This archive 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Index of All Articles in the Archive
#14 - 27th October 2002
Two weeks ago I talked about the Irish Famine and its aftermath, the
combined effect of which halved the population through starvation, disease
and emigration over a period of ninety miserable years, underlain by an
overall inability to recover economically.
I came across this article
by Professor Vaclav Smil in the British Medical Journal describing the ghastly Chinese Famine of 1959-62.
Unlike the Irish Famine, the Chinese Famine was caused primarily by the
deliberate action of man. Actually, one man, Mao Tse-Tung, who in
launching his Great Leap Forward
in 1958 secured his place in history of mankind as the greatest mass-murderer
of all time.
Mao made steel-production the nation's number one priority, in fact its
only priority. Tens of millions of peasants were forced from the
| to mine for iron, |
| to cut trees for charcoal, |
| to smelt metal, |
surrender even their cooking pots for melting down. |
The result was
mainly lumps of brittle cast iron unfit for even simple tools.
Meanwhile, food production plunged
- yet (as in Ireland) food exports continued; and as the peasants starved,
the political élite continued to be well fed. This dramatically
illustrates the rôle of non-representative government, in that the direct
penalties of the famine were borne by one group of people (the
peasants) whereas the political decisions were taken by another (the
rulers). Had the rulers been accountable to the ruled, both groups
would have been forced to share the pain. This would have ensured that the steps eventually taken as from 1962 to
resolve the famine, such as opening China to grain and fertilizer imports
and to freer trade, would have been implemented years earlier. Tens
of millions fewer would have perished.
Natural factors, such as a drought in 1960-61, exacerbated the famine,
yet even some of these were man-made. Several species of birds
thought to devour crops were proclaimed vermin and a nation-wide programme
of slaughter ensued. Doubtless this provided some extra protein for
consumption, but it immediately led to a dramatic rise in the insect
population (which was normally kept in check by the birds) resulting in
increased crop losses.
Mortality figures have never been accurately gathered. Reckonings
range from 16½ to 40 million, but the most generally accepted estimates
seem to be around 30m unfortunates (plus a similar number of lost or
postponed births). This chart,
with the famine period shaded, shows both the official Chinese figures for
the death-rate, peaking at 25 deaths per thousand in 1960, and a
reconstructed rate (peaking at 44/1,000) believed to be closer to the
Huge as the 30m figure is, it represents only some 5% of China's pre-famine
population of 641
million. Moreover, it is quite remarkable as the death rate chart
how dramatically the population decline was arrested in 1962 once the
remedial steps were begun. The pain lasted only three
this with Ireland's famine
[chart updated in 2006].
Its population also declined by about 5% in the first three years
1841-44. But after that it just kept falling and falling - for the
next ninety years until it was almost halved.
China's, Ireland's famine was not the result of deliberate, murderous government
again unlike China, the failure to recover was the result of gross,
culpable government incompetence and disinterest. |
at least no-one responsible for the Irish Famine or its aftermath is
glorified. To this day, even in Western society, the monster Mao
Tse-Tung is revered and celebrated as some sort of icon, yet no single
person is responsible for more avoidable deaths than he.
even name restaurants after him, for goodness sake, though I'm not going
to provide links. I would rather
eat in a restaurant called Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot or Idi Amin.
I had wanted to write something about the Washington Snipers, but when
I read Sunday Times columnist Andrew Sullivan's take
on 25th October, I found I had nothing to add. Thought provoking;
well worth reading.
More Innocents Die as Russia Mishandles
Russian rulers have a centuries-old tradition of not caring about the
human lives of their people. Think of Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great,
Lenin, Stalin and countless other imperialist leaders.
The break up of the Soviet Empire uncovered the Russian Federation for what it is, a Russian Empire comprising Russia
itself plus a large collection of unwilling nations, of different ethnicity,
language, religion, culture, assembled by force of arms. Little Chechnya,
brutally conquered in the 19th century, is
but one of these nations.
Russian leaders disregard of human life was brutally exposed in all
its fecklessness to an aghast world when the Kursk submarine sank
in August 2000 killing all on board.
|President Putin didn't want the crisis to interrupt his sunny
holiday on the Black Sea; |
|his military leaders preferred to see the subs crew die horribly rather than
suffer the humiliation of allowing foreign experts to help; |
|the prime ministers thugs forcibly sedated a dead
mother who shouted at him at a TV press conference. |
The whole conduct of the two Chechen wars, insofar as they have been
reported on, seems to be an abject lesson in how to brutalize a nation for
the sin of not wanting to remain a member of the Russian
The recent theatre hostage crisis has provided yet another opportunity for
Russian leaders to be casual about other peoples lives. From the
moment that more than 50 Chechen rebels seized Moscows Palace of Culture
Theatre taking hostage the
audience of some 800, it was notable how the concepts of negotiation and
patience were absent from the pronouncements of Russian leaders and
pundits. Enraged, understandably, by the heinous crime, they were
clearly itching to get in there and sort the rebels out. They waited
only 58 hours; negotiations were perfunctory at best. There was no
attempt to try to wear down the kidnappers emotional and physical resistance,
much less seek a peaceable resolution.
