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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
time and alphabet, contains all issues since inception, including the current week.

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
(Clumsy form of my address to thwart spamming software that scans for e-mail addresses)

October 2005

ISSUE #111 - 23rd October 2005 [175+2975=3150]

Ideas are Mightier than the Sword

In the end, the Iraqis' constitutional referendum was a bit of a boring damp squib.  

What excellent news.  Boring is good. 

On voting day, 15th October, five US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb but no voters at all (by comparison, three people were killed just on Ireland's roads that day).  The referendum turnout exceeded 60%, two percentage points more than in January's ground-breaking election.  It looks like it'll be approved, but no-one seems to think it'll be any great disaster if it isn't.  It'll simply be re-drafted by a new elected committee and re-balloted.  Normal politics.  

Compared with the media hysteria surrounding January's election, they've been pretty muted this time, though judging from the stories in many publications you could smell the dismay that a part of the Iraq Adventure was actually going right.  Many would still prefer Iraq's agony to continue and intensify than that the Coalition's intervention might result in a peaceful, democratic Iraq.  For some, no price in Iraqi blood and pain is too high to avoid a Bush victory.  

Here are few headlines that I picked up ... 

 Pro-Iraqi People

Anti-Iraqi People

Sunnis fail to block Iraq's new deal
Irish Independent (reg reqd)

Bush Hails Iraq Vote on New Constitution
ABC News

Iraq constitution: Voters speak
BBC (surprisingly)

In Fallujah, thousands cast ballots; Many who live in the city that was an insurgent center vote 'no'
Houston Chronicle

Iraqi plebiscite a hollow exercise

'We have to say yes,' say weary Iraqis 
Irish Times, both (subscription only)

Voters said to hunt for polling sites in west Iraq
Reuters

US military massacres dozens in wake of Iraq referendum
Workers Socialist

From thousands in and near Fallujah, a resounding `no'
Sun-Sentinel

Of course the bad news is much more exciting to report and read about, even if you don't have a pro-insurgent anti-Iraqi agenda, which largely explains why such stories predominate.  But it doesn't mean good stuff isn't also happening, and not just in the (relatively) safer Shi'ite south or in the Kurdistan haven.  

A typical piece of bad news on 19th October was that the Guardian reporter Rory Carroll from Dublin was kidnapped in Baghdad, and on the first anniversary of Margaret Hassan's lethal abduction.  Yet within 36 hours he was free again unharmed.  (Mark Humphrys contrasts popular bad news stories, propagated as it happens by Mr Carroll, with good news stories that largely escape the major headlines.)

And just a couple of days earlier there was a report that Fallujah, in the heart of the Sunni Triangle and the scene of two bitter battles in 2004 between insurgents and US forces which resulted in the death of some 1400 insurgents and perhaps a thousand city blocks damaged or destroyed, was recovering its sense of everyday life. Indeed, earlier in the year the Americans were calling it - extraordinarily - the safest place in Iraq”, and they should know.  It was cleansed of the bad guys, and to keep it that way residents were allowed to return only after careful screening by US forces.  Reconstruction is proceeding, albeit well behind plan.  There is a functioning and representative City Council, a police force of Fallujans, while leaders from the mosque, tribes and professions are stepping up to the plate.  Schools are back running, business and industry are returning, and football matches take place.  Oh, and the Fallujah Sunnis voted in numbers in the referendum, not wanting to exclude themselves again from the political process.  

In Iraq as a whole, the economy is growing astonishingly at somewhere between 25% and 52% pa depending on your source, and this despite inflation of 25% and unemployment of 25-40%.  And of course these figures largely exclude the economic contribution of a vibrant and extensive black market.  

The black news though is what we hear about.  It portrays for us a death-and-destruction clash between

  • on the one hand, the superbly equipped and trained (Abu Ghraib notwithstanding) modern armies of the Coalition, armed with tanks, aircraft, UAV-drones, electronic monitoring devices and other sophisticated weaponry, 

  • and on the other, an outnumbered rag-tag bunch of angry youths armed with head-hacking swords, rifles, RPGs, home-made bombs and - crucially - frustrated men prepared to commit homicide-suicide in the stupid belief that 72 virgins await them in the next life.  

But this is to misread the conflict.  

For the weapons and the mayhem they cause are but the external symptoms.  The true struggle is over a simple idea. 

However clumsy and incompetent in its attempted implementation in Iraq (and Afghanistan) over the past four years, the massive idea behind the words of George Bush's inaugural speech last January resonates

Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave ... So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” 

This is the idea that terrifies Iraq's insurgents, Ba'athist remnants, foreign fighters, call them what you will. This is the idea that they are resisting at all costs.  This is the idea for which they must - and will eventually, barring a Vietnam-style capitulation - be defeated.   This is the idea that is embodied in the new Iraqi constitution that so many have voted on.  

Those who call for the unconditional withdrawal of Coalition forces - the names Galloway, Pilger, Fisk, Chomsky spring to mind among many - are calling for the precise converse of this idea.  Such is their abiding contempt for ordinary Iraqi people and Middle Easterners in general, that they ardently desire that those millions remain slaves forever to their tyrants.   

For their part, the insurgents have a huge idea of their own: no less than the subjugation of the entire world under a tyrannical Islamic caliphate, with themselves near the top of the pile of course.  They must not be allowed to progress in such a wicked objective.  

It is not the pen that is mightier than the sword.  It is ideas.  

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Ken Clarke BATting for North Korea

I used to be a big fan of Ken Clarke, and long backed him for the leadership of the British Conservative party over the likes of Ian Duncan Smith and John Howard.  I support his (now regrettably repressed) Europhilia - I back the EU for its free trade and single-currency credentials, though of course not for its Common Agricultural Policy, sovereignty aspirations or would-be constitution.  But more importantly he has been, since the New Labour victory of 1997, the one MP that the public have consistently liked, and his charisma, combined with a degree of down-to-earth sensibleness, made him the only one who had a hope of returning the Conservatives to power.  

But this time round, I was for two reasons glad to see him voted off the leadership short list, tough though it is to be rejected three times running.  

  • At 65 he's too old to be a strategic choice.  His best expectation would be to become prime minister at 69, face re-election at 74 and not step down until he's nearly 80.  Or else just be a useless caretaker until someone better pops up - just like his three predecessors.   

  • He was against the Iraq war from the beginning and remains so - yet always with not the slightest notion of an alternative strategy other than 

    • backing the butcher Saddam (then) and 

    • running away leaving behind a civil war (now).  

This is disgraceful and dishonourable, especially for a Conservative, as my preceding post explains.    

There is a third factor that would have had the potential of an unexploded bomb were he to have become leader.  

Not long after the Conservatives were defeated in 1997, Mr Clarke, Minister of Health under Margaret Thatcher yet a great lover of cigars, joined BAT (aka British American Tobacco).  This was mildly controversial (smoking kills etc), but he was able to bat (sic) away the objections in a fairly affable manner.  As the 170,000 per year chairman of  BAT's corporate social responsibility audit committee, which includes overseeing human rights reports on all countries where it operates, he also gained some credit when BAT pulled out of Myanmar because of its notorious repression of human rights.  

But last week it emerged that for the past four years BAT, via a Singapore subsidiary, has been surreptitiously running a cigarette factory in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.  It holds 60% of Taesong-BAT, which is a joint venture company with the state.  For its annual production of 2 billion cigarettes, the company has interestingly resurrected the old brand-names Craven A and Viceroy (jingle remembered from Hong Kong TV in the 60s - They go together, go together, the deepweave filter and the Viceroy blend.  They go together, go together, Viceroy's got it at both ends).  

But the enterprise is so secret that 

  • BAT don't even know what they pay their workers or 

  • what the Craven As and Viceroys cost, 

  • its nearest major office in Japan knows nothing about the factory and 

  • the investment appears nowhere in BAT's public documentation or website.  

North Korea is arguably the most repressive tyranny in the world.  It is notorious for its systematic torture, death squads, labour camps and perpetual near-famine, the results of the congenital brutality and economic incompetence of its Dear Leader, Kim Il Sung and his cohorts.  Mark Humphrys says it all.  

Had Mr Clarke ended up as leader of the Conservatives, his BAT directorship and hence support of the North Korean regime, would have ensured that he never became Prime Minister.  Perhaps his early elimination from the Conservative leadership race reflects, after eight long years in a self-inflicted political wilderness, a dawning sense of reality among the party's MPs.  

Disclosure: I am  am an inactive (and fairly new) member of Britain's Conservative party, 
and look forward to voting for David Cameron - my first ever such vote.

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An Oily Double Bluff  

This month's (print only) Petroleum Review recounts an elegant double bluff which has been playing out between western politicians and OPEC over the last week or so. 

  • Western politicians eager to placate their electorates' anger about high oil prices, but equally eager to hang onto their oil tax receipts, chose once again to blame OPEC for not producing enough oil, though you have to ask quite why OPEC producers should be expected to solve the West's problems.  Nevertheless, this a bluff, because the current bottleneck is in refining capacity (exacerbated by Katrina's damage to Gulf coast refineries) not crude supply.  

  • OPEC, in return, has played its own bluff.  It has quite wittily announced that it will make available an additional two million barrels a day of oil supply for three months. In other words, all the spare capacity it claims to have.   

It can, however, be confident that its own bluff will not be called as, until refining capacity is restored and expanded, few, if any, companies are in any position to make use of additional, poor quality, high sulphur crude - even if OPEC could produce such volumes, which of course it can't.

An oily double bluff indeed, larded with hypocrisy on both sides.  

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Re-think the 2006 Liberty Blog Awards

Earlier this month the admirable Freedom Institute announced that it has started trolling for its 2006 Liberty Blog Awards (with Irish leanings).  It inaugurated this scheme in February of this year, awarding first place to Mark Humphrys, with other awards for politics, economics, appearance, humour etc.  But it elicited howls of anguish from at least one undeservedly non-awarded blogger, prompted by the predictability of the award classifications.  

  • There were suggestions then that the basis of awards be expanded (or better still replaced) to include such things as 

    • Best use use of little red squares (each one celebrating the defeat of Kremlin communism - with yellow ones deploring Chinese communism);   

    • Best, or at least only, weekly blog.

  • This year Twenty Major is on the case and suggests thoughtful awards such as

Freedom Institute, I hope you're listening!  Time to rethink your 2006 awards!  Now - while you still have time!

I would hate to see your otherwise admirable initiative sink into a quagmirical morass of mediocrity when there is so much imagination and intellect out here in the blogosphere that lesser establishments than yours take pains to avoid and ignore.  

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Three Silly Wins

While we're on the subject of awards, this is the season for winning silly prizes.  In case you missed them, they address the global issues of penguin shit, rambling clocks and the bum deals.  

  • In an erudite paper published in Polar Biology, full of mathematics and charmingly titled Pressures produced when penguins pooh — calculations on avian defaecation (pdf 266 kb), academics Victor Benno and Jozsef Gal of universities in Germany and Hungary analysed the fluid dynamics of penguins defecating out of and well clear of their stony nests, taking account of density, viscosity and other yucky parameters.  Providing this cute little diagram undoubtedly clinched this year's Ig Nobel award for them.  

  • Then there is Clocky the alarm clock.  Its special feature is that when it rings in the morning and you hit the snooze button, it rolls off the bedside table across the floor in search of a hiding place.  So you have to get out of bed to hunt for it, and presto you're awake.  This also won an Ig Nobel award - but for economics of all things.   

  • And finally, there was a recent survey of pet hates among more than 500 office workers across the UK.  The top prize was termed a bum deal when it went to the cheap toilet roll, with Yucca plants a close second.  

You learn a lot (of stuff you don't want) by reading the Tallrite Blog.  

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Quotes of Week 111

Quote: I am the president of Iraq. I do not recognise this court.

Saddam Hussein goes on trial for mass murder in Baghdad.

He is a man who never surrenders. 
He's a hero, and he will remain a hero
”, 
commented his eldest daughter, Raghad 
(whose husband was murdered 
on Saddam's orders for leaking secrets)

_______________

Quote: “I'm sitting having a beer and I feel absolutely fine - both physically and psychologically,” 

Guardian journalist, Rory Carroll from Dublin, 
on being freed following a 36-hour kidnapping in Baghdad

_______________

Quote: “There would have been no IRA but for the way unionists [Protestants] treated nationalists [Catholics].  They were treated almost like animals by the unionist community. They were not treated as human beings . . . they were treated like the Nazis treated the Jews.” 

Fr Alec Reid, the hitherto deeply trustworthy Catholic priest 
who witnessed the recent IRA decommissioning, 
unmasks his own rabid sectarianism. 

Though he later “regretted” the remark, his latest apologia 
for the IRA is part of a pattern. 

For example in a recent TV interview, he said 
I believe the IRA are whiter than white 
when it comes to criminality... 
and fought a just war
”.  
And he has previously referred to IRA casualties 
as “war heroes” when officiating at their funerals.

Fr Reid is not to be trusted; 
perhaps he's lost his marbles.

His outburst follows inopportune Nazi remarks last January by 
Ireland's (Northern-Ireland born Catholic) President McAleese herself, 
who despite fulsome apologies, 
has been highly distrusted by unionists ever since

There seems to be a gestalt emerging

_______________

Quote: “You don't write off a candidate for the priesthood simply because he is a gay man.” 

Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, 
bravely breaks with the Vatican's party line 
that gaydom is “intrinsically disordered” 
which disqualifies gays from becoming priests

_______________

Quote: “I am disappointed that I am not being given the opportunity to continue my work with the senior national team.  I believe that the decision is short-sighted.

Former Ireland soccer manager Brian Kerr, 
on learning that his contract is not to be renewed 
following Ireland's failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup

Anyone can manage a football team to failure, even me,” 
retorts Tony Allwright, ungrammatically, 
in the (subscription-only) same newspaper

 

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #110 - 9th October 2005 [177+128 = 305]

Don't Wait to Restructure

Michael O'Leary and his wretched Ryanair and that Greek guy with Easyjet have a lot to answer for with all this low-cost travel nonsense.  

  • They are not content with upsetting the proper” airlines, such as Aer Lingus, Air France, BA, Lufthansa, ex- Sabena, ex- Swissair etc forcing them to wake up, cut costs or go bust.  

  • Their proliferation of routes to unheard of destinations from Aarhuis, Bydgoszcz, Carcassone and so on up to Zaragoza, have made available to alien hordes countless cheap sunny houses whilst obliging the natives to get rich selling stuff to the foreigners.  

  • Filthy capitalists are pouring into these outposts, investing money, setting up new businesses, press-ganging unsuspecting locals into high-paid jobs, teaching them new skills.  

Oh, and it's not only other airlines that are suffering - by either going bankrupt or else having to make fresh, albeit modest profits out of  their newly reduced operating cost bases.  

Trains, ships and the cross-Channel tunnel are also feeling the pinch and facing the same two alternatives - reform or die.   

In Ireland, one particular company has recently found itself in the public firing line because it is attending to the first of these alternatives early, in order to avoid the second.  

Irish Ferries is a small company of just four (large) ships, which connect Ireland to Wales and to France.  Feeling the Ryanair pinch, they are copying some of its habits, like internet-booking (though previous experience with a rival suggests that paying on the day is much cheaper) and calling itself the “low fares ferry company”.  

They have been looking for various other ways to cut costs, staff costs in particular.  Over the last couple of years they have successfully reduced numbers, as well as constraining wage demands by staff, and this has yielded significant annual savings of €3m.  

However, Irish Ferries say that this is not nearly enough if they want to survive the competition from the low cost airlines, which now - thanks to the spur of Ryanair - also includes Aer Lingus.  

They are therefore looking to boost profits by €20m and to do this they have to get radical.  They want to reflag their vessels from Irish to Bahamian in order to escape Irish employment laws.  This will permit them to replace their entire 543 Irish seafaring workforce with Eastern Europeans or Asians at €3.50 an hour compared with the Irish minimum wage of €7.65.  They've therefore offered their existing staff a Hobson's choice of a redundancy package or a halving of their salaries.  

On the face of it, this is pretty brutal and the unions are understandably enraged, as is the Irish government.  How dare an Irish company take advantage of international treaties that allow them to escape the strictures of Irish employment law.  

Yet businesses close down and release workers all the time, in Ireland anyway, and everyone just shrugs because invariably those same workers find new jobs with other businesses that are opening up even faster.  This labour mobility underlies much of the Celtic Tiger's success and explains an unemployment rate of just 4% (compared with 10% in France).  This low figure implies pretty much full employment for everyone who wants to work.  In 2004 for example, 100,000 immigrants found work whilst 150,000 Irish were registered as unemployed.  

The reason that Irish Ferries are being castigated is because they are replacing its 543 workers at a time when - horror! - it's profits are actually healthy.  “It's not as if it's going bust”, everyone says.  And it's true.  In 2003 its parent company made €25m in profit and last year the figure would have been €27m but for a once-off €12m restructuring cost.  

In fact the Irish government and unions should be encouraging the company to do its restructuring now while it still - thanks to those healthy profits - has money to pay its redundant staff reasonable settlements, for the Ryanair problem, like the IRA, is not going away, y'know.  

When competition threatens, too many organisations put off the evil day of cutting costs simply because their managers lack the vision and courage to do the dirty deeds that are necessary.  For it is a nasty business to tell people to work differently or harder or longer or for less money, or that they have to go.  But the longer you leave it the nastier it becomes because you have to cut deeper, there's less and less money in the kitty to cushion the blows and it often becomes harder for employees to redeploy. 

The Windward Islands and their bananas are a classic example of this lackadaisical approach.  60% of their economy depends on bananas, which for ex-Colonial reasons they export to the EU under protective tariffs which keep out low-cost competitors from Latin America, such as Costa Rica and Guatemala. These competitors have for years complained that shutting off the EU was unfair to them and their workers and eventually, with the help of the WTO, they won the argument. Starting in 2006 the barriers start coming down.  For decades, this has been obvious to everyone, including the Windward Islands.  

Yet up to today and during their many profitable years, they have done precisely zero to cut their costs to competitive levels and/or to seek other means to earn a living, such as higher-value crops, tourism, fishing, banking, tax-havening etc.  Hong Kong and Singapore are prime examples of how a country can prosper with microscopic land and no resources other than its people and the rule of law. 

So the Windward Islands, thanks to their consistent blind eye, are now in a state of blind panic, with restructuring being forced on them in the most ugly fashion and the prospect of a drastic cut in living standards for many years to come.  This was entirely foreseeable and the lack of preparation is foolish in the extreme.  

Thus, in its own small way, Irish Ferries is to be praised for taking precisely the opposite approach.  It is not waiting until the axe falls before taking the harsh action that is necessary.  

Of course, if you feel all this is intrinsically wrong and unfair, there is an alternative solution.  Go out and fly on airlines that are losing money and buy the most expensive bananas you can find.  For it is each of us demanding low-cost everything that is forcing all these painful adjustments.  This is the bedrock of our prosperity as individuals and as countries. 

And prosperity is available to any economy which allows free trade to flourish (coupled with sensible taxes).  

So maybe O'Leary and that Greek guy aren't so bad after all.  

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Depicting a Social Model

The (subscription-only) Economist recently devoted its Charlemagne column to a rather interesting comparison of the social models of four different groupings of EU states.  It cleverly likened them to the favourite tipples of each particular grouping.  

I have always believed the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  So here is a simple diagram which is worth 1,019 Economist words.  I have read the article so that you don't have to.  All you need to do is to examine the chart to decide whether you prefer beer or champagne.  

But of course I don't have to fill a whole page, whereas the Economist's unfortunate columnist labouring away in Brussels does.

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Juvenilising the US Supreme Court 

It is a lucky US president indeed who gets to appoint two Supreme Court justices in the space of a few months.  For these lifelong appointments are a way for him to secure his legacy long after his own tenure is up.  In September, shortly after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died of throat cancer, George Bush appointed as his successor John Roberts.  His Senate ratification sailed through because he appeared to everyone to be a well experienced and respected judge who is uncontroversially qualified and suited to the job.  

But with the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor imminent, Mr Bush's second choice is - to say the least - bizarre. 

He has selected someone called Harriet Myers, whom hardly anyone has heard of.  She is a mathematician and lawyer, but not a judge,  and as far as anyone can determine has never made any weighty proclamations on issues of the day.  No-one seems to know how she thinks.  It turns out that her main qualifications are that she's worked closely with George Bush in the White House and he likes her.  Her CV tells us that she has spent most of the rest of her working life lawyering and for six years chaired the Texas Railroad Commission, somewhat controversially.  

But if you want a sense of how her brain works, she makes it easy because she writes a blog, or to use her own breathless expression a Blog!!!”.  Everything is in girlie pink-on-pink and bursting with excitement, meaninglessness and poor grammar.  Here are some recent posts but without the tiresome p-on-p.  

  • LATE SAT. NITE POST...ANNOYED.  She's complaining about other blogs complaining about her blog and says “I wouldnt right that about anybody else's blog”  

  • ADVANTAGES OF BEING A JUSTICE ON THE SUPREME COURT #2
    if you meet someone who says Danger is my middle name, you can say yeah well my first name is Justice!!

  • WHAT IM READING RIGHT NOW (Men In Black, as it happens)

  • JOKE I MADE UP...NEEDS WORK...
    A woman drives up to a gas station and says "A full tank of gas please" and he says "No, its too expensive" and she says "Well Im not leaving till its full" and he says "I bet you'll give up"--and she looks him straight in the eye and says "fill it buster!" - like "filibuster" 
    (Ho-ho-ho, very funny indeed.)  

  • ADVANTAGES OF BEING A JUSTICE ON THE SUPREME COURT #1
    IMHO = In My Honorable Opinion!!!
    (This is the entire post.)

  • WHAT A CRAZY DAY!!!!!
    It's such a blur, Its like I have to read the news just find out what I did today!!
    Here's my CELEBRITY PHOTO--"in the senate, in the senate yeah, I do my little walk in the senate" (
    And yes, she provides a photo of herself striding dazzled and delighted through the paparazzi)

This shallow, infantile blog is an easy read and sometimes faintly amusing.  But it gives no sense whatsoever of any serious thinking going on inside her brain.  If you didn't know otherwise, you would assume it's a teenager full of the joys of growing up.  

Does America  really want a juvenile like this, who can't even master primary school spelling and writing, sitting for life interminable on its Supreme Court?  If I were American it would make me very nervous indeed.  

Late Note (14th October)
There are those who say Harriet Miers' blog is a sham.  
So I may be been suckered.  

Nevertheless, judging from her recently released 
gushing letters and cards to President Bush, 
she is addicted to exclamation marks. bad grammar and sycophancy, 
just like in the blog

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Theocracy and Sex

No matter what the proponents say, the essence of theocracy - in the sense of a state run on theocratic principles - is sex.  If you doubt this, look at theocratic Saudi Arabia, theocratic Iran, theocratic Taliban Afghanistan, theocratic Northern Nigeria.  Then ask yourself - what is the overriding consideration of these states in so far is religion is concerned?  Is it to ensure that

  • everyone says his prayers?  

  • everyone understands the principles underlying the religion?  

  • the prevailing religion remains unchallenged in its ascendancy?  

The answer to all these questions is of course a yes, but a mild one.  

Because the overriding consideration is sex, specifically women and sex.  That's why this uncontrollable over-lustful half of the population must be kept subjugated in every possible fashion, whether by wrapping them in burkas, keeping them out of public places of worship, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, symphysiotomy**, punishment for being a rape victim, enforced suttee, restricting TV coverage of the Olympics, and countless other worthy restrictions.  

Last year, the New York Times reported that, according to Mohsen Sahabi, a Muslim historian, 

The question how much of a woman's body could be seen in public is one of the two or three most important issues that have dominated theological debate in Islam for decades.  More time and energy is devoted to this issue than to economic development or scientific research

Of course you would never encounter such an obsession in a Jewish or Christian domain.  Except you would, or at least throughout most of history women in these religious environments have been subjected to similar treatment, to a greater or lesser degree.  

Last week I was reminded of all this when I visited my alma mater in Dublin for the first time in over three decades.  In the 1960s I studied engineering at University College Dublin (UCD) in the then-called College of Science in the middle of the city.  In 1989 this fine building was commandeered Office of the Taoiseach, 1989 to presentby the Irish government and for 17m was converted into the Office of the Taoiseach” or prime minister's office.  I joined the excellent guided tour that is given to the public just once a week on a Saturday morning.  The tour guide mentioned that he didn't know why UCD had been moved out of the city centre into its present premises in a magnificent big campus five miles south.  

When I told him that this was due to theocracy and sex, everyone stopped and stared.  The young man wanted to know the story, to use on future tours.  

It is this.  

Since its foundation in 1922 until maybe 15 years ago, Ireland was to all intents and purposes a theocratic state, though this term was never used.  

  • Its 1937 constitution was ratified by the people only once the Catholic Church, which had had considerable input, had first approved it;   

  • no government would propose any major legislation without touching base with the Archbishop of Dublin; 

  • no Taoiseach could even imagine countermanding a suggestion from the said Archbishop. 

  • Meanwhile, the bishops and priests of the land held the population in thrall with their weekly oratory on delights of heaven and perils of everlasting hell;

  • no-one missed Sunday (if not daily) Mass, nor the sacraments of baptism, confession, holy communion, confirmation; 

  • pre-marital and extra-marital sex were unheard of (though not necessarily unpracticed!); 

  • the Church's teaching on sin was the foundation of nearly everyone's personal morality, as well as the state's.   

John Charles McQuaid was a particularly formidable Archbishop of Dublin who held that post from 1940 until - to everyone's relief - he died in 1973 aged 78.  

It was Archbishop McQuaid who in the early 1960s instructed the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, that he must move UCD well away from the city.  This advice brooked no opposition or argument.  For it was based on the most typical of theocratic reasons - sex.  

There were two universities in Dublin at that time.  

  • UCD started its life in 1854 as the Catholic University, established by the Roman Catholic hierarchy for the education of Catholics; in 1908 it became UCD.  

  • Trinity College Dublin (TCD), is much more ancient, having been founded in 1582 by Queen Elizabeth I of England, its original target being exclusively the Protestant ascendency class of Dublin, who had strong ties to England.  

Whilst the dividing lines blurred with time, UCD remained broadly a Catholic college whilst TCD was for Protestants.  The respective religious ethoses extended to staff as well as students.  Amongst other anomalies, McQuaid permitted Catholics to attend TCD or to work there only with his specific permission, under pain of eternal damnation and hellfire - not to mention his personal wrath which was worse.  

The two universities were situated just 20 minutes stroll apart and herein lay the problem for the stern Archbishop.  

For, as you will realise, healthy young Catholic men are known for their sanctity and purity (ahem), whereas Protestant women are notorious for their utterly loose morals if not underwear.  These young ladies in TCD obsessed McQuaid; he lay awake worrying and thinking about their wicked designs upon his innocent Catholic boys at UCD, and dreaming about exactly what the former were doing to the latter.  (I was one of the latter, and had the same dreams, but alas they never came true.)  

Thus McQuaid demanded that UCD be moved out of town forthwith, well beyond the reaches of those nubile slatterns he kept dreaming about.  

As it turns out, this was a truly visionary move, because it has enabled UCD to expand fourfold in the intervening years, which would never have been possible in its old town-centre premises.  

So the conjunction of theocracy and sex has by no means been confined to backward Islamic societies.  And sometimes it can even have a favourable outcome. 

**Late Note (3 July 2014):

David Quinn of the Iona Institute wrote a very cogent piece in the Irish Independent in 2012 in which he argues

  • that the Catholic Church did not, in fact, promote symphisiotomy,

  • that in pre-wealthy Ireland there were clear economic and
    medical reasons for carrying out the procedure
    in preference to Caesarean sections, and

  • that symphisiotomies are still being carried out for similar reasons
    in many poorer countries in the world. 

I am prepared to be persuaded. 

 

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Quotes of Week 110  

Quote: “Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death.  But every every single one of us knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them.” 

US Senator John McCain, 
2008 Republican presidential aspirant, and
for five years a prisoner tortured by the Viet Cong, 
convinces the Senate to pass by 90-9 
a motion which sets anti-torture standards 
for the military's treatment of detainees. 

_______________

Quote: “You don't write off a candidate for the priesthood simply because he is a gay man.” 

Dr Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, 
bravely breaks with the Vatican's party line 
that gaydom is “intrinsically disordered” 
which disqualifies gays from becoming priests

_______________________

Quote: This Iraq is the cradle of civilization that taught humanity reading and writing, and some Bedouin riding a camel wants to teach us. This talk is totally rejected.” 

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr (a Shi'ite) 
robustly reprimands Prince Saud al-Faisal, 
foreign minister of Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, 
for expressing concern about growing Shi'ite influence in Iraq 

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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
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 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
in
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.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
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.

+++++

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