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November 2004

ISSUE #88 : 28th November 2004 [143]

Barroso's EU Convicted Commission

First there was Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, would-be EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security.  Under cross-examination by MEPs as part of the Commission ratification process, he declared his belief that homosexual behaviour is a sin but that he would not regulate against it.   Left-leaning MEPs were outraged that a Catholic should admit his Catholic convictions.  His new boss, Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso loyally offered his full support (Mr Barroso maintains his confidence in the whole team, which, of course, includes Mr Buttiglione, said a spokeswoman), but subsequently dumped him anyway when the MEPs would not be mollified. 

Then it was the turn of France's Jacques Barrot, would-be EU Commissioner for Transport.  When he was cross-examined by MEPs, he hid the fact that he had been convicted back home in 2000 for criminal fraud; he hid this also from Mr Barroso, who nevertheless offered his 100% support”, which by then we knew means nothing.  When, thanks to an outing by the UKIP party and the non-French press, MEPs learnt that they had just been tricked into approving a convicted fraudster, they were outraged.  They demanded an immediate explanation, and when they heard it they swallowed it whole, giving Mr Barrot the thumbs-up.  It turns out that President Jacques Chirac had granted his buddy Mr Barrot an amnesty, which means that the conviction was expunged - legally it never happened.  Just like the Catholic annulment (which bastardised his two daughters) of John Kerry's 27-year pre-Heinz marriage.  And since the conviction never happened, the French press are forbidden from reporting it, even that it never happened !

The upshot of this sorry tale is that conviction Catholics are barred from high EU office, convicted fraudsters are not.  How morally inverted can you get ?  And how incompetent is Mr Barroso to play host to two Commissioner problems before even taking office ?  It all bodes ill for the Commission.  But one the bright side, the loss in public confidence in the EU that this display of hubris entails may help to kill off, via national referenda,  the pernicious EU Constitutional Treaty.  

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Black-on-Black Racism

I've spent most of my life as a guest in other people's countries, all over the world.  To make an outrageous generalisation, one of the paradoxes that I've observed is that racism frequently seems to be proportional to the darkness of the skin.  That is, the darker a person's skin the greater his/her racist behaviour and views.  Thus, you tend to see the greatest attention to skin colour and associated prejudice in Africa, where people's blackness often determines their place in society.   Lighter-skinned Arabs from the north (of Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia etc) look down on their blacker brethren; the black southerners look down on those of their number who are even blacker.  There is little of the embarrassment or attempt to suppress or at least hide such feelings that you encounter in lighter-skinned parts of the world.  Robert Mugabe is an extreme example, though of course his racism is directed primarily at whites (notwithstanding his massacre of 7,000 Matabelelanders in 1980-88).  

I was reminded of this when some months ago Harry Belafonte, the singer of Jamaican descent, derided Colin Powell, the soldier-diplomat of Jamaican descent, as a “house nigger”, a term of abuse that it is inconceivable that a white person of comparable celebrity would utter in public.  Yet, only because he was himself black, Mr Belafonte got away with it, despite the undeniably unpleasant and racist nature of the remark.  

 He is not alone.  Black cartoonist Aaron McGruder regularly depicts Condoleeza Rice as a stereotype black Aunt Jemima, complete with characteristic bad grammar, in a manner no white cartoonist would dare ... 


I knows all about  aluminum tubes 
... (correction) ... 
I don't know nuthin about aluminum tubes

He also calls her a “murderer”, and this epithet is endorsed by Julian Bond who is the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for goodness sake.  Meanwhile, a lead article in Black Commentator has called Dr Ricethe purest expression of the race traitor. No polite description is possible”.  

This, like the other examples, is in fact the purest expression of racism - no polite description is possible.  To such people, Dr Rice and Mr Powell are unacceptable as  Republicans for one reason only - because they are black.  

Racist attitudes are about hating people because of their race and/or skin colour.  Blacks, historically on the receiving end of such inexcusable behaviour, often do this better than anyone.  

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Depraved Northern Ireland Demands More English Taxpayer Handouts

Over and above what is collected in Northern Ireland taxes, residents of the province already get £2,500 per person per year in subsidies from the British State.  British State in this context means English taxpayer, since the Scots and Welsh also have they own hands out and thus contribute none of their taxes to NI.  

Now the low-life politicians of the DUP and Sinn Fein are now demanding the gift of another one billion pounds, or £600 per inhabitant, from the English taxpayers as blackmail money to form a Northern Ireland government.  For infrastructural purposes they say, such as improving the sewage system.  But visit NI from the South and what do you notice ?  

  • Anything provided by the State - ie mainly English taxpayers - such as roads, schools, hospitals, youth centres, police station etc are pristine and uplifting, compared to the south (and indeed compared to much of England).  Even chunks of countryside, such as Divis, the Black Mountains near Belfast, 100 km of Antrim coastline, Slieve Donard in the Mournes,  have been purchased in order to preserve their beauty.   

  • But anything provided by the locals such as houses, shops, pubs, small businesses etc seems to the outsider to be rather shabby and dilapidated, compared to the south.  

That is the result of the beggar mentality that pervades that diseased carbuncle.  They don't need more Christmas presents from Englishmen and Englishwomen to form a government (a body by the way that will accomplish with fourteen  ministers and several committees what is currently done with just two part-time Westminster MPs).  They need the will to implement the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed overwhelmingly, North and South, in an all-Ireland referendum in 1998.  

They call the £1 bn ransom demand a peace dividend”, based on being able to reduce the British  military presence if the paramilitaries scale back their activities.  There is no sense that such a dividend should go back to the English taxpayers in return for their forbearance over so many decades.  English taxpayers should rise up and say enough is enough.  But then, since only the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have their own parliamentary assemblies, they have no democratic forum for doing so. 

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Check Out That C-4

Quite a while back, I described some of the then latest developments in airport scanning technology - the mind-reader, the blush-detector and the naked body revealer.  

Lurking in the 15th November edition of the (subscription-only) Aviation Week, I've finally found a bit more information about the last of these devices, which seems to be pretty effective.  

Costing $120,000, it's called the Rapiscan Secure 1000 backscatter X-ray imager and it scans the body uses low-level radiation, ie less than 10 microRem per scan compared to typical background radiation of 300 microRem per day in, say, Miami.  The device detects non-metallic weapons and plastic explosives hidden on a person's body, including ceramics, graphite fibres, plastic containers, plastic weapons, glass vials, syringes, packaged narcotics, dynamite, bundled paper currency, and even wooden objects.  

Apparently, a hundred of the machines are already in operation in prisons and airports around the world, including Heathrow Airport where a trial is currently ongoing.  

The main privacy safeguards are 

  • that the person who looks at the image is different from the person who examines the scanee in the flesh, 

  • that men don't look at women and vice versa, and 

  • that images are instantly deleted.  

But if you believe all that, you belong with the fairies, especially when Pamela Anderson checks in for her flight.  

Nevertheless, I think there's no doubt that this is the scanning technology of the future, so we better get used to the idea.  

By the way, that's some C-4 he's proudly got on display ....

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Agony Aunt Mailbag

Dear Abby,

My husband is a liar and a cheat. He has cheated on me from the beginning, and when I confront him, he denies everything. What's worse, everyone knows he cheats on me. It is so humiliating. Also, since he lost his job four years ago he hasn't even looked for a new one. All he does is buy cigars and cruise around and bullshit with his pals and play golf, while I have to work to pay the bills. Since our daughter went away to college he doesn't even pretend to like me and hints that I am a lesbian. What should I do?



Dear Clueless:

Grow up and dump him; you don't need him any more. For Pete's sake, you're a United States Senator from New York! Act like one!


Thanks for this, Eileen

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “I refuse to die without a chance to live

Kerryman Billy Burke, 27, a victim of cystic fibrosis, when launching a campaign in April to secure a lung transplant denied him due to bureaucratic rules.  Despite the energy, articulacy and popularity of his efforts, sadly he was unsuccessful and died of the condition last week.  

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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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