It has been stated that the rebels killed two hostages and that this
was the trigger for the Russian special forces to go in, but there doesnt
seem much evidence for this. Indeed, at least one newspaper
says the raid started before dawn on the basis that the rebels said they
would start executing hostages at dawn, ie none had actually been
What is clear is that, in what from a
military point of view seems to have been a well executed operation, the
siege was forcibly ended with the death of
50 rebels and some 90 hostages (still counting) and the gassing of the rest. A few rebels seemed to have
escaped and the remainder were captured. Only one of the
In the TV footage that followed, Russian officials including President
Putin were seen
| congratulating themselves on the operation, |
| talking of
having liquidated most of the rebels, |
| visiting surviving
hostages in hospital. |
But from none of them was there a word of
remorse for the huge loss of life among the hostages - over two killed
for every rebel. Actually, Putin did in the end make a not very
convincing TV apology for the death of hostages.
Meantime, the authorities refuse even to disclose the nature of the gas
that incapacitated so many surviving hostages, thus making more difficult
the task of the hospitals that are treating them. The mystery gas was
also directly responsible for many of the hostage fatalities, through
heart failure, breathing difficulty and choking on vomit. It
seems likely that the gas is forbidden under international chemical
weapons treaties; hence the secrecy.
For the Russian leaders, the ending of the siege was an unmitigated
success, and no churlish remarks about trivial civilian deaths or sick
hostages will be
allowed to sully it.
Of course any sort of success at all vis-à-vis the Chechen War is a
rare enough event. Why don't the Russians just
|declare victory, |
|grant Chechnya the independence it craves, |
|walk away and |
|seal the border behind them ? |
Late Note (Monday 28th) : The truth trickles
out. The hostage death toll has now risen to 115 and all but
two were gassed by their rescuers. 646 remain
in hospital, including 150 in intensive care. That means of the 800
hostages, 761 - 95% - are casualties. The Russian media suggest
that the deaths could double. Relatives are kept away and uninformed;
the identity of the gas remains a state secret.
But hey, there will
be generous compensation - a princely £2,200 for dead hostages, £1,100 for live
The current Russian leadership continues its
centuries-old tradition of not caring about the humanity of its people.
Limits Free Diving
On October 12th, in the Dominican Republic, Audrey
Mestre, a glamorous French free-diver of 27, set
out to establish a new world record by diving to 165 metres (541 feet) on
a single breath of air, while being filmed for an upcoming movie, Oceanwomen.
She was attempting to break the No
Limits world record that her husband Pipin Ferreras set in January
they were the most famous free-diving couple in the world.
Audrey was born a water baby and got hooked on free diving through a
combination of science and romance. Both her grandfather and mother were
spearfishers, and from her early teens, Audrey was an accomplished scuba
diver. After her family moved to Mexico, she studied marine biology at La
Paz University and for her thesis examined the effect of deep diving on
There are three main versions of free diving, each bringing you deeper
- Constant Ballast or Constant Weight : Diving without
any external aids other than flippers and mask. The world record for
this is 87 metres, set in April 2002.
- Variable Weight : Dragging
yourself down a rope anchored to the bottom. Record 131 meters,
- No Limits : Allowing yourself to be pulled down
the rope by a 200 lb weight and brought back to the surface with the
help of an inflatable balloon. The record
for this is 162 metres, which is what Audrey was trying to
No Limits is the
showiest, most dangerous and most exciting of the three. It is about exploring
the outer ranges
in a dark, cold, lonely rush through the ocean depths. At
70 metres the pressure is strong enough to crush a Coca Cola tin. The
lungs constrict to one eighth of their capacity and the heart rate drops
dramatically, redirecting the blood flow from the legs and arms to more
vital areas. It hurts.
Audrey's record attempt ended in tragedy. Taking a huge gulp of
air, she apparently reached bottom. But on her way back
to the surface, she blacked out at a depth of 90 metres. An emergency
inflatable device was activated to rush her to the surface, but it was too
to resuscitate her were fruitless. Her dying moments, foaming at the mouth
and bleeding, were stark and terrible. The dive was supposed to
take only three minutes, and she had been underwater more than nine
By its nature, No
Limits pushes the body to the limits of survivability, so in a sense
an eventual fatality was inevitable. But Audrey's death will not
deter adherents. Additional safety measures will be put in place and
techniques further improved.
| No doubt Pippin's record of 162m will
one day be successfully exceeded; and
no doubt there will be others who
Ulrika's Date Rape
Johnson, the 34-year-old Swedish beauty, has
just launched her autobiography Honest.
In it she claims that, when she was a TV weather girl of 19, she was
date-raped by a well-known TV presenter, subsequently identified as John
Leslie. On 24th
October, the Daily Mirror reported
that her book says she spent four days in hospital recovering.
In a recent TV
interview she talked of being violated and raped and that she
felt a sense of responsibility towards other women in a similar situation.
Yet she is not pressing charges; she merely seems to be milking the
incident to promote her book sales.
She has put herself in a slippery situation.
Either she was raped, in which case since she has
publicised the matter, she has a duty to report it to the police,
mainly to put a stop to further offences against women by the alleged rapist.
Of course it will mean going to court and trying to back up her
case, which may be hard.
Or she wasnt raped, in which case her book is
lying and she lays herself open to a suit by an outraged John Leslie
for libel and hefty damages.
Even her present do-nothing stance is fraught,
because surely the police are obliged to bring a prosecution for a
widely reported serious crime, when all the principal parties have
been identified. (It would also
help their abysmal crime-solving statistics !)
Roy Keane disclosed in his recent autobiography
that he had deliberately assaulted Manchester City midfielder Alf Inge
Haaland in a game in April 2001. The TV footage clearly shows Roy
aiming his boot at Alf's shin not the ball. For this, and for
publicising his intent, the Football Association punished
him with a £150,000 fine plus five match ban.
Quite right too.
Ulrika and Roy both chose, for reasons of personal
reward and narcissistic delight, to bring into the public domain colourful
aspects of their lives. Celebrities
such as they should realise that this kind of egotistical self-publicity brings responsibility and accountability as well as the
#13 - 20th October 2002
Fields of Bali
The appalling October 12th bombing, which killed over 200 people, most
of them Australian youngsters on holiday, was not the first taste of hell
in that erstwhile Paradise on earth known as Bali.
Like many ex-colonies, Indonesia is an unnatural country of different
nationalities, religions, languages, cultures, with no common theme. It
|was assembled for its spices and oil by
the Dutch in the nineteenth century, |
|was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, |
|fought a five-year war of
independence in which the future president Suharto distinguished himself,
and finally |
|gained self-rule in 1950 with the revered Sukarno as its
(It's odd that many Indonesians have only one name.)
An attempted coup d'état in 1965 by communist revolutionaries known as
the PKI, which had over 1½ million members, was defeated.
alliance of anti-communists, Islamists and the military, with General
Suharto in the vanguard, then fomented a (nominally) anti-PKI purge, with
the army and
mobs engaged in large-scale massacres of half a million people. This
began in Bali where 80,000 were killed (an appalling 5% of its
population), then spread to East-Java Province and Sumatra. And
because this was all done in the name of anti-communism, it shamefully had
the support of the Western powers including the CIA.
Out of the chaos, which included rampant inflation requiring a
thousandfold devaluation of the rupiah, emerged General
Suharto as supreme leader, deposing his colleague Sukarno in 1967, who
died under house arrest three years later.
In hindsight, of course, we can see that the anti-communist excuse and rhetoric
were just a cover for
power-consolidation and suited Suharto's purposes admirably as events
proved. He went on to misrule Indonesia for the next 31 years with a
mixture of repression, cronyism, corruption and illiterate
economics. The current (unimpressive) president, Megawati
Sukarnopoutri, is the daughter of Sukarno.
So the pain associated with the tragedy of October 12th is no stranger
to outwardly placid Bali. Perhaps the mixture of a Hindu island in a Muslim
archipelago pandering to the
pleasures of Christian tourists makes it irresistible to certain
types of evil people.
Meantime, the perpetrators have ensured that Australia is a fully
committed and active ally of America's in the global War on
Terrorism. In time, they will pay a terrible price for their
You can find a detailed if incomplete history of Indonesia here.
Ministers Do the Work of 14 in N Ireland
Féin, for reasons best
known to themselves, have managed to engineer the collapse of Northern
Irelands ruling Executive, the fourth suspension since it was
An interesting aspect of this
is that the British Government have appointed two
new ministers from the mainland, Ian Pearson (MP for Dudley
South) and Angela Smith
(MP for Basildon), to join the
Northern Secretary, John
Reid, and his colleagues, Jane Kennedy and Des
Browne in running the province.
The five of them will carry
out the work previously performed, with the consultative assistance of several
five political parties.
In other words, the work of
fourteen Northern Ireland ministers plus the committees will now be done by just five
people. In fact, since three
of them were already in place, you could argue that the work of the
fourteen will be done by only the two new Westminster MPs, Mr Pearson and
A year ago, I had the
opportunity to go to Stormont
on a visit graciously hosted by the UUPs Chief Whip, Jim
As this was during the third suspension of the Executive, I asked
him who was running the province, and he said (with a sly smile) that civil
servants were. When I asked
what the civil servants would do when the Executive was eventually
reinstated he replied that they would go back to doing their normal jobs.
In appointing Mr Pearson and
Ms Smith, Dr Reid has said that he will be a
Secretary, willing to tackle difficult issues that Executive ministers
were reluctant to act on, such as
In other words, by bringing in
a mere two ministers Dr Reid plans to do not only the same work as the
fourteen recently displaced Northern Ireland ministers, but to do more -
and more difficult - work.
We may find that the
people of Northern Ireland actually prefer the services afforded by Dr
Reids team to what they have been experiencing under their elected representatives.
That should give all political parties pause for thought, not to
mention the fourteen displaced ministers who are aching to regain the
responsibilities and trappings of office.
The longer the suspension, the more you will have to question
the size of the eventually reconstituted Executive and the value it gives
one day, the people on mainland UK may enter the debate. After all,
it is they who contribute 70% of the running costs of Northern
Ireland. The natives pay only 30% and the work of the ministers
therefore centres not on raising money but on spending it. An easy
Korea Goes Apologetic
not often that we hear about goings on in the reclusive Stalinist
dictatorship that is North Korea, suffering under the hereditary misrule
of the enigmatic Kim Jong-Il, tutored at the knee of his
Kim Il Sung.
suddenly two curious items occur.
North Korea :
to kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s (how many more
them have died, and then
the remaining five back to Japan (though not their children - doubtless to ensure
their parents' good behaviour).
has been enough for Japan to resume talks and promises of aid.
kidnappees, plucked from Japanese streets, smuggled to
North Korea and forced to teach Japanese language and culture to North
Korean spies, were of no military, scientific, political or monetary
was a 13-year-old girl snatched on her way home from school.
nabbed an engaged couple walking along the beach in the moonlight.
mother of two was stolen as she dropped her children off at day
victims were young and female (talk about soft targets).
But never mind, Kim Jong-Il has said hes really, really
sorry for all this, and has promised not to do it again.
out of the blue, the same tyrant suddenly admits
via his officials that yes, he has been
developing enriched uranium with the express intention of building nuclear
weapons. This is in flagrant contravention of his 1994
Japan and the Clinton administration to forego nuclear weapons
in exchange for a gift of two modern nuclear power plants.
In both cases, the surprise is not the acts
themselves, which are thoroughly in character of both the man and his
murderous father, but the admissions. Based on previous patterns,
North Korea has only given something when
it wants - and
generally gets - something huge in return.
So the question is, what's he after this time ?
Well it's money of course, it always is. But this time it is perhaps tinged
with fear arising out of President Bush's Axis of Evil
phrase and his subsequent belligerence towards Iraq. From Kim
Jong-Il's perspective, Bush probably looks slightly mad and therefore to
be treated with caution. So once again, as in Iraq, Bush's behaviour
is eliciting concessions from despots.
The Soviet Union was defeated not by arms but by the
crippling economic cost of trying to match America's arms spending under a
cloud of bellicose statements (remember the evil
empire) from President Reagan. Perhaps we are seeing signs
of North Korea's collapse under similar economic pressure. The
tragedy is that the North Korean people are starving to death the longer
the wicked regime remains in place. The current per capita annual
income is US$900 which is a mere twelfth of that in free, capitalistic
days of the current regime are surely numbered.
Protest Turns Sour
to see Scottish devolution in action in the form of Scottish children not
willing to be pushed around by mindless multinational organizations from
Scotsman newspaper (motto Scottish News direct
from Scotland) reports
that two men from PETA (People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals, a large multinational animal rights
organization), one in a cow-suit, recently conducted a protest outside an
Aberdeen school to let pupils know about the claimed hazards in milk and
cruelty to cows. But then in response about 100 children, carrying banners
and shouting milk for the masses, quite reasonably pelted
them with cartons of milk, until - thoroughly drenched - they had to be
rescued by two gallant policewomen.
pupil, Alan Smith, 16, said: I certainly wont stop drinking milk
just because a man has dressed up as a cow outside my school.
time these unaccountable multinationals were brought under control,
dont you think ?
BBC Wildlife Photographer
of the Year
Have a look here
at the delightful winning entries to this year's competition, currently on view
at London's Natural History Museum.
In particular, view the overall winner - a photograph
by Angie Scott of a family of elephants staring at a strutting heron in a
University of Hertfordshire has just competed a year of remarkable
research to find the world's funniest joke. (This is not a
joke). People from all over the world apparently sent in their
favourite jokes, no fewer than 40,000 in all, and provided almost two
million ratings of how funny they found other jokes. Goodness knows
how the relevant faculty of the university managed to sequester the money for
well as sifting through all the data to discover the best joke in the world, the university
research also identified the jokes rated funniest by respondents in
America, Canada, Australia,
Belgium, Germany and the UK, along with various also-ran jokes. Many
of them are not new.
To save you the trouble of clicking through various website pages to
find them, here
they are, starting with ...
The World's Best Joke
A couple of New Jersey
hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He
doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The
other guy whips out his cell phone and ...
Ah, heck, just click here
and you'll find them all, neatly assembled for your edification !
#12 - 13th October 2002
Suicide Bombers - A Father's
Abu Saber, the distraught father of a young Palestinian suicide bomber,
has written a most moving letter
to the Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat (translated into English by MEMRI). He is doubly distraught
because the bomb organizers are now targeting his 16-year old second son
to emulate his brother. For the bereaved family, having their home
razed to the ground under the new Israeli policy is merely an aside in
comparison with their heart-rending grief.
He begins by quoting from the Koran (2:195) "Act for the sake
of Allah, and do not throw yourselves to destruction with your own hands."
(Non-Muslims may not be aware that suicide is forbidden by Islam.)
Abu Saber then quite reasonably asks why the sheikhs who issue fiery
religious rulings, or the leaders who express joy on TV at each suicide
bombing, do not send their own sons. Worse, he names several of them
who have deliberately sent their sons abroad.
And he points out that the "idiotic policy" (of suicide
bombings) has proved a colossal failure at obtaining even a tiny part of
the usurped Palestinian rights. The suicide bombers' loss of
their own lives has been futile.
My own view on this issue is slightly different.
If those fiery
sheikhs and joyous leaders had real concern about the future of Palestine
and believed in the efficacy of suicide-bombings, they would not send out
youngsters. The youth are the seedcorn for a future Palestine,
prosperous in peace.
It is only they who can do the work that will provide growth and wealth
for the putative nation. They should be nurtured and educated, not
destroyed. And they are also entitled to expect a few of the good things of
adult life before they die.
So if you really do believe that sending out suicide-bombers will
enhance your cause, you should look for them amongst the
60 year olds and above,
|those who are past their working prime, |
|who have experienced the joy of spouses, children,
|those who in their now old age will be an economic burden on the future
If you think the Palestinians are to be helped by suicide-bombing -
which I agree with the
mourning father is an "idiotic policy" - then send out granddads
not teenagers. (This will never happen, of course,
because granddads are far too worldly-wise and canny to fall for the
martyrdom slogans that seduce the teenagers.)
Abu Saber has bravely pointed out the appalling cynicism and hypocrisy
of those sheikhs and leaders, and named some of them. He had better watch his
(July 2006) came across
this thread discussing this post in a most bizarre way - and accusing
me of being a Nazi for suggesting the suicide bombers should be recruited
not from young Palestinians but from the past-their-prime over 60s (which,
by the way, I regrettably am).
Gulf War II vs Gulf War I
Zyla Vickers has written a most
which contrasts the military aspects of
George W Bush's forthcoming Gulf
War II against the Iraqi regime with
his father's Gulf War I.
describes five areas where fundamental changes will occur :
- Speed : by
pre-positioning men and matériel in the Gulf area, the mobilisation
time will reduce from six to two months.
- Long-range stealth
: radar-defying, long-distance B2 stealth bombers will fly round trips
out of the US and Diego Garcia. But there are only 21 of these
$2.2 billion dollar miracle aircraft.
- Precision : Laser-guided
precision bombs limited by cloud cover will be replaced by even more
accurate satellite-guided munitions which are immune to the
weather and will cause fewer civilian casualties.
and unmanned strikes : the new Predator unmanned
video-equipped remote-controlled planes used so successfully in Afghanistan can scan
wide areas of the desert, and also make attacks. This will
constrain Saddam's freedom to move armaments and armies as well as
improve the accuracy of selecting targets.
: Instead of removing Saddam's army from Kuwait, this time
Saddam will be removed from his army. This narrower focus,
coupled with the above technology, will apparently require only
100,000 men instead of the 500,000 that liberated Kuwait.
Well worth reading the full report.
Big Countries Escape EU
As part of the plans for the single European currency, the uro, the
EU's "Growth and
Stability Pact" was agreed in 1997, under great pressure from
Germany's Bundesbank who feared flaky countries like Greece or Italy would
undermine the uro with profligate fiscal policies. The pact stipulates
that countries should be fiscally responsible and |
|that no country may run a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, under pain of
fines that can be as much as 1% of GDP. |
More than a year ago, the
European Commission formally censured Ireland for proposing a budget
that the Commission deemed was inflationary. Ireland
strongly rebutted this and ignored the reprimand (though it is now clear
that the Commission was right !).
Some months later, Portugal was also ticked
off, for a deficit that was in danger of crossing the 3% threshold.
But look at what's happening now, in 2002.
Lo and behold, it is mighty
Germany itself that is most likely to breach the limit. That's because of
lower-than-expected economic growth, coupled with - because it would be
unpopular with voters - unwillingness to rein in
public-sector spending, not to mention implementation of economic
restructuring. France and Italy are in
a similar predicament.
So will these huge countries, founders and self-appointed leaders of
the EU, face the mandatory reprimands and fines that the Growth & Stability Pact
specifies, not to mention loss of
face among their peers ?
Of course not. That big stick is reserved solely
for little countries that can't fight back.
Instead, the Growth & Stability Pact is now being weakened
(prompted of course by the said big countries) to relax the rules and
allow the miscreants a further year.
Euro-zone finance ministers have agreed to allow Germany, France, Italy
and Portugal to exceed the 3% limit from now until 2003.
Moreover, France, still not satisfied, has said that due to "other
priorities" it has no intention of reining in its deficit until at
Some smaller member-states have reacted with fury, demanding that the
European Commission should reprimand Paris without delay, pointing out how
quick they have been to reprimand small countries. This won't happen of
For many, the major negative effect of the EU's Nice Treaty will be the
extension of qualified majority voting to 30 new areas. Among other
things, this will permit some EU countries to group together to protect
their own interests without regard to the others. In effect, a
two-tier Europe will be enabled. Jacque Delors, still highly
influential, has talked of the more eager countries forming an avant-garde
- We could have a Union for the enlarged Europe, and a Federation
for the avant-garde, he said in an interview.
But, the Growth & Stability Pact has exposed the fact that a two-tier Europe is already in play -
| big countries who
flout the rules with impunity and |
| small countries who may not. |
The Nice Treaty will legitimise and so encourage such two-tiering.
Fourteen countries have ratified it. Only Ireland, with just 1%
of the EU's population stands in the way of its formal adoption. But
it is the only country that is asking its people, rather than the
parliament, to decide about Nice in a referendum.
And when it is put to the vote on 19th October there is every
possibility it will be defeated, causing Nice to turn to ashes.
Anger over the cynical approach of France, Germany and Italy to the
Growth & Stability Pact will have contributed to such a
Note Dated 19th
October : With a respectable turnout of over 50%, Ireland has
ratified the Nice Treaty, by roughly 2:1.
Imagine a peasant country, subjugated by
foreign rulers, beset by a diseased harvest year after year. People
are dying in huge numbers of hunger and pestilence, while others leave in
droves to find work and new lives (and racial discrimination) in faraway foreign lands, countless perishing in the process.
Meanwhile, the rich élite remain rich and even export food to the foreign
the population crashing by one-third in three decades. Imagine that
the economic devastation is so utter that the population continues to
decline for a further ninety years, until it is almost half what it
was. Imagine that 160 years after disaster first struck, the
population still stands in 2002 at only 67% (73% by 2006).
Other than the time-scale, it
sounds like many African countries in this
But no, this was civilised Europe - Ireland, and the famine caused by the country-wide
blight of the potato crop that was the people's staple diet, which struck in
1841. Click on the thumbnail to view the population
On a recent trip to the south west of the country, driving around the
spectacular Ring of Beara, the
emptiness, punctuated with deserted stone cottages, reminded me that this
was once a well populated region. But beautiful as it is, it was a
harsh place, bitter and windy, especially in the winter. All you
could hope was to survive a few miserable years scraping a
subsistence living. Yet for centuries people existed like this, until the famine
began to take hold in 1841 and changed the landscape forever. The Irish famine is seared deep into the
soul of every Irish person, at home and in the diaspora.
Viruses, Worms and Now Parasites
We all have heard of computer viruses and worms, those malicious pieces
of software that arrive as uninvited attachments from known or unknown
correspondents, infect our machines and use our address books to send
themselves to other victims. The newest to gain widespread publicity
was the BUGBEAR worm which featured very recently in television
broadcasts. I immediately updated my anti-virus software, and was glad
I did because in the space of the next week, it picked up no fewer than
eight incoming e-mails which contained BUGBEAR. A narrow escape.
I use free-of-charge downloadable anti-virus software from www.grisoft.com,
which so long as you update it every two weeks, is very effective.
Microsoft have a site
which will scan Windows computers for security loopholes.
However, I recently learnt something about computer parasites
when I inadvertently found out I had contracted one. They typically embed
themselves, silently, onto your system via free software or other items
you have downloaded from the internet. They are intended to help the
commercial businesses that have provided the free software, and unlike viruses and
worms are not meant to be malicious as such. Parasites fall into three
main categories :
|Adware plagues the user with unwanted
|Scumware adds advertising links to web pages; |
|Spyware watches everything the user does online and
sends the information back to marketing companies. |
In addition, because they are often badly written, parasites can
degrade your system performance, cause errors and precipitate repeated
These latter were the symptoms I have been experiencing over the last few
months. However a rather mysterious company called Doxdex
gave me clear instructions of how to find and uninstall the offending
software, which was called "new.net". Performance
has much improved since.
I would recommend you check out your own system.
Footnote - I have no personal interest in any
of these linked sites
#11 - 6th October 2002
Much Currie for the British Conservatives
Major, Tony Blairs predecessor as British Prime Minister, was seen as a
good but grey man who despite his best endeavours gradually lost control
of his party and its agenda. After
six years of steady decline in the fortunes of the Conservatives, he was
unceremoniously turfed out of 10 Downing Street in 1997 in a landslide
defeat. His ascension up the
greasy political pole had been spectacularly fast and stealthy, like a
shark rising from the deep. He
was first elected to Parliament in 1979, in two years he was a
parliamentary private secretary, became a whip in 1983, a minister in 1986
and chancellor (finance minister) in 1990.
When Margaret Thatcher was ditched in 1991, he was elevated to party leader
and PM at the start of the First Gulf War, because he was seen as the man least likely to rock the boat or
offend anyone, attributes which he more or less fulfilled.
whats this ?
Currie, another one-time Minister under Mrs Thatcher, whose ministerial
career came to an abrupt halt in 1988 when she announced, truthfully, that
all eggs contain salmonella bacteria to a greater or lesser degree, has
suddenly published her memoirs (Edwina
Currie Diaries, 1987-1992),
and they include four years of steamy
passion with none other than said grey John Major.
affair ended in 1988 and has been secret until now. Had it come out during Mr Majors own ministerial career,
that too would have stopped dead in its tracks. This would have resulted in a different party leader and
quite possibly the earlier return of ("Old") Labour to power, and God knows how
differently British contemporary history might have developed.
Conservatives, already reeling with stories about
disgraced ex-grandee Lord Archer defying the
day-release terms of his prison
sentence for perjury, |
current leader having curry dumped on him by an aggrieved voter,
poll performance stuck doggedly in the doldrums, |
furious about the Major/Currie revelation.
whom are they annoyed at and why ?
it is Edwina who is the object of their ire, for her effrontery in
publicising the affair. Tories
rage at Currie treachery over Major,
screams the Sunday
Times (though unfortunately the online article is subscription-only).
David Mellor, former Conservative minister whose own ministerial career was
ended by a sex scandal, calls Mrs Currie "a cheap trollop".
is criticising John Major for embarking on the affair, though in doing so
he broke his solemn marital vows. No-one
is criticising Mrs Currie for the same thing.
It is the messenger who has committed the cardinal sin, the sin of
revealing naughty behaviour. The
naughty behaviour itself is perfectly acceptable.
Chutzpah or what !
his book The Joys
of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defines chutzpah as being
possessed of the ability, having murdered both your parents, to plead for
mercy on the grounds that you are an orphan.
Catholic Church : A Source of Evil ?
Richard Dawkins is a controversial professional atheist who has written several
books on themes of logic and atheism.
His atheism is more than just non-belief in God, it is an
aggressive anti-religionism of the sort that in earlier times resulted in
the destruction of churches and slaughter of priests, in for example,
Leninist Russia, republican Spain, Maoist China.
a recent interview
with Dubliner Magazine in Catholic Ireland, he asserted that the Catholic church is
of the forces for evil in the world and that it is a lesser sin for a priest to molest a child (an act
with a finite end) than to instil the child with Catholic beliefs (a
is truly an outrageous assertion and an unacceptable downgrading of
paedophilia as a crime.
essence of the Catholic faith, as first articulated by Jesus Christ, is to
love your neighbour as yourself. How
anyone can view such a philosophy as a source of evil is beyond me, and if
all children could be brainwashed to follow it throughout their
lives the world would be a better place.
Of course there are many Catholics, clerics and lay alike, who do
not follow Christs teaching, but their evil behaviour does not make the
teaching evil. Just as the
9/11 bombers were not following the precepts of Islam, so paedophile
priests and nuns are not following the precepts of the Catholic Church. As I discussed in an earlier item entitled Catholic
Church and Sexual Abuse, paedophile clerics are, in
any case, only a tiny minority.
then the Catholic Church itself often seems incapable of not shooting itself in
the foot from time to time, in a way that invites cynicism and ridicule.
to the Irish Times, a Monsignor Andrew Baker -
of the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops, no less - recently
made some extraordinary
statements regarding homosexuality, including these choice phrases -
homosexual tendencies are aberrations that can and should be addressed
by both the individual and by competent experts with the aid of
behavioural sciences as well as by spiritual means, including prayer,
the sacraments and spiritual direction ..".
homosexuals may be more familiar with certain patterns and techniques
of deception and repression ... "
can a homosexual be genuinely a sign of Christ's spousal love for the
church ... "
homosexual could be healed from such a disorder, then he could be
considered for admission to the seminary and possibly to Holy Orders,
but not while being afflicted with the disorder".
In effect, the
Vatican seems to be saying that homosexuality is a curable disease.
As a practicing Catholic, I am utterly shocked by this reprehensible
attitude and can imagine little that is more un-Christlike and therefore
un-Catholic than sentiments such as these in respect of people unlucky
enough to be born gay.
word "black" or "disabled" were substituted for
like the Monsignor to defend Catholicism, you have to have some sympathy
with the likes of Professor Dawkins who see it is a source of evil.
Nature vs Nurture
Pinker, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology in Boston, has been making money on the lecture circuit lately,
promoting his book The
Blank Slate, The Modern Denial of Human Nature.
the preposterous theory -
are not born with identical personalities and
birth they each possess possess an innate human nature; |
are born different.
As they grow
up, these differences grow or diminish depending on how they are raised.
Their personalities at adulthood are therefore a function of both
nature and nurture, not just nurture.
outraged many left wing liberals who believe
Professor Pinkers findings seem to astonish everyone
- except for anyone who has ever had any contact with growing children.
What astonishes me is
the contrasting readiness with which some people will accept that humans are born with
genetically-dictated physical differences - such as skin colour, height,
muscularity, disease susceptibility. No-one seems to deny that, in general,
|blacks are good at
sprint events, browns at long distance running; |
heavy-weight boxing, whites at swimming; |
|blacks are more
susceptible to sick-cell
anaemia, whites and women to multiple
|some babies are born
Yet these same people will deny that there might be
that dwell in the head, such as differences in personality or mental
Dr Pinker puts the lie to all that. People are the result of both
their birth and their upbringing. For better or for
Waiters Don't Get Their (Credit Card) Tips
I was astonished to learn that waiting and other staff in restaurants
don't necessarily receive the tips that customers add to credit card slips
when they use this method to pay their bills.
Not only that, but a recent EU
court case has ruled that the restaurant management may count such
tips towards meeting their obligation to pay employees the statutory
minimum wage. Apparently, the legal title to the tips rests with the
restaurant because that is who the credit card slips are made out
So before you add a tip to your credit card slip,
ask whether the waiters will receive it. If not, give them
No Money in Blogging
I have sometimes been asked whether I make any money out of blogging. I don't.
It's a labour of love. Fellow-blogger John Scalzi expresses it much
better than I in this piece.
Shirky explains why -
|It is that blogs destroy
the intrinsic value [of conventional publishing], because they are a
platform for the unlimited reproduction and distribution of the
written word, for a low and fixed cost. No barriers to entry, no
economies of scale, no limits on supply.
to Top of Page
to Tallrite Blog
Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
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
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
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 =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics