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

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September 2004

Issue #86 : Miscellaneous Posts During September 2004 [652]

Raththergate's Lack of Mistakes

What a cracking story about US TV Anchorman Dan Rather's forged documents, apparently signed by George Bush's (now long dead) commanding officer Lt Col Jerry Killian.  They purportedly demonstrate George Bush's flaky service with the National Guard in the 1970s, and efforts to use influence to facilitate him.  They were apparently written in order to be filed away rather than sent to anyone.  

Dan Rather is, of course, America's most revered newscaster, the equivalent perhaps of the BBC's David Dimbleby or Channel 4's Sir Trevor MacDonald.  

He broke his story on CBS's flagship 60 Minutes programme, whose equivalent in the UK is the BBC's Panorama and in Ireland RTÉ's Prime Time.  

The list of evidence that the four memos he presented, such as this one, are phony is astonishing.

  • The memos use military phraseology and abbreviations that were not in use in the 1970s (eg grp for group - should have been gp) 

  • Killian did not use the customary form of his own rank and position

  • There are doubts about the veracity of Killian's signature and handwriting

  • The memos were typed in New Times Roman, a font not available to the public until the 1980s

  • They include the superscript th, as in 111th, which Microsoft Word produces automatically, but which no typewriter in the 1970s was capable of typing

  • The formation of the letters, the variable pitch, the spacing, the word-wrapping and the overall layout correspond exactly with the default settings of Microsoft Word - an impossible coincidence

  • The wife and son of Killian say that he never typed, rarely even wrote, relying instead on his memory

  • Various events and people do not match up date-wise (eg Col Staudt had left the service 17 months before he supposedly pressured Bush's supervisor)

  • Not a single document-expert has supported the genuineness of the documents

The mistakes are so obvious - many spotted by bloggers within an hour of publication - that the the forger was undoubtedly someone too young to have used the mechanical or mechanical/electric typewriters that pre-dated personal computers.  

But I am not; I've been touch-typing since 1962, and until PCs came along never went anywhere without my trusty portable.  And for this reason, I have observed one further piece of irrefutable evidence that no-one seems to have picked up on.  

The memos are typographically faultless.  

  • not a single spelling mistake or correction,  

  • no black squares, 

  • no overwritten letters, 

  • no double spaces, 

  • no missing words or letters hand-inserted with a ballpoint, and 

  • nothing manually scratched out.  

Believe me, that is impossible for any but the most skilled and dedicated typist, carefully and meticulously wielding those white correction pads and prepared to retype entire pages when the corrections could not be adequately disguised.

  • Could a non-typist have produced such perfect documents ?  NO

  • Would a non-typist, or even a skilled typist have bothered with such perfection for memos destined only for his/her own files ? NO

This piece of evidence alone is enough to prove forgery.  

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Excusing the Beslan Murderers

Dominic Bryan is an academic with Queens University Belfast.  In commenting on 7th September in the (subscription-only) Irish Times on the evil terrorist murder of countless children, teachers and others in Beslan, he accuses America and Britain of terrorism, and says terrorism is anyway nothing new, so what's the big deal.  And he ends with this outrageous apologia for the conduct of the murderers.

We have to attempt to understand why non-state actors commit such terrible atrocities as that in Beslan. We need to understand why they use certain tactics. And we need to change the political contexts in which these activities are legitimised. Just calling them all terrorists helps no one.

On 9th September, the Irish Times, to my surprise, printed my response.  

Madam, - Dominic Bryan of QUB's Institute of Irish Studies (September 7th) blathers that we have to attempt to understand why non-state actors commit such terrible atrocities as that in Beslan. We need to understand why they use certain tactics...”  Actually, we need to hunt down such non-state actors and kill them. No excuses. 

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The following two posts are based on letters I wrote in response to articles which appeared in the subscription-only Irish Times (and elsewhere), but which the editor chose not to publish.  
Not sufficiently anti-Bush, perhaps.

Stupid Bush

Howell Raines, the prestigious New York Times' former editor, who was fired for protecting the plagiary of reporter Jayson Blair, has a problem with facts.

In a recent article in the Guardian (naturally!) and other newspapers, he repeats a variety of assertions about President Bush's mental abilities. 

President George W Bush is 

  • of low IQ, 
  • stupid, 
  • a village idiot, 
  • thick, 
  • dumb, 
  • not smart enough, 
  • of questionable mental capacity, 
  • of questionable imagination, 
  • intellectually weak.

He asks, Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure their SATs and college exam papers would put Kerry far ahead.  But if he had any facts to back this up, you can be sure he would trumpet them.  It's because he hasn't that he's spoofing.  

So here are a few facts in the public domain. 

  • Mr Kerry was awarded a bachelor's degree by Yale 1966 shortly before he joined the US Navy. 
  • Two years later, so was Mr Bush. 
  • In 1976 he earned a law degree from Boston College (where?)
  • But the previous year Mr Bush had earned an MBA from Harvard. 

So Kerry is a double-bachelor graduate from Yale and Boston; Bush is a bachelor+masters graduate from Yale and Harvard.  On this objective evidence, the score is Kerry 2-, Bush 2+. 

So, Mr Raines, who's the dumb one? 

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The Accidental Hero and the Swiftee Smears

In an article published in several newspapers, Professor David Gergen, erstwhile adviser to four US presidents, recently decried the anti-Kerry ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.   Andrew Sullivan, who has recently turned anti-Bush, also considers the ads an unworthy smear.  They are just not cricket.  

But such commentators would be more convincing if they were to address the actual issues raised by the disaffected Swiftees.  John Kerry himself has not faced reporters in a serious interview since August 1st, apparently for fear of questions about these matters.  

It's worth summarising in one place the main things in the public domain that he needs to clarify:

  • Mr Kerry claimed before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 that thousands of US soldiers in Vietnam were war criminals; he subsequently included himself
  • He claimed on the floor of the Senate in 1986 that he had spent Christmas 1968 under fire on a gunboat (illegally) inside Cambodia, which his campaign has now admitted was false
  • In respect of Mr Kerry's wounds that earned him three purple hearts and an early exit from Vietnam, Senator Bob Dole recently remarked, three Purple Hearts - he never bled that I know of ... they were all superficial wounds ... he never spent one day in the hospital 
  • His campaign has effectively admitted that the first of his purple-heart wounds, which according to his doctor required only a band-aid, was self-inflicted albeit unintentionally
  • For his silver star, there are, extraordinarily, three separate citations, signed by three different officers, over a 12-year period, with two very different accounts; moreover his website claims the medal includes a V for valour which it doesn't
  • In 1971, he threw his medals away in an ostentatious anti-war protest, but in 1984 they mysteriously reappeared in his office
  • In the early 1970s, as a leading anti-warrior and whilst still a US Navy officer, he consistently took the North Vietnamese negotiating positions, so much so that to this day he is honoured with a photograph in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), which shows him meeting the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam.   

Andrew Sullivan also considers it underhand that the Swiftees started preparing their case (and their book, Unfit for Command) well before Mr Kerry declared he was reporting for duty at the Democratic Convention.  In fact, he embarked upon his Vietnam re-journey months ago during his primary campaign, which is when and why the Swiftees began preparing their case.  Why, the issue was so well known that even I was commenting on Mr Kerry's accidental heroics back in February.  

Unless the Accidental Hero can provide sensible answers or allow the release of his full military records, he will prove to have been most unwise to make his paltry four months service in Vietnam the centrepiece of his presidential campaign. 

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Equestrian Cian O'Connor, Ireland's Olympic Gold Medallist (its eighth ever).  Did you ever see such a happy face? 
Equestrian Cian O'Connor, 
Ireland's Olympic Gold Medallist (its eighth ever).  
Did you ever see such a happy face?

Update November 2004
Sadly, it looks like he's going to have to hand it back because his horse, Waterford Crystal, tested positive for a banned substance, albeit one that could not have enhanced performance in any way.  

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Head transplant
Don't you just love this curious headline 
from Dublin Sport dated 25 August 2004 ?
Think about it ... 

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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
May, June, and July 2010


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

  • how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,

  • the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

  • Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.


Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,

  • part of a death march to Thailand,

  • a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),

  • regularly beaten and tortured,

  • racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

  • a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

  • shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,

  • torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,

  • a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.


Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.


This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:

  • Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

  • People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.

  • Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.

  • Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 

  • Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.


False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

  • Why does asparagus come from Peru?

  • Why are pandas so useless?

  • Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?

  • Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:

  • Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)

  • Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

  • The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 


Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.


Other books here

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