced in the
future, and the other pillars must also be in doubt.
The uro rose against the dollar as soon as Germany and France were
let off the hook, since it gives those economies a better chance of
bouncing back sooner. Nevertheless, it undoubtedly represents long-term blow to the stability of the
brave new currency since its defense in the future can no longer be
There are many who say that the Pact is anyway too rigid to cope with
economic downturns. That, if true, is an astonishing admission of
incompetence by its distinguished designers who included the formidable
But as former European Commissioner Peter Sutherland pointed
out, that is a reason to renegotiate the rules not to break
But negotiating EU stuff is very difficult and the risk of unravelling seems to be
an intrinsic component.
The other disintegrating deal is the proposed
It is with some relief that I have been observing the disintegration of
the pernicious draft. This, you
will recall, was launched with the idea of consolidating all the EUs
prior treaties - of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice - into a single
document. But, as I discussed in a previous post,
the ex-French president Valéry Giscard dEstaing and his eminent convention of
105, who were charged with producing the draft, could not resist the
temptation of using it as a cover for introducing a raft of new
One of these is to change the
complicated system of weighted votes in the Council of Ministers agreed at
Nice to a double
that would allow EU legislation to be approved by a majority of
member-states comprising at least 60& of the EUs
population. Germany and France want the change, because it favours
larger states. Spain, Portugal and others dont, and no agreement is
in sight. And after the backsliding over France and Germanys
breaching of the Stability and Growth pact, those countries will not be in
a position to call in new favours.
In Britain, Tony Blair likes
the treaty (probably because he wants to become the newly-created EU President) but
Ministers Gordon Brown and Jack Straw dont because theyre afraid of tax
harmonisation. So Britain may well support the Iberians.
The EU is supposed to agree the draft at a summit in Rome in December
whilst the ten newcomer States can still be kept at arms
Happily, it looks like it wont. Unravelling is in the
Another Curious Northern Ireland Election
Under the Good Friday Agreement, that diseased carbuncle known as
Northern Ireland has just held an election to the Assembly from which a
ruling Executive is supposed to be formed. Both bodies have been
suspended since October 2002 after the IRA were caught spying within
Stormont, the government building. An orchestrated deal to resurrect
the bodies collapsed last month because the IRA failed to put on a
convincing display of arms decommissioning, but as part of the deals
choreography the election had already been declared.
Hence this curious election to a body that wont be functioning any
Moreover, because a plurality of seats went to the DUP and Sinn Féin,
who are the most extreme unionist and republican parties, they get to
nominate the First Minister and Deputy Minister in any
But since the DUP wont work with Sinn Féin because
it wont disavow the IRA, it will be months if not years before an
Executive is formed. As the irascible 77-year-old warhorse Ian
Paisley, founder and leader of the DUP, thundered
to UTVs not-so-little Ivan
the Good Friday agreement is dead and buried. And,
no, Im not
talking to Sinn Féin. And my partys not
talking to Sinn Féin, and anybody that talks to Sinn Féin will be out of
(But hes clearly ailing mentally, for throughout the election campaign his aides
have been afraid to let
him bluster beyond his prepared script and were terrified of having him
debate live on television.)
So the net change coming out of this election is ... no change at all. The DUP
wont work with Sinn Féin, while demanding a renegotiation of the Good
Friday Agreement, and Sinn Féin (as well as others) are refusing any
So, for the two English ministers who have been running the province for
the past thirteen months, there is job security for the next few years or
perhaps until the Rev Paisley finally meets with his Boss. Ian Pearson
and Angela Smith,
unilaterally imposed by Tony Blair, have been quietly doing
of no fewer than fourteen would-be Northern Ireland ministers. And since
hardly a word about hospitals, schools, transport etc was uttered on the
hustings, you have to assume the pair are doing a pretty competent job
with no real complaints.
Mind you, since English taxpayers contribute 70% of Northern
running costs, the ministers
work is focussed on spending money, which is a lot easier than raising it.
The bottom line is that Northern
Irelands unionist and republican voters alike have democratically and
knowingly voted to continue to be ruled, for an indeterminate period, by
an undemocratic appointed government from England drawn from a political
party (Labour) that does not even exist within the province.
The responsibility and self-reliance of adulthood still seem a long way
off for the majority of those voters and their native
Note : For a less cynical view of
Northern Irelands politics,
have a look at Slugger
The Science of
Environmental Tobacco Smoke
Two issues ago, I wrote a post
on Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) in which I expressed my support for
the ban on smoking in all workplaces that Ireland will introduce in
February 2004. It included a reference to a study in Helena, Montana purportedly showing a
close correlation between a smoking ban and a reduction in heart
This triggered a series of six e-mails from Michael Mac Guinness,
initially about the Helena study which he (rightly) chided me for
swallowing too readily. But his messages went on to analyse the
science, about which he is very skeptical, behind the claimed relationship
between ETS and harm to health, with many links to make his
With his agreement, I have consolidated his messages into a single
essay, which I invite readers to review and draw their own
An ETS expert in Ireland responds by referring readers to the following
publications intended to redress what the expert sees as bias in Mr Mac
The first group below are advocacy sites. The second group are
some of the documents compiling evidence (and are referenced in the Office of Tobacco
[pdf, 253 kb] that underlies Irelands upcoming ban on smoking in the
workplace). The last website is as described.
Stan Glantzs website, TobaccoScam
Fact Sheet on
Secondhand Smoke by James Repace
ASH UK, Passive Smoking: A summary
evidence Oct 2001
- Action on Smoking & Health Australia
European network for smoking prevention - smoke
free workplace recommendations
Environmental Tobacco Smoke: Health Risk or
Health Hype?, a booklet
prepared by the American
Council on Science and Health
Three of probably the most comprehensive reviews to date may be
All the surgeon generals reports (in pdf format)
can be located here
Finally, a report
of how Phillip Morris intended
to deal with ETS. It is fairly
representative of the overall approach by the industry.
they recruit scientists and then use lawyers
to edit the
Mr Mac Guinness responds to the Late Note of
2nd December ...
Tallrite Blogs ETS expert expresses a
view that there is bias in my arguments.
It is certainly true that I have arrived at
a different conclusion however I have endeavoured to transparently show
how I arrived at my conclusion and what the basis for it is. I have
provided links to both sides of the argument including to the OTC/HSA
report and the TobaccoScam site also linked to by the expert.
I acknowledge that I have used strong words
with respect to the 1992 EPA report. I believe it deserves them. Criticism
of it has not been exclusively from tobacco interests. It has been
challenged in court and found wanting. Since the EPA report is a major
element of the foundation for the case against ETS the credibility of
reviews that significantly depend on it but do not acknowledge or address
the serious criticisms of it must also be questioned. (In this respect,
the ASCH booklet referred to by the expert is superior to most since it
does acknowledge the criticisms of the EPA report).
On the basis of my research I do not believe
there is a sufficient scientific basis to justify the use of
legislation, i.e. State coercion, to ban smoking in workplaces.
Voluntary bans such as already exist in many businesses, fine, no problem.
Legislation and State coercion, no.
The risk (characterised as "weak"
by the ASCH booklet linked to by the expert) is between small and zero,
the benefit will be smaller to zero as the workplace ban does not affect
many sources of ETS, it will be years, probably at least 5 to 10
years before the benefit, if any, begins to kick in and even then the
maximum possible benefit is very likely to be much less than the natural
annual variability of the diseases so it is conceivable that it may never
be possible to demonstrate an actual benefit. On the other hand, if
the ban is enforced there will be real costs if only in the diversion of
(not unlimited) State resources and fines and possibly closures imposed on
However I am open to counter-argument and
rebuttal that addresses the basis for our differing conclusions.
Anonymous allegations of bias do not
constitute convincing counter argument and rebuttal.
As to any basis for bias on my part, here is
my declaration of interest:
I do not smoke, I never have.
I do not work, directly or indirectly, as employee contractor consultant or in any other capacity, for a tobacco industry company, I never have.
I do not have any relationship with any pro or anti-smoking advocacy organisation, I never have.
I do not own shares of any tobacco company, I never have.
I dont know for sure one way or the other, but is probable that funds that I have formerly invested in had a proportion of their funds invested in tobacco companies giving rise to an indirect ownership of tobacco interests. I havent been invested in any such funds in over 5 years and the aggregate value of the tobacco element of them would never have exceeded $500.
It is likely that companies whose shares I own (e.g. IBM) supply services or products to tobacco companies. I do not know, nor do I care, how significant this is in terms of their total revenue.
There was a minor ecclesiastical tizz last week when £5,000 was burnt
in a quiz show run by an English radio station called Galaxy. Under the rules of the quiz, the
winner, Angela Robbins, could keep the £5,000 first prize provided
listeners agreed she could. But 51% of them voted that she shouldnt. Therefore she had to set fire to the money, which she
would otherwise have spent on a boob job. She had to shovel it into
Galaxy Radios studio furnace.
The Archdeacon of Birmingham, Hayward Osborne, went on television
to decry this outcome, saying the money should have been given to good
causes instead of burning it. And Galaxy Radio may be fined by the
Radio Authority for breaching guidelines on taste and decency - which must
certainly be a first.
The story caught my eye because of the outcry against burning
money. But isnt that what every smoker does every day ?
Ive written to the Very Reverend Archdeacon to suggest that he start a campaign to
that smokers (who constitute 20-25% of the population in the UK,
and US) give their cigarette money to charity instead of burning it
that the authorities impose fines on anyone caught setting light to
You - and he - will surely agree that we must at all costs stop people
burning their money and offending taste and decency.
Add this to the ban
on smoking in the workplace and imagine how health statistics will
Ill keep you advised about his reply.
This was his reply on 1st December
you for your email following the brief television interview about
Galaxy FM's money-burning stunt.
a non-smoker, I have a great deal of sympathy with what you say, and
am glad that more and more public areas are designated no-smoking
zones, but I think it would be a huge step to move on at this point to
the general issue of smoking.
Typable Post Codes
Ireland must be about the only Western country that has no post
codes. OK, theres a passing imitation of a post code in the Capital
(Dublin 1 to 24), but nothing anywhere else. As Atlantic
Blog points out, even if you live in a town like Cobh with 10,000
addresses, your mail will find you with a post-code-free address as
[the name of your house]
Personally, I dont care if post codes are introduced or not, so long
as my letters continue to arrive.
My only plea would be that any new post codes be all-number like
America and Singapore, or else all-letter (though not upper and lower case
The worst model of all is the UKs and Canadas where capital letters
are jumbled in with numbers, eg PO20 7IA (which is somewhere in Sussex).
These are excruciating to type, especially if you touch type. And
even when writing by hand, they invite mixups between, for example,
O for Oscar and 0 for zero,
I for India (or l for lima) and 1 for one.
So I expect thats what well get.
Reach of a Horses Ass
By Guest-Blogger, Jack
standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5
inches. Thats an exceedingly odd number (and no better when expressed as
Why was that gauge used ?
Because thats the way they built them in
England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.
Why did the English build them like that ?
Because the first rail lines were built
by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and thats the
gauge they used.
Why did the tramway-makers use that gauge
Because the people who built the tramways
used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which
used that wheel spacing.
OK ! Why did the wagons have that particular
odd wheel spacing ?
Well, if they tried to use any other
spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long
distance roads in
, because thats the spacing of the wheel ruts.
So who built those old rutted roads ?
built the first long distance roads in
England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.
And the ruts in the roads ?
Roman war chariots formed the initial
ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their
Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in
the matter of wheel spacing.
Thus, the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original
specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.
And bureaucracies live forever.
So the next time you are handed a spec and
told we have always done it that way and wonder what horses ass came up
with that, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war
chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two
Now the twist to the story ...
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its
launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the
main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs.
The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a
bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to
the launch site.
The railroad line from the factory happens
to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that
tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the
railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses
So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of
what is arguably the worlds most advanced transportation system was
determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horses ass.
And you thought being a horses ass
Quote of the Week
did not charge hundreds of miles through the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter
cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million
people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.
President George W Bush, twice.
First time addressing Britain
on 19 Nov,
second time addressing US troops in Badhdad
during a surprise Thanksgiving
visit on 27 Nov
THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
#58 - 23rd November 2003
Zimbabwe Ruined - And One
A nation in ruins. It seems to have entered a Kafkaesque realm,
whose dreams and hopes, celebrated across the world in 1980 at its
independence, have turned into nightmare.
Its rich land lies
fallow, all but 300 of its 2,000 farm owners evicted from their land,
replaced by people who don't know how to farm. The army dispenses a brutal form of law and order, the press is
gagged, educational institutions have become propaganda houses, the
economy has been ravaged, while death and disease stalk the land.
In charge since 1980,
Executive President Robert Mugabe and his oligarchy hold a death grip on power, and exercise it with the blessing of
an emasculated judiciary whose task is to punish not wrongdoers, but political opponents,
a lame parliament whose job is to pass laws to benefit not the mass of the people, but the
côterie surrounding the tyrant, and
a brutal army whose function is defence not of the realm, but of its illegitimate leader.
When he first came to power, many praised the ex-guerilla Mr Mugabe and his inclusive, statesmanlike utterances such as, There is no
intention on our part to use our majority to victimise the minority.
We will ensure there is a place for everyone in this country.
Let us deepen our sense of belonging and engender a common interest
that knows no race, colour or creed (4 March 1980).
But a different story was told by subsequent events (and words), such as
his armys genocide just a few years later of twenty
thousand inhabitants of Matabeleland, the stronghold of the
opposition PF-Zapu party
(Some of the measures we shall take will
be extra legal. An eye for an eye or an ear for an ear may not be adequate in
our circumstances. We
might very well demand two ears for one ear or two eyes for one eye,
1982 on Matabeleland), and
his racist hounding and murder of white farmers and businessmen in more
(The only language the whites understand is the language of the gun -
the more of them you kill, the nearer you get to your objective, 1986 in Rufaro Stadium, Harare;
Our present state of mind is that you are now
enemies because you really have behaved as enemies of Zimbabwe. Our entire community is angry and this is why
veterans [are] seizing land, April 2000, to the white
not to mention his gross economic mismanagement.
Consequently, he is loathed
in his own country and viewed with revulsion and embarrassment by
his neighbours and the world (though not all will admit it).
Under a megalomaniac's jackboot, Zimbabwe, a beautiful country with beautiful people, an
erstwhile breadbasket of Africa, has travelled a long meandering downhill journey
from hope and pride in freedom to the spectre of starvation.
But just as Hitler made no secret of his intentions as he ruthlessly built up power in
the 1930s, so Mr Mugabe has provided plenty of evidence of his own intentions,
for all to see.
The crushing of opposition,
the slaughter in Matabeleland;
the slow pace of land reform;
the merging of the offices of Prime Minister and President in 1990;
the rule of law,
the international community,
free speech (coupled with a devotion to hate speech),
an obsession with personal enrichment;
The rise of a clique of henchmen who obey his rules unquestioningly.
The results are predictable and devastating. According to South Africa's
for Security Studies, and others -
The economy has shrunk by 11.9% and 19% for the past two years.
manufacturing declined by 17.2%,
mining by 7.1%,
gold production by 18%.
Officially, inflation which was 32% five years ago, is now galloping at
but this figure is derided as far too low by independent economists who
reckon 1,000% is closer to the truth (compared with the Africa average of 12.6%)
The gulf widens daily between the official exchange rate (Z$824 per US$) and the black market (Z$6,000
per US$); indeed there is a steady, if illegal, US-dollarisation of the economy as people lose faith in their own currency.
The health sector has collapsed and opportunistic diseases fuelled by rampant HIV/Aids infections run
Foreign debt is approaching US$ 5.3 bn - a third of it in arrears - which the government is unable to service, hamstrung
as it is by the acute shortage of foreign exchange caused by declining exports plus overseas aid frozen by international donors five years ago.
Printing money is now government policy, since
that is the only way they can pay their bills and keep their supporters
flush. Yet so runaway is the resultant hyperinflation that banknotes
themselves are becoming scarce because they
can't print them fast enough.
Unemployment is approaching 70%.
Yet even for the 30% lucky enough to have jobs, the hyperinflation makes staying alive a daily struggle.
According to South Africa's ThisDay newspaper (print-only, and the
source of much of this post) a manual
construction worker earns Z$120,000 a month which, extraordinarily, puts
him into the top tax bracket. Yet a loaf of bread costs Z$2,900 or
2½% of his pre-tax pay; that is, his salary covers barely more than one
loaf per day.
Food is not just
expensive but in short supply, which is why the youth militias, the
Tontons Macoutes of Mugabes ruling Zanu-PF party, ensure by violence and
threat that vital food aid is handed only to the party faithful.
It is also one reason that the abundant wildlife in the formerly lucrative game parks, many of them taken over
war veterans, are being systematically slaughtered.
By some estimates 70% of the impala, kudu, elephants and buffalo are
Unsurprisingly, millions of Zimbabweans, black and white, have
fled. Queues at embassies such as South Africa's, Britain's and
Mozambique's are even longer than those for fuel. This exodus coupled with premature deaths due
to disease has slashed the population from 14.5m to
The Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, has been shut down, its staffers arrested and beleaguered mercilessly. Zimbabwe's people exist in an information blackout so effective that all they hear is government propaganda and official denials from the state-owned media.
So all that is left of the Zimbabwe of 1980 is the indomitable spirit of its people. In the face of unimaginable odds, they circumvent the brutality and kleptomania of
Mr Mugabe's regime and hold the country together.
Yet they have been largely abandoned by the world, which continues to talk of
quiet diplomacy or else shouts from afar while wringing its hands.
Mr Mugabe, you see, presiding over the country he has destituted, has no WMD plans or other international misconduct
up his sleeve, so is not seen as a threat beyond his
Yet neither was Afghanistan.
You have to wonder, therefore,
whether he will at some stage start welcoming terrorist organizations as
the only wealthy foreigners left, who would be prepared to give him large amounts of
money in exchange for free play, with no awkward strings attached about democracy, good governance,
transparency, integrity etc. Will it one day become as dangerous to
the globe as was Afghanistan ?
Zimbabwe is a country in dire need of the world's attention and
Marching for a Ppease
I wonder whether those peace protestors (between 70,000
and 200,000 of them) who marched
in London to embarrass George Bush and Tony Blair last week appreciated the irony of
Firstly, they wanted to stop the Iraq war, seemingly oblivious that
it ended six months ago; moreover few will deny that
most Iraqis are already
better off and
the killings are far fewer than they were under
Secondly, their own freedom to stage such demonstrations is precisely
the freedom that they would deny to Iraqis
by preserving Saddam or
by an immediate American withdrawal followed by inevitable civil
Thirdly, though they say they disavow violence, this evidently does
a desire for violence committed against Mr Bush himself, or at least against
those effigies they were filmed punching and kicking,
nor indeed attacks on the police who were trying to maintain
order without use of guns, tear-gas or truncheons.
In other words, your violence is bad, mine is OK.
Fourthly, in the midst of the demonstrations, Al Qaeda chose to
British Consulate and the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank building in
wounding 450, mostly Muslims, having
committed similar carnage just five days earlier. Yet not a single banner
denounced Al Qaeda's ongoing violence since September 11th
In other words, your violence is bad, mine is OK and so is Al Qaeda's.
In contrast to the London protest, the public anti-violence
demonstrations in Turkey after Istanbul's four suicide-bombs were directed
against the perpetrators, not against those who (like Turkey) are trying
to defeat the perpetrators.
No, it is hard to separate the desire of those London demonstrators
peace of some
sort, from their even stronger desire
for appeasement of any sort.
But bad guys do not stop being bad if you appease them. They
simply say thanks for the appeasement - and then behave even worse.
The classic illustration is British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's
appeasement of Hitler in 1938. The deal he struck in effect said,
OK, Mr Hitler we'll let you steal half of Czechoslovakia since in return
you have so kindly promised not to steal Poland.
This is a ppease
for our time,
he declared triumphantly when he returned to London.
Of course, Hitler expressed his gratitude for the gift of Czechoslovakia
- and a mere eleven months later
invaded Poland. Only then, did Britain
stop appeasing Hitler
and begin stopping him.
We should be grateful that most (exclude France, Germany etc) Western countries today - and indeed
Turkey - are led by rational thinkers, rather than by a
Ppeasenik like Chamberlain. Because they are acting on the
conviction that terror must be confronted not appeased.
After the outrage of September 11th, who can seriously think that
if the reaction to it had been as Chamberlainesque as the London
protestors would wish,
with the Taliban and Al Qaeda still in charge of Afghanistan,
with Saddam free to pursue his weapons development and hatred of the
that worse outrages would not have been invited ? Quite apart
from the continuing rape of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Frank McGahon of Internet
Commentator thinks I'm too soft. For me the London
protestors are appeasers. For him, they're nakedly pro-Saddam
Late Note (24th Nov) : On the other hand, I think Frank's too
soft in excusing Chamberlain's appeasement simply because Chamberlain
couldn't foresee the results of his treacherous agreement with
Hitler. That's the thing with appeasers, London protestors
included. They can never foresee anything negative about their
behaviour. But this doesn't excuse them.
The Iraq War
Was All About Oil - A Letter
You will agree that there is not a Ppeasenik among you who does not
believe the main reason America conquered Iraq was to steal its
So let's do a few sums. The oil price is around $25
a barrel and Iraq's oil production some one
million barrels a day. That means its oil revenue is
approximately $9 billion a year.
In case I'm undercounting, let's double this to $18 bn. OK then,
Let's now put this $20 bn per year into some perspective.
The US Congress has just approved a budget of $87.5
bn of American taxpayers' money for relief, reconstruction and
military operations, mainly in Iraq but also in Afghanistan. $20
bn of this is reserved solely for reconstruction in Iraq.
I'm not sure what period this covers, but let's say four
That would mean the expenditure roughly matches the oil revenue.
So even if America steals all the oil, it only ends up breaking
even. So what's the point of all the grief ? Not even American
Congressmen or the misunderestimated
Bush could be that dumb. If you're going to steal, make sure it's
worth your while.
Moreover, America would never get away with stealing oil or oil
revenues - the oil trading process is too transparent and the world is
watching Iraq's national accounts like a hawk.
And as for subjugating Iraq merely to gain access to oil,
access has never ever been a problem apart from a couple of brief embargos
in the 1970s. If you have the money, you'll always find someone
willing to sell you the oil you want. And America has the
So, sorry, Ppeaseniks. The case for America toppling Saddam to
grab Iraq's oil does not stand up to scrutiny. And that massive
$87.5 bn underlines the benign nature of its objectives.
While we're at it, what are you giving - or doing - to rebuild Iraq for
the betterment of its people ?
Queen Mary 2 Gangway Collapse
I've written before about officials jumping
to conclusions when a major industrial accident occurs, as well as the
temptation of blaming it on
something simple to rectify (such as pilot
reports suggested the same thing was happening in France in the wake of
the collapse in 16th November of a 10m long gangway leading to the Queen
Mary 2 in drydock, that resulted in the terrible deaths of fifteen adults
and children and 32 people injured. The $800m construction of the
world's largest ever passenger liner was nearing completion, and some of
the 2,600 shipyard workers had been invited to show their families around
it when the accident occurred.
The French prosecutor Pierre-Marie Block said,
after only two days, At
this stage in the inquiry, given the information I have, we are leaning
towards technical problems (as the cause).
he also said that
the gangway had been
changed at management request for a wider one just the evening before
that the new one had been hurriedly constructed only the day before,
that it was possibly overloaded.
Based on the scant information that has been released, technical
problems should be bottom of Mr Block's list of causes.
Last minute changes requested by management, hurried redesign and
construction, unclear load limitation ? These are all indicative of
failures in the management process, system and communication, in terms of
both the demands the bosses felt they could place and their underlings' ready acquiescence
These are most probably the underlying factors behind this tragedy,
rather than simply the technical
problem that the gangway broke because it was too
Human behaviour accounts for 80% of all accidents; technical factors
only 20%. This accident will be no exception.
George Bush, Rugby,
Food, Endurance, Nudity
George Bush is the only American President to have
played rugby in his youth. Therefore, he will not have relished the
41-14 thrashing the USA received last month in Australia at the Rugby World Cup at the hands of Old Europe as
represented by France (though maybe he
feels it's their turn for a victory).
His affinity with rugby stretches further.
It has become common for him to organize food tasters when he
goes on foreign trips, to assure him not of its deliciousness but that
it's not poison.
In Thailand last month, the services of ten
humble mice were employed to sample the great man's food. Better
they drop dead, it was reasoned, than Mr Bush. Happily, none of the eleven
Mail reported on 19th November (print-edition only) that a human food-and-drink taster had been engaged for
his recent trip to London. The idea that the Queen would use the
state banquet to lace the teetotal president's
springs to mind) caused some merriment.
But he is not alone in his fears of food poisoning. President
Ceausescu of Romania apparently
used a food-taster, as does Fidel Castro to this day. And they were ten-a-penny in
and during the Renaissance.
All last week, of course, Clive Woodward, the coach of the England
rugby team that has just won the World Cup in Sydney by the narrowest of
margins in extra time, was paranoid as his squad prepared for battle.
First, he got the
team's meeting rooms and changing rooms swept
for any electronic eavesdropping bugs that might have been thoughtfully
positioned for the benefit of its Australian opponents. (But maybe he didn't do it
very well, since Australia claimed they had managed to crack
England's top-secret coded lineout calls).
Then, it was rumoured that he organized a food taster to ensure that
when his players ran out on to the pitch they wouldn't be suffering
from dicky tummies, courtesy of their dastardly Australian
hosts. That precedent was set in Johannesburg in the 1995
World Cup final, which the New Zealanders claimed
they lost only because their opponents South Africa had done precisely
We'll never know the true answers. But come to think of it, isn't
it also possible that the
French defeated the USA only though chemical warfare targeted at those
God-fearing patriotic American stomachs ?
South Africa has its own curious World Cup story.
Its preparations included submitting
its squad to four days of SAS-style
motivational endurance testing involving
sworn secrecy, dark nights, underground pits, gun-threats, starvation, freezing water and blowing up
balls, all conducted in mutual nudity (we
are not ashamed of our bodies). It
didn't do them much good as New Zealand unceremoniously dumped them out in
the quarter-finals, and raw details are now emerging as a few disgruntled
players begin to break their omerta.
Similarly unashamed are the seven sushi waitresses at the Bonzai
restaurant in Seattle. On Saturday nights, each takes her turn
to lie down nearly naked on a table while the sushi chef arrays his raw
fish and other wares on her torso, for patrons to attack with their
chopsticks. This has enraged feminists, though the girls say
it is performance art.
If the seven had only joined the starving, frozen South Africa squad,
the players might have been motivated enough to win the World Cup.
Or at least not be quite so cold.
I've forgotten what this has to do with George Bush, except that he
likes rugby ...
Quote of the Week
: The war on terror has glaringly exposed the moral
contradictions of contemporary political radicalism :
a politics that champions the rights of women and minorities, but
only when those rights are threatened by white Europeans;
a politics that celebrates creative non-violence at home but
condones deadly extremism abroad; and,
perhaps above all, a politics that traces its origins to the
Enlightenment - and today raises its voice to protect militantly
unenlightened terrorists from the justice dispensed by their victims.
Frum, former Bush speechwriter
who helped coin the phrase
axis of evil , author of
The Right Man : The Surprise Presidency of George W Bush
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Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Won by New Zealand
Won by New Zealand
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Won by Wales
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the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
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the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics