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This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
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September 2007

ISSUE #161 - 30th September 2007


Time and date in Westernmost Europe

ISSUE #161 - 30th September 2007 [430]


Seatbelts: The Difference Between Funerals and Hospitals


Six Inconvenient Truths about Slavery in the US


Rugby World Cup Shirt-Championship


Sole Challenge to the Haka


Week 161's Letters to the Press


Quotes of Week 161

Seatbelts: The Difference Between Funerals and Hospitals

A car races along a four-lane freeway at 120 km/hr (75 mph).  It encounters a sudden instability.  The car careers towards the central reservation, bounces off it, twists around and eventually comes to a halt, a write-off of course.  It strike no other vehicle in its terminal paroxysm. 


Occupants strapped in with their seatbelts survive, albeit with serious injuries.


Those who have failed to belt up die. 

Paris France in August 1997; Monasterevin Ireland in August 2007. 

In Paris, Princess Diana, her boyfriend Dodi and the (drunk) driver Henri Paul, were all unbelted and all died.  Trevor Rees-Jones, Diana's (useless) bodyguard, in the front passenger seat was the only one in a seat belt and he survived.  I call him useless because he not only failed to ensure Diana was belted up, but allowed an intoxicated man to drive her - and his sole job was to protect her life.  In fact Diana never wore a belt when she was a back-seat passenger, as TV images repeatedly showed. 

The sudden instability they encountered was a white Fiat Uno whose back left wing their Mercedes clipped whilst overtaking. 

The Monasterevin accident involved my brother and some of his family. My brother's carTheir sudden instability was a (so far unexplained) blowout to the right rear tyre.  After five somersaults, the car ended up upside down.  All three occupants wore their seat belts and all three survived.  They suffered nasty injuries but are making full recoveries, although one of them is left with a permanent disability. But for their seatbelts, the outcome would undoubtedly have involved three funerals instead of three hospitals. 

I recount this incident solely to highlight what most of us surely already know.  Seatbelts save lives. For this reason alone - and certainly not to satisfy legislation - we should always wear them in every vehicle every time and ensure that everyone else in the car also wears them.  Moreover, an unbelted occupant is a lethal hazard not only to himself but to the other belted occupants because in a crash his body will be thrown around the inside of the car like a missile, breaking people's necks and other bones. 

Seatbelts really do mean the difference between a funeral and a hospital. 

Back to List of Contents

Six Inconvenient Truths about Slavery in the US

Much is said and written about the shame of slavery in America, and how modern-day white Americans should apologise to their modern-day black compatriots. 

Rubbish, and for six reasons. 

  1. Slavery was an ancient and universal institution, not a distinctively American innovation.

  2. Slavery existed only briefly, and in limited locales, in the history of America, and involved only a tiny percentage of the ancestors of today’s Americans.

  3. Though brutal, slavery wasn’t genocidal: live slaves were valuable but dead ones brought no profit, which is why slave-owners wanted to keep them healthy and breed them, not kill them.

  4. It’s not true that the US became a wealthy nation through the abuse of slave labour: the most prosperous states in the country were those that were first to free their slaves.

  5. While America deserves no unique blame for the existence of slavery, the US (along with Britain) merits special credit for its rapid abolition.

  6. There is every reason to believe that today’s African-Americans would be worse off had their ancestors remained behind in Africa.

I wish I had thought up this list, but I didn't.  It's culled from an excellent article by columnist, author and talk-radio host Michael Meved, which I would recommend. 

Back to List of Contents

Rugby World Cup Shirt-Championship

Rugby World Cup 2007Did someone say there was a Rugby World Cup in progress?

For someone like me, it's the only show in town, six weeks of glorious rugby that come around only every four years.  Click on the logo - also at the top right above my blogroll - to get the current scores, points and rankings, which I am updating in (almost) real time. 


The kings of the sport, such as South Africa and tournament favourite New Zealand delight us in demonstrating, with their sublime rugby skills, just why they are kings. 


The minnows such as Georgia and Portugal sometimes leave us aghast with wonder at their skills, fitness and above all courage in the face of daunting oppression by the top-class teams.  


Pacific dots, with average populations of just 400,000, stun the big boys (average pop 33m) with dazzling displays and thunderous hits. 

And then you have two of the so-called big boys, England the current world champion and Ireland ranked sixth in the world. 


England struggle to beat the minnows and go down to a humiliating defeat by South Africa by a thumping 36-0, that is 0 as in nil, zero, zilch, naught, nothing, nada, nix, nowt, zip. 


Ireland, scarcely able to defeat even the minnows Namibia (32-17) and Georgia (14-10) whom the others crushed by, on average, 53-4, goes on to succumb massively to the French 25-3, with barely a murmur. 

It so happens that both nations have the same proud sponsor, O2, a phone company.  It's ponying up £12m to back the England team and perhaps half as much as again for the Irish.  I am sure O2's shareholders thought these were very astute investments at the time, though they're not so sure today. 

But O2 has accorded England and Ireland the opportunity to mount a separate competition, one that they can actually win, to be known as the Rugby World Cup Shirt-Championship.  These are their entries: 

England Nil, South Africa 33


32-17 vs Namibia; 14-10 vs Georgia; 3-25 vs France

Cry your eyes out, New Zealand, you haven't a hope of winning this one.

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Sole Challenge to the Haka

The All Blacks frighten the ever-respectful Lions with their girlie Haka.  Or is it Riverdance?Still on rugby, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all insist on performing, prior to their every game, what they call a Haka, a kind of girly war dance which is not unlike Michael Flatley's infamous Riverdance, only less scary. 

Two years ago, I wrote a piece, Dissing the Haka, pondering why the opposing team just stands around respecting the farcical pantomime instead of, say, ridiculing it.  In the current World Cup, their opponents still allow these teams to play their silly ritual and thus start the rugby feeling all charged up like warriors of old. 

But I've just come across this clip where one team, once upon a time long ago, stood up to the Haka.  Ireland in 1989.

But the rugby bosses were so outraged by this effrontery that such presumptuousness was never again permitted. 

It's just not cricket, they said.  D'oh!

Back to List of Contents

Week 161's Letter to the Press

Only three letters over the past month or so, and none of them published.  I am obviously losing my touch. 


Why did the IRFU extend Eddie O'Sullivan's Contract?
- to the Irish Times
The IRFU needs to explain why it extended by four whole years Eddie O´Sullivan´s contract as Ireland manager immediately BEFORE the Rugby World Cup began.  His and his team´s abject failure in the competition illustrates the IRFU´s folly.


Capitalism and Climate Change
- to the Irish Times
Eugene Tannam is quite correct to blame climate change entirely on perfidious capitalism.  But we in the West are so utterly immersed and embroiled in capitalism that we are beyond repair.  Not so for others.  Thus, the only way to solve climate change is for the West to immediately cease all trade and investment in China and India ...


Sectarian Racist Sexist Heterphobic Police Associations
- to the Irish Times
The London Metropolitan Police Sikh Association thinks An Garda Síochána is racist for refusing to allow its uniformed members to wear turbans.  That's a bit rich coming from an overtly sectarian association open only to Sikhs.  Of course it's not alone.  Britain is also home to the similarly sectarian Association of Muslim Police ... as well as numerous overtly racist ... sexist ...heterophobic associations ... 

Back to List of Contents

Quotes of Week 161

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

Quote: Iran ... is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. ... Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent and target Israel ... Iran is sending arms to the Taliban. ... Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes. ... Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust ... Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere ... We will confront this danger before it is too late.

George Bush, speaking to
the American Legion Convention in Las Vegas

Quote: “It is necessary to prepare for the worst ... the worst, it's war, sir.

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner recognizes the danger posed by allowing Iran to continue developing its nuclear bomb unmolested.

He later backtracked saying he didn't mean what he seemed to imply
- but he clearly did.

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

Quote: You see Sunnis who once fought side by side with al Qaeda against coalition troops now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al Qaeda. Anbar is a huge province. It was once written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq.

George Bush in Anbar province on a surprise visit

Quote: Day after day, hour after hour, they keep the pressure on the enemy that would do our citizens harm. They've overthrown two of the most brutal tyrannies of the world, and liberated more than 50 million citizens. In Iraq, our troops are taking the fight to the extremists and radicals and murderers all throughout the country. Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year ...

Like our enemies in the past [Japan, North Korea, North Vietnam], they [Islamicists] kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world. This enemy is dangerous; this enemy is determined; and this enemy will be defeated ...

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like boat people, re-education camps, and killing fields’ ...

It's not up to politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki] will remain in his position - that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy, and not a dictatorship ...

The greatest weapon in the arsenal of democracy is the desire for liberty written into the human heart by our Creator.

George Bush addresses US military veterans of foreign wars

Quote: [My] government has been active in fostering national reconciliation ... US officials should think first before criticising [my] administration ... This sends messages to the terrorists that the security situation is weak and the political situation is not strong. These are negative messages, encouraging the terrorists

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki
has a dig at Senator Hilary Clinton and other US Democrats
who are calling for his removal

Quote: On our fundamental rights if we have to make a choice between Boston and Berlin, then the Green Party looks to Berlin.

Eamon Ryan, Ireland's Green party Minister
for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources
sticks to anything so long as it is Leftward.

Why do you never see a Rightwing green party,
when greenery is surely independent of Left or Right ideologies? 
And in any case when Leftist ideology (think USSR and China)
is so obviously ruinous for the environment?

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

Quote: Ireland is a coarse place with a sad history where the natives are obsessed by money

Christian Pauls, German Ambassador to Ireland,
in an unscripted speech in German to German industrialists,
which unluckily for him was simultaneously translated into English,
to the humourless outrage of Irish MEP Gay Mitchel who was present.

Some wag remembered Thomas Mann's immortal line:
A German joke is no laughing matter

Quote: [If they fail to hold an EGM] Ryanair could then convene the EGM itself and any cost incurred by Ryanair must be discharged by Aer Lingus and deducted from Aer Lingus' director fees.  I can envisage booking out the Four Seasons or perhaps the Shelbourne Hotel with a free bar for the Aer Lingus [shareholders who attend], with the Aer Lingus directors personally meeting the expense. One can but dream.

Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O'Leary,
on being informed that its competitor Aer Lingus had refused
to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting that had been
requested by Ryanair, which at 29.4% is its biggest shareholder. 

- - - - - - - - - - O T H E R - - - - - - - - - -

Quote: Don’t worry, Mummy. I will give it back to you one day when I am king.

As reported by Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles”,
Prince William, then aged 14, comforts his mother Princess Diana
after she lost her HRH title in 1996
following her divorce from Prince Charles. 

Quote: Mal de George

French satirists' version of the mal de gorge” (sore throat) excuse
given my
, wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy,
for ducking out of a BBQ with George Bush

The scene of Larry Craig's so-called disorderly conductQuote: Excuse me, can you please tell me where the Larry Craig bathroom is?

One of the most frequent questions addressed to
Karen Evans, who works
at the information desk of
Minneapolis-St Paul
International Airport. 

US Senator Larry Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct
in relation to
having made gay advances
towards an undercover policeman in that
now infamous toilet.



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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

Rugby World Cup 7s, Dubai 2009
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of March 2009

 Rugby World Cup 2007
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After 48 crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are, deservedly,

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,
the average
points per game =
tries per game =
minutes per try = 13

Click here to see all the latest scores, points and rankings  
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