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November 2007

ISSUE #165 - 7th November 2007


ISSUE #166 - 18th November 2007


Time and date in Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #166 - 18th November 2007 [545+757 =1302]

bullet$100 Oil: Déjà Vu

Celebrities and their Animal Problems


Issue 166's Letters to the Press


Quotes for Issue 166

Click here for Word Version of Issue #166

$100 Oil: Déjà Vu

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and PowerIn 1991, Daniel Yergin wrote a seminal 800-page book about the oil business, called The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize.  It traces the industry's history from the first oil well in Pennsylvania up until the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and elucidates how oil shaped the entire world economy and international politics in the last century. It is a marvellous tome, written in the style of a rattling good yarn. 


If I still had my copy, I would share with you a particular photograph from the 1950s, that sticks in my mind.  It depicts a pre-politics George Bush Senior, then an executive with an oil-industry supply-boat company called Zapata.  He is attending the launch of a new Zapata boat, and is holding the hand of his smartly-dressed very serious-looking young son of about nine years, also called George ...

Daniel YerginSince reading that book fifteen years ago, I have regarded Dr Yergin as the ultimate authority when it comes to hydrocarbon industry issues. 

Today he is chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates, so I paid special attention when, in that capacity, he declaimed last month that

Oil prices are becoming increasingly decoupled from the fundamentals of supply and demand.  With prices over $90 a barrel and strong anticipation of $100, the oil market is showing signs of high fever, stoked by fears of clashes in the Middle East and resulting disruptions of supply. A weakening dollar and anticipation of further weakness add further fuel to the fever.  The oil market may be only one or two events away from $100-plus oil, and there is much momentum in that direction.

$100 a barrel.  How scary is that?

Not nearly as scary as it once was.  I had the good fortune to live and work in Aberdeen (Scotland) in the early 1980s, benefiting from a silver lining where others suffered clouds. 

And what clouds they were. 

In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini had returned from exile (in France) to Iran and kicked the West-friendly Shah out of the country.  Iranian “students, inspired or directed - but certainly supported - by the Ayatollah, had then invaded the US embassy in Teheran and kidnapped  63 US diplomats (who are supposed to enjoy diplomatic immunity) plus three other Americans.  Invaded” because the soil of any embassy is, under international law, an integral part of the country whose embassy it is.   

The pathetic US president Jimmy Carter, however, too fearful to recognize the foreign assault on American sovereignty that the invasion constituted (the first since Pearl Harbor), made no effort to recapture the American embassy and demonstrate to the infant, chaotic, vulnerable Khomeini regime the unacceptability of such behaviour. 

Instead he launched a complicated high-risk under-planned under-rehearsed air-borne mission to rescue the hostages.  It came to catastrophic grief deep in the Iranian desert when two helicopters got lost, another suffered a mechanical breakdown and and a fourth taxied straight into a C-130 heavy transport airplane on the ground, destroying both craft and killing eight servicemen.  Many still view this abortive operation as a metaphor for the whole wretched Carter presidency. 

Eleven hostages were freed early, but the other 52 were held for 444 days, and were released only once Mr Carter had lost his re-election and immediately after Ronald Reagan was sworn in - a final Iranian insult to the hapless peanut farmer. 

Meanwhile, OPEC, spurred on by turmoil in Iran and the memory of the gigantic riches that flowed from the unprecedented price hikes of the first oil crisis in 1973, engineered another tsunami of money heading in their direction.  And as prices soared, Iraq's opportunistic invasion of Iran in 1980 further disrupted supplies from both countries, contributing to the 1979/80 leap in oil price from $16 to $40 a barrel.

In turn, this tipped most of the developed, oil-consuming world, including the US, into economic malaise and increased unemployment, which persisted until oil-prices collapsed in the mid-1980s. 

These are all the clouds, and by God there were many. 

But if you were involved in the industry during the crucial span of 1980-85, these were indeed silver-lining times, because at those juicy prices nearly everything you put your mind to seemed to turn a profit. 

When you're already happy with $15 a barrel, $25-35 is very welcome indeed, especially when you cannot imagine the price going anywhere but even higher.  So the industry boomed, and no more so than in the (non-OPEC) North Sea.  Aberdeen became a bonanza town redolent of San Francisco in its Gold Rush of 1848-55.   

My job at that time included heading up a small economics unit in Aberdeen for a major multi-national oil company with huge assets in the North Sea.  Staff who came up with ideas for making improvements to oil-producing platforms used to come to me to get an economic evaluation that they could present to management.  Typically, their question was along the lines of,


my proposed improvement will cost $20 million, and


add a further two million bucks per year in running costs,


but it will increase oil production by three hundred barrels a day for five years,


though reduce it by one hundred for the following ten, 

so over the fifteen years, will it make money for the company? 

The calculations were complicated because of the tortuous tax regime the UK imposed on the oil industry (plus the absence of computer-power).  But they would be carried out not only at the prevailing oil price and predictions, but also at a variety of lower and higher price scenarios in order to test the project's economic robustness in the face of alternative futures. 

And at the top end of the scale at which my team would routinely make its evaluations was Dr Yergin's dreaded $100/day, because in the business environment then prevailing this was not a totally preposterous supposition. 

But we're talking early 1980s: the inflation factor from then to now is around 2½.  That means, in today's terms, the oil price had already touched a hundred 2007 dollars (see chart) and we in the business were having to anticipate a possible stratospheric oil price of no less than $250/bbl.

When I would tell people this outside the industry - businessmen or just ordinary citizens who had to survive in the real world - they would visibly blanch.  Where I in my bubble was anticipating only further opportunities, they saw further recession, unemployment, inflation, general misery. 

Of course the good times (or bad times depending on whether you were inside or outside the bubble) didn't last, couldn't last.  The oil price crashed in 1986 (along with Aberdeen house-prices), but by that time I had moved on to Africa which was uncharacteristically experiencing its own little boom, though for completely different reasons. 

So, hundred dollar oil?  Been there, experienced that.  A quarter of a century ago.  Déjà vu all over again. 

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Celebrities and their Animal Problems

Most of us, if we have a problem with an animal, we fix it.  No big deal.  A bowl of food, a trip to the vet, whatever. 

Celebrities, it seems, are different, both in the animal problems they seem to face and the way they approach them.  

Take Priyanka, the beautiful, celebrity granddaughter of the late, assassinated Indira Ghandi.  Priyanka lives in a house in Delhi which recently found itself invaded by a horde of monkeys (well, at least one monkey), who had already bitten 31 people in the past two days, and some time earlier caused the deputy mayor to fall on his head.  The thought of a discommoded Ghandi put the civic authorities into a panic as they seemed to think the monkey problem was their problem.  On the basis of using a thief to catch a thief, they deployed their most powerful anti-monkey weapon in their (Hindu, non-lethal arsenal).  They sent in a langur.  That's another kind of monkey that, despite being vegetarian, apparently puts the fear of God (or rather, Brahmā/Vishnu/Shiva) into the first kind. 

Then there's the story of Jimmy Carter and the neighbour's cat, which came to light last week.  His abhorrence of violence (especially when applied in self-defence by any non-Muslim non-Christian non-Hindu non-Buddhist non-Atheist non-Agnostic democratic member of the United Nations confronted with rocket attacks) does not, it seems, extend to animals.  His letter of apology for having killed his sister-in-law's cat instead of only stinging (= torturing) it explains all. 

Cats beware; it's not just Jews he hates!

5/13/90 [13th May 1990]

To Sybil,

Lamentably, I killed your cat while trying just to sting it. It was crouched, as usual, under one of our bird feeders & I fired from some distance with bird shot. It may ease your grief somewhat to know that the cat was buried properly with a prayer & that I’ll be glad to get you another of your choice.

I called & came by your house several times. We will be in the Dominican Republic until Thursday. I’ll see you then.

Love, Jimmy [Carter,
Nobel Peace Laureate, 2002]

Further details here.

But then, he was already renowned for his fear of giant swimming rabbits, so perhaps we should not have been so surprised that he would brook no nonsense from a mere cat. 

And so we segue smoothly on to elephants and that well known international philanthropist Paris Hilton.  She is their latest champion - or demon - depending on your, or the elephants', point of view.  She, she who went to jail for drunk driving, is campaigning to wean elephants off - yes - alcohol.  Apparently, they've taken to stealing farmers' home-made rice-beer, binge-drinking and then going on the rampage.  Just like Ms Hilton, in many ways. 

It came to a head when, in a drunken stupor, six elephants uprooted an electricity pole and electrocuted themselves.  We've all done it. 

But Ms Hilton has made it her mission to persuade the pachyderms of the error of their ways, by means that so far remain undivulged.  Whatever the cure she has in mind for the fun-loving monsters, it evidently hasn't worked for her. 

As I said, celebs and their animal problems are different.

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Issue 166's Letters to the Press

Three letters, of which one - very-tongue-in-cheekish - was published.  Defending the Taoiseach probably made me more enemies than all my warmongering scribblings added together. 

bullet Dublin Bus Dispute
- to the Irish Times
I have no idea what the Dublin Bus dispute is about.  Something to do with additional routes (employees and unions generally welcome expansion because it means more jobs) and extra hours (ditto, unless unpaid).  But to strike in order to disrupt bus services is a ridiculous way for the drivers to argue their case ...
bullet Debate on Hospital Services
- to the Irish Times
Dr John Barton's pride that obstetric patients recently voted our small hospital [ie Portiuncula] number one for obstetric care in the country is intriguing (Letters, November 9th).  How did the patients know?  Did, for example, each woman produce ten babies in ten different hospitals ...
bullet Pay Rises for Top Politicians P!
Because He's Worth It
- to the Irish Times
At first, I was as aghast as everyone else at Bertie Ahern's self-awarded 14% increase bringing his annual salary to an eye-popping €310,000.  But then, I thought about what are the most important deliverables of any government to its people, and they are first security then prosperity.  By contrast, the rest is either details or trivia.  In terms of security, Ireland over Mr Ahern's decade has neither been invaded nor suffered terrorist attacks.  And though the crime rate has risen, it still stands comparison with other countries.  As for prosperity, the Celtic Tiger ...

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Quotes for Issue 166

- - - - - - - - - - F I N L A N D - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Hate. I am so full of it and I love it.  I will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection.”

Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the 18-year-old student
referred to himself as a “Natural Selector,
hours before he shot eight people dead at a school in Finland

- - - - - - - - - - P A K I S T A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: I will not serve as prime minister as long as Musharraf is president.

Pakistan's twice ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto talks tough
(but she's so hungry for power I doubt she means it)

Quote: “The day when there is no turmoil in Pakistan, I will step down

Pervez Musharraf makes it pretty clear
he has no intention of stepping down, ever

Quote: They need to release the people that they've arrested, they need to stop beating people in the streets, they need to restore press freedom and they need to get back on the path to democracy soon - now.

US national security council spokesman Gordon Johndroe
on the martial law situation in Pakistan,
warns that US patience is not never-ending.

- - - - - - - - - - I R A Q - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: If 2007 was the year of security, 2008 will be a year of reconstruction, a year of infrastructure repair and a year of - if there is going to be a surge - a year of the surge of the economy.”

General Joseph Fil, the US commander in Baghdad,
voices some optimism.

Quote: I don't believe the surge is working. … You don't measure progress by body counts.

From February to September this year, the body count has gone down
from 81 US troops killed per month to 38
and the monthly civilian death toll from 2,790 to 840

However Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson
is dismayed at the possible prospect of a non-defeat in Iraq. 
A dramatic decrease in dead American soldiers and dead Iraqi civilians
is evidently of little consequence to him.

- - - - - - - - - - I R A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hizbullah, who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon.  Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan ... Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. We will confront this danger before it is too late.

Quote: We have got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.

George Bush cranks up the rhetoric,
first at the 89th American Legion Convention
then at a recent White House press conference

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

Quote: I also came to say that one can be a friend of America, and yet win elections in France.”

President Nicolas Sarkozy at a White House dinner,
rebuilding France-America relations
destroyed by his bitter and twisted predecessor Jacques Chirac

- - - - - - - - - - P R O T O C O L - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Why don't you shut up?

King Juan Carlos of Spain,
in a stunning breach of protocol,
at an
Ibero-American summit in Santiago, Chile,
shuts up Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez
in the midst of a harangue about
of Spain's democratic leaders.

To add insult, the king employs
the familiar
tu used to address children
rather than the formal

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ISSUE #165 - 7th November 2007 [439+188=627]


Recognizing Non-Marital Unions


Chilling Prospect of an Obama Presidency


Bertie: Because He's Worth It


Shakespearean Guinea Pig


Issue 165's Letters to the Press


Quotes for Issue 165

Click here for Word Version of Issue #165

Recognizing Non-Marital Unions

Civil union, civil partnership, gay marriage.  It's all the talk, these days. 

Unless you're one of those who believe homosexuality is some kind of curable disease like leprosy or else a fun lifestyle choice like drinking wine instead of beer, you would have to feel sorry for the plight of gays and lesbians in a hetero world. 

A minority wherever they go, largely despised or disliked or disparaged, whether to their face or not, they can never feel fully comfortable except amongst-fellow gays.  And since they constitute only around 3% of the population, and rarely wear labels to identify themselves, it cannot be easy for them to find fellow gays to hang out with. 

For convenience, I am using the term “gays” to include “lesbians and gays”,
and also bisexuals and transgender people, sometimes known collectively as LGBTs.

Furthermore, except for those torn few who try to hide or suppress their true sexual nature, conventional marriage is out, as is having children and enjoying a normal family life.  Conventional marriage is, of course, a union between a man and woman who vow to stay together for life. 

For gay adherents to religions that forbid extra-marital sex, the situation is even worse, because they are condemned to a lifetime of celibacy. 

Thus when you hear proposals for making marriage available to gays and lesbians, you'd have to be especially hard-hearted to remain unsympathetic. 

Of course, there's nothing to stop two gays vowing to remain together as a couple for life.  But without legal standing they would be denied all the social benefits of marriage, specifically -


the opportunity to be taxed as a single unit rather than individually,


tax-free inheritance of assets between spouses,


the continued payment of a pension to a surviving spouse, and


certain other less pecuniary rights such as next-of-kin status. 

These benefits derive from the societal purpose of a sharing marriage: the procreation and raising of children by their parents, and thus not unduly penalising one parent for spending more time rearing and less time earning than the other.   Numerous studies demonstrate that for a child to have the best chance of growing up well adjusted mentally and able to support him/herself in adulthood, there is no better environment than being raised by its own, married (to each other) mother and father.  That's not to say that single parents or unmarried parents, or indeed gay parents, cannot raise children successfully, just that statistically the chances are lower. 

The payback for the state, therefore, of providing tax and other benefits is future citizens with the maximum chance of being able to contribute constructively to society. 

Thus, without children, or the possibility of children, such statutory benefits appear to make no sense. 

This is the practical objection to gay marriage: there is no reason for society to get involved because no children can ever result from the union. 

There are other, more spurious arguments for and against.  


It is discriminatory” to deny gays full marriage rights that heterosexuals enjoy. 

This is nonsense.  Gays do have full right to marry someone of the opposite sex, just like everyone else.  It's just something they don't choose to do. 


Nearly all religions abhor gay marriage because, well, it is contrary to their religious teaching. 

Unless you live in a theocratic state, this is no argument at all.  It simply amounts to the answer's no because it's no


Gay marriage undermines heterosexual marriage. 

This too is ridiculous.  How can my marriage be demeaned just because two gays get married?  Does it bring me closer to divorce? 


Indeed, heterosexual divorce is the one thing that truly does undermine marriage, for its widespread availability attributes to the vow till death to us part the meaning till divorce do us part”.  This Alice-in-Wonderland verbal contortion turns marriage into a much less risky venture and can thus be entered into much more frivolously (just ask Britney)

And yet, gays are human beings of flesh and blood with all the wants, needs and longings of everyone else. 

It seems churlish to deny them the benefits of marriage so freely - and frivolously - available to others.  Is there no benefit to society that might offset the cost of the benefits?

Well, as a matter of fact there is.  People often criticise the promiscuous lifestyle of many gays, with its scope to contract STDs on the one hand and set a bad example to impressionable youth on the other.  To such critics (though they may not want to admit it), a life-long commitment of love and fidelity between cohabiting same-sex partners, reinforced by the state, can only represent an improvement.  Society would certainly get some payback for the concession of legal recognition, but far less than that of generating responsible future citizens. 

On balance, therefore, I have tended to favour some kind of state recognition, though it should never be called marriage as this term has a strict meaning of one man and one woman and the language doesn't need another verbal contortion in this contentious area. 

And yet ...

Since the result of granting legal status to gay unions, means conveying some very real financial advantages, a question immediately follows: what's so special about a partnership that's gay?  If gays are going to benefit, there are plenty of other partnerships that also need to be considered.  For example, think about these


Two elderly brothers who have shared a house all their lives


A spinster daughter and/or bachelor son living with their widowed mother


Lifelong bridge partners who have long shared a home together


Celibate gays


Three siblings

Once you move away from the one-man-one-woman formula, the possible permutations become limitless. 

In such an ambience, the one thing that would distinguish gay partnerships from all the others is that sex is involved, albeit fruitless sex.  But do we really want the state, in supporting gay unions, to say that this status is available only if they promise to indulge in fruitless sex?  And is a gay-sex-monitoring policeman to make midnight calls to ensure compliance?

Surely to grant special financial privileges, at taxpayer expense, to a sexually active gay couple, while denying it to a non-gay non-sexually active co-habiting pair (or even trio) is indeed discriminatory, as well as most odd, since it would be making gay sex a prerequisite. 

Yet the absence of this prerequisite is to open the doors to all kinds of people - genuine and mountebank alike - claiming to be civil partners as a tax-convenient ploy, often probably exercised on the deathbed of any conveniently ageing relative or friend. 


And if you think people wouldn't take deathbed measures to minimise tax for their relatives and friends, Linda McCartney, resident in England for three decades, did exactly that.  Dying of cancer in 2000, she hired top Manhattan lawyers to dream up a wheeze whereby her will was probated in New York rather than her place of residence, in order to dodge 40% inheritance tax in Britain.  This handed her (almost penniless) husband Paul, family and friends a cool £60 million extra.   (Even Heather Mills will probably end up with a piece of it as part of her divorce settlement.) 

Without blatantly discriminating in favour of gays, I don't see how you can ever put proper limits on two people hitching up for purely tax purposes.  And that is not to talk about triple and quadruple partnerships.  For if the man-woman part of the marriage bargain is to be opened up, why should the two-person restriction not also be opened up?  Everything would be up for grabs. 

So, for all the sympathy I have for the plight of gays, I have reversed my thinking, and no longer would support any kind of civil union for them or anyone else.  It's


either too discriminatory against non-gays, or else


too wide open to abuse by tax-dodgers. 

In jurisdictions - such as Britain's - which have granted significant tax advantages to gay couples in civil unions, it is only a matter of time before non-gay couples claim and obtain similar rights.  It's already happening. 

Britain's two elderly Burden sisters, who have lived together all their lives, want to avail of the inheritance tax waiver now available to gay couples.  They fear that otherwise, when one of them dies, the other will have to sell their shared house to pay her dead sister's inheritance tax.  The UK's legislative system and the European Court have both denied their request, so they are now appealing to the EU's so-called Grand Chamber, claiming discrimination under the terms of the European Convention of Human Rights.  It is only a matter of time before they - or similar claimants who may follow them - are successful. 

And just as abortion law - originally highly restrictive - has over the years become de-facto abortion-on-demand until criminally late into pregnancy, so tax-advantageous civil unions will eventually become available to any couple (or triple) who ask for it, regardless of the reason for their coupling/tripling and despite what happens or doesn't happen in the bedroom.  The idea of any payback to society will be long forgotten in the rush. 

So make no mistake.  Each additional concession will cut into the tax take, which will then have to be compensated either by increased taxes paid by others or by reduced public services. 

So let gays make their vows and commitments to each other, and good luck to them, they need it.  But leave the state out of it.  It should be a purely private arrangement.  Just as the state cannot grow back the leg of an amputee, so it cannot reverse someone's homosexuality.  It is something the unfortunate person simply has to learn to live with. 

Late Note (14th January 2008):
An article by me, distilled down from the above, appeared in the OpEd page of the (subscription-only) Irish Times
as the
NO part of a debate entitled

Head2Head: Should the State Sanction Gay Marriage?Should the State sanction gay marriage?
YES part was written by
Eloise McInerney of LGBT Noise

I have transcribed the debate here,
along with the (furious) letters it provoked and my responses to them.
I have also written a short follow-up post.

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Chilling Prospect of an Obama Presidency

Barack Obama burst from nowhere onto the American and international landscape after a barnstorming performance from the podium of the US Democratic Party's national convention in 2004.  He completely overshadowed the candidate eventually nominated to challenge George Bush, namely the abysmal John Kerry. 

Mr Obama is wonderfully articulate, a stirring orator, yet courtly, charming and charismatic.  And in his determined quest for the 2008 Democratic nomination and ultimately the US presidency, he seems hardly to have put a foot wrong. 

Until now. 

Last week, he gave a lengthy - and thoroughly alarming - interview to the New York Times.  He clearly wants to parade to the world his vision, skill and diplomacy when it comes to foreign affairs - unlike a certain sitting president, and another ex-president's uppity wife. 

If/when elected, he promises to launch an aggressive, personal diplomatic effort to engage Iran, holding out the prospect of a guarantee that the United States will not seek regime change in Tehran.

I would meet directly with Iranian leaders. I would meet directly with Syrian leaders. We would engage in a level of aggressive personal diplomacy ... we are not hell bent on regime change ... ”, he says.

Wow!  So a leading contender for the next presidency of the world's most powerful nation wants to encourage the continuance of one of the world's most evil, repressive, dictatorial, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, misogynistic, theocratic, jihadist regimes.  A regime which


stones women for adultery,


beheads gays (whilst denying their existence),


promotes paedophilia (with a female age of consent of just nine years),


fosters terrorism and suicide bombing (via Hezbollah and Hamas amongst others),


develops nuclear weapons with the avowed intention of wiping a UN democracy from the map. 


Ah yes, those inconvenient nuclear weapons ...

Question: When Vice President Cheney said we cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear weapon state, do you agree with that?

Mr Obama: What I believe is that we should do everything in our power to prevent that in the broader context of our long-term security interests.

Question: And if we fail to prevent it?

Mr Obama: I’m not going to speculate on whether we’re going to fail.

Make no mistake.  His unwillingness to reinforce Cheney's clear assertion means only one thing: that he is prepared to allow Iran have the bomb.  Again,

Iran has shown no inclination to back off of their support of Shia militias as a consequence of the threats that they’ve been receiving.”

In other words, threats haven't worked so let's stop making them. 

You can just visualise the mullahs in Tehran as they salivate at the thought of an Obama presidency: 


Their regime is safe;


their bomb can go ahead;


all nasty threats will cease.   

Who can blame them for concluding that Mr Obama will do anything for a quiet life (apart from the occasional Kaboom and a few million splattered Jews). 

And then there is that other annoying issue, Iraq. 

Would-be president Obama tells us he'll spend his first sixteen months removing troops from Iraq, but if widespread sectarian killing follows he will work in concert with the international community.  Hurrah for the UN.  But a bit unfortunate for those who end up murdered, but that's never worried the Left. 

I am not going to set up our troops for failure and I’m not going to do something half-baked  Oh, no?  It's not what it sounds like. 

This was not a quick live interview on TV but a long newspaper one.  Thus you cannot attribute Mr Obama's remarks to inept verbiage, inadvertently saying something different from what he really meant.  For he would have had an opportunity to correct any mistakes or loose language. 

He has thus has let a bright light shine on his inner thought processes, and what it has revealed is as you can see very dangerous. 

Unless he undergoes some kind of Damascene conversion on issues of national (and global) security, we non-Americans have to fervently hope Hillary thumps him solidly in the primaries.  She may not be my cup-of-tea, but she's a lot more mindful than he about the existential Islamist threat of our times. 

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Bertie: Because He's Worth It

A couple of weeks ago, Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern awarded himself a whopping 14% pay rise, his 26th since taking office a decade ago, bringing his annual emolument to €310,000.  His fellow ministers and other public worthies such as top judges and policemen received similar (though not quite as large) largesse.  He did not improve things for himself when he said next day that,

There has been deterioration in our cost competitiveness in recent years and arresting this trend will be key to growth prospects.  This must be a key consideration when we come to consider the next phase of negotiations on pay under Towards 2016, referring to a national wage deal that covers most public workers.

There has been understandable uproar among the downtrodden masses, not only those public workers whose belts must be tightened, but everyone who toils to provide the taxes needed to fund the politicians' bloated wages. 

Mr Ahern's excuse is that the pay rises were not his idea.  They were the recommendations of a special Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector to bring the pay of senior public servants in line with that in the private sector.  Of course, he is loath to acknowledge certain caveats to this innocent sounding explanation (ref Sunday Times 4th Nov, no URL):


The commission members were appointed by friends and colleagues of the beneficiaries, so would naturally want to thank them. 


They considered that international comparisons would not bevalid.


Their terms of reference were specifically to seek out instances of underpayment relative to the private sector, but not vice versa. 


They considered it unduly harsh to take into account


the unsackability of public servants, who enjoy both security of tenure and fat pensions, unlike in the private sector, or


that many parliamentarians run lucrative businesses (pubs, property, farming) on the side. 

To cap it all, it quickly emerged that Mr Ahern is now paid more than any other national leader in the OECD, including George Bush, Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy. 

As a taxpayer, I've been inclined to be as mad as anyone else about all this, but there are different ways of looking at things. 

The purpose of a government is essentially just twofold: to provide both security and prosperity for its people.  The rest is either details or trivia. 

Ireland has done fine from a security point of view.  No foreign invasions and no terrorist attacks.  You could argue that this is due to the implicit protection of Britain and the US, since its own armed forces are lamentably incapable of repelling anyone, but the result still stands.  Even the rising crime rate compares well with other countries.   

As for prosperity, the Celtic Tiger has been flying for a decade, outstripping nearly everyone in Europe and elsewhere, for whom it is a model to be emulated.  Its economic boom and feel-good factor are everywhere to be seen and felt.  And for this, surely government ministers can claim some credit and deserve some reward.  They have helped shape the environment and conditions that fostered the extraordinary growth. 

So I prepared this little table to compare the salaries of various rich-country national chief executives with Gross Domestic Product per person, a good indicator of the population's average income, the one thing most of us care most about. 



Executive Leader

GDP pp, $

Annual Salary**


As a multiple
of GDP pp


Lee Hsien Loong





Gordon Brown





Angela Merkel





Nicolas Sarkozy





Bertie Ahern





John Howard





George Bush




**Salary figures are from the print edition of the Sunday Times, 28th Oct 07, except where linked

US$ 1 = €0.693755 as at 30 Oct 07

On this basis, Mr Ahern is not greedy at all, claiming just ten times the average GDP pp; most of the others listed are greedier.  The Executive Leader of the smallest country - tiny Singapore - is the most voracious by far with a massive factor of over sixty.  By contrast, in an almost biblical analogy (the last shall be first), the humblest is the largest - the born-again Christian Mr Bush with barely nine.  

So maybe we shouldn't be griping about Bertie's raise after all.  Because he's worth it. 

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Shakespearean Guinea Pig

Here's a small trifle of wives:
alas, fifteen wives is nothing!
Eleven widows and nine maids
is a simple coming-in for one man ...
Well, if Fortune be a woman,
she's a good wench for this gear

So says Launcelot, bragging to Bassiano about his gear, in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.  By my reckoning, this adds up to 35 lucky ladies. 

Sooty the guinea pig must have been swotting up on his Shakespeare, seeking to emulate the exploits of Launcelot.  But sadly, though it appears Fortune did indeed favour his own gear, he could only manage 24 ...

"I need only twelve more to beat that braggard Launcelot"

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Issue 165's Letters to the Press

The Leftist Irish Times is always touchy over criticism of Cuba, and although last year it did deign to publish a letter from me decrying Castro's murderous ways, this time it declined.

However I was surprised to see my drink-driving letter printed, because just the day before another letter appeared on the subject, making broadly the same points as mine, but expressing them better. 


Change in Drink Driving Limits P!
- to the Irish Times
Both Prof Joe Barry and Dr Declan Bedford call for the lowering of the blood-alcohol level to below the current 0.8 mg per 100 ml, in the belief that this will reduce road deaths.  Yet there no-one has ever produced any evidence that reducing this figure ...  


The Fun of Living in Castro's Cuba
- to the Irish Times
For Barry Walsh it is
amusing that President Bush should call for Cubans to throw off the shackles of Communism.  Perhaps he would not find it quite so funny were he himself forced to live for the past 48 years in Fidel Castro's brutal prison state that had killed 73,000 of his countrymen in pursuit of the most evil ideology ...

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Quotes for Issue 165

- - - - - - - - - - P A S S C H E N D A E L E - - - - - - - - - -

Quote (heard on BBC TV on 5th November): “It was either over the top or be shot for cowardice; you had six seconds to decide.

Harry Patch, 109, Britain's oldest surviving World War 1 Tommy,
a member of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry,
was one of the few who “went over the top
yet returned from the trenches and muddy misery of
albeit badly wounded, to tell the tale.

In August 2007, he published his autobiography, The Last Fighting Tommy”;
this makes him the world's oldest-ever autobiographer. 

Let us never forget the courage of Mr Patch and his long-dead colleagues
on the killing fields of Flanders.

- - - - - - - - - - S P A I N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Justice was rendered today.

Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero,
on the conviction of 21 men for the Madrid bombing atrocity
by Al Qaeda-inspired Islamists on 11th March 2004. 

Eighteen were sentenced to periods of 10-18 years,
but three got a eye-watering 40,000 years. 

Though the maximum anyone can serve under Spanish law
is currently forty years,
one can hope that this will be changed
so that 40,000 years means dying in jail. 

Mr Zapetero was elected three days after the bombing
on the promise - which he kept - of withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq.
This made it Al Qaeda's finest triumph,
where a Western electorate collectively submitted to its demands
under fear of further terror.

- - - - - - - - - - P A K I S T A N - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: These political madrasahs preach hatred and churn out brainwashed robots that become arsenals of weapons of violating the constitution of Pakistan.

One week after she was nearly assassinated by two suicide bombers,
on her return from nine years of exile,
Pakistan's ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto
assails the madrasahs, the Islamic schools in Pakistan
that are breeding grounds for terrorism.

Quote: Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan and I cannot allow this country to commit suicide.

In fact, it turns out to be its military dictator Pervez Musharraf
who violates the constitution of Pakistan.

He concocts this excuse for declaring emergency law,
which enables him to remove and arrest
the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry,
whom he once before failed to sack,
days before Mr Chaudry was due to declare
Mr Musharraf's recent re-election to be invalid. 

Ms Bhutto has likewise been thwarted from her plan to regain power
in democratic elections hitherto scheduled for early 2008.

- - - - - - - - - - T U R K E Y - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Either you will be our neighbour, or our target ... Our goal will be to transform the Kurdish dream into a Turkish nightmare.

Ertugrul Ozkok, editor of the
Turkish Daily News, Turkey's most influential newspaper,
gives a last warning
Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish regional authority in northern Iraq. 

His words were later endorsed by General Yasar Buyukanit,Turkey's top soldier,
who told him, That is the correct diagnosis.

Turkey is deeply fearful that the example of
Kurdish de-facto democracy and freedoms in Iraq,
flourishing since 1991 and becoming ever more prosperous,
will inspire Turkish Kurds who have always been repressed.

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

Quote: I think it's a bit upsetting to see so many countries running away from giving their people an opportunity.  If you believe in something, why not let your people have a say in it? ... Perhaps others shouldn't be so much afraid of it.

Bertie Ahern, Ireland's Taoiseach (prime minister)
advocates more countries holding a referendum
on the new EU Constitutional Treaty, oops Reform Treaty, oops Lisbon Treaty. 

Of course the only reason Ireland is holding one is that
it is the only EU country whose constitution demands it.

Quote: A pox on all your houses.”

Long-time career armed robber Frank Ward,
on being (justifiably) sentenced to life imprisonment
for yet another armed robbery,
which resulted in his victim losing a leg. 

See my recent post, My (ahem) New Crime Novel
for the full thrilling story. 

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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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