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September 2010


ISSUE #209 - September 2010

Flash ClocksVideo Clocks at

ISSUE #209 - September 2010 [348+1686=2034]

Daily poll on President Obama’s popularity; date is on the charts. (Click to get the latest version.)

Rasmussen Daily Poll - 18 September 2010

45% Total Approval as at 18 September 2010


Pershing Man-Buster - 25th September 2010


Beardie Wierdie - 26th September 2010


Only New Governments Can Clean Up Mess - 19th September 2010


Garglegate: Biffo's Irresponsible Partying - 19th September 2010


Protecting Borders - 19th September 2010


Where's My Congressman? - 19th September 2010


Issue 209’s Comments to Cyberspace


Quotes for Issue 209  [more added on 25th September]

Pershing Man-Buster

I have no idea whether this account is truth or myth, but it makes a great story!

But where or where is the UN Human Rights Council when you need it!

General Black Jack Pershing; man-buster

With a man-buster like this, you can understand where the Americans got the name for their deadly ballistic nuclear Pershing missile, which frightened the wits out of the Soviets during the 1980s. 

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Tony, bearded then shavenBeardie Wierdie

During the summer I was struck down by a nasty allergy which meant I had to stop shaving. This resulted in the first beard of my life (right), until thankfully a Turkish barber removed it with a cut-throat razor.


To my great relief, I now longer resemble the notorious Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (below).


The real Gerry Adams

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Only New Governments Can Clean Up Mess

I worked for decades in the oil and gas exploration and production business, traipsing from desert to ocean to jungle and back in the interminable search for the black stuff and its miasmic cousin.  It was/is a business where it is customary for staff like me to be moved from a subsidiary in one country to one in another.  This has the twin benefits of


broadening the skills base of the individual being moved as he/she learns how things are done and problems tackled in one part of the world as compared with another,


while spreading the technology and tricks learned within in one country and set of operating conditions, so that they can readily be applied in another.  The best way to transfer technology is always in the head of the individual. 

That was the official philosophy, and it was borne out in practice.  It was remarkably effective in spreading best practice, as developed in different parts of the world, into multiple subsidiaries across the global corporation for which I worked. 

But regular changing out of senior personnel had another interesting if unarticulated  effect.  A new person coming in to an established job could not only introduce fresh ideas.  He/she could equally abandon previous projects if deemed inappropriate.  The value of this should never be underestimated.  For every good idea there are probably two bad ones; the nature of progress is to quickly recognize the bad ones as bad, to drop them and to seek out fresh paths.  

But this simple concept conflicts with human nature. 

Suppose I spend a year pursuing a dream in a particular direction, but it is getting nowhere.  I am unlikely to thank a colleague for pointing this out to me; I am even less likely to acknowledge my failure to others (or even to myself).  And even when my flop becomes unmistakeable, I will find it increasingly difficult to change direction or to abandon the effort, because to do so is to admit I have been wasting everyone's time for the past year, and we all have our pride, dammit.  It takes an especially big human being to confess to his or her mistakes, even implicitly. 

So each time you rotate people out of senior jobs, you provide a clean slate for the new man or woman who


comes in with no baggage,


is delighted to take over the successes,


has no compunction about cancelling the failures, and


can blame everything untoward on the previous incumbent (whether or not he/she happens to have been incompetent). 

The organization is refreshed.  Meanwhile the person who has departed is also refreshed, has learnt a great deal and starts with a similarly clean slate in his/her new position.  Everyone wins, every business wins. 

So it is with Governments.  They also do both good things and bad things. 

Naturally they and everyone exult in the successes and try to do more of them.  But being made up of humans, it is likewise very difficult for Governments to recognize their mistakes and even harder to change direction.  That's why entrenched Governments generally just get worse and worse.  The bad things don't get corrected and so continue to deteriorate until they eventually overwhelm the good things, just as urine added to fine wine ruins the entire bottle.  North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Egypt, Zimbabwe to name just a few countries which autocracies have ravaged. 

That's the beauty of democracy.  The people have the chance not just to throw the rascals out every few years, but to institute change for the mere sake of change.  For a changed government is not bound by the mistakes of the previous one; it has no baggage; it can start with a clean slate.  It is likely that the new regime will try to undo past mistakes, continue with what is working and institute new projects of its own - which in turn may be good or bad. 

We are seeing this most dramatically the UK. 

After the economic collapse of 2008, the eleven-year-old Labour Government, as author of the economic policies that created first the boom then the inevitable bust, found itself paralysed when it came to taking decisive action.  It talked incessantly about having the courage” to take the hard decisions - presumably expenditure cuts and tax increases - but always next year, never now.  But how could it ever take those hard decisions, when each of them would be


a screaming repudiation of everything Labour had been doing for the previous decade and more,


an admission of gross national mismanagement,


a swallowing of Labour's oft-repeated boast no return to Tory boom and bust”. 

During last May's General Election campaign the Tory opposition, of course, said much the same about vague, unspecified future hard decisions, not wanting to frighten the electorate. 

But once the Tories won and set themselves up in coalition with the vegetarianist Liberal Democrats it was a different story.  The electorate was quickly told there would be savage cuts of up to 40% in the coming budget.  These are on the not unreasonable basis that if you are spending way more than your income you should above all reduce your spending.  Nobody ever got out of debt by borrowing more.   

But the key point is that the Tories have a free hand to make these cuts because, like a new manager rotated into a senior job,

(a) they are carrying none of the baggage that necessitates the cuts and

(b) they can blame them all on the incompetence of the predecessor Labour government. 

These are precisely the reasons that Labour could not do the same.  

Thus it the fact that the government has changed, rather than that the new one is better, that facilitates the necessary change in policy.  This crucial mechanism goes a long way to explain the superiority of democracy compared with all other forms of rule. 

Ireland is stuck in the same rut the UK was until May.  An inept governing party which led the country to boom and then ruin over the past 13 years is now trying to put things to right.  But because of its history and its composition of human beings, it is incapable of doing no more than trimming the edges. 

For example,


this year the state will have taken in €36 billion but spent €58 billion, yet the government thinks that budget cuts of a paltry €3 billion pa will make a dent in that gaping €22bn deficit, to be funded through even more borrowing. 


It has fired not a single civil servant despite the collapse in private business, particularly in the huge construction sector every bit of which is subject to detailed regulation and planning by ... civil servants.  There is now almost no work for them to do yet still they draw salaries. 


The government has also, under an appalling Croke Park Agreement”, appeased the public-service unions by promising, in exchange for vague reforms, not to fire anyone or reduce any salaries for the next four years. 


Meanwhile, tens of billions of additional €uros are being borrowed to pour into the disintegrating banking sector, which I've written about previously


It will take today's babies and their own offspring their lifetimes to pay back the colossal debts now being built up.  By way of comparison,


the 1976 Olympics in Montreal incurred a debt of just $1.5 bn, and this took its citizens and their children three long decades to discharge,


yet Ireland's interest charges alone, in 2010 alone, will amount to €4 bn. 

The opposition Fine Gael and Labour parties inspire no greater confidence than Fianna Fail as regards raw competence.  But at least, if/when elected, they will start with a clean slate and will be able to apply the policies they believe to be  appropriate, untrammelled by their own history. 

Only a new government can clean up the mess of the old.  For this reason, Ireland for one is in desperate need of an election, unfortunately not due until 2012, by when a further €40 bn will have been added to the deficit.   

Many other countries are in a similar predicament. 

And more businesses should try to rotate their senior managers purely for the sake of change and refreshment.   

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Garglegate: Biffo's Irresponsible Partying

For those few who don't know the story, last week in Galway Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail party held a two-day conference.  The conference was dubbed a think-in; the story quickly became dubbed as Garglegate, and later the think-in was renamed a drink-in.  

On the last evening of the think-in/drink-in, the night of 13th/14th September, the liquor was free so there was much carousing in the bar amongst party faithful and journalistic hangers-on.  Brian Cowen, the country's Taoiseach (prime Minister), known as Biffo (Big Ignorant F**ker from Offaly), was as usual the life and soul of the party and put on a star three-way turn: 


To the admiration of all, he selflessly displayed his ability to down copious pints of (free) Carlsberg for which he has long been renowned.  


He performed a witty skit of, amongst others, Philip Walton, an Irish has-been Ryder Cup golfer, over which - hilariously - the player later launched a public whinge


He gave robust renditions of several popular ballads, particularly his special party-piece, The Lakes of Ponchartrain, whose last two lines, presciently, are 

And at each social gathering, a foamy glass I'll drain,
And I'll drink a health to my Creole girl,
“By the lakes of Pontchartrain.

Biffo finally went up to his hotel bedroom sometime after 3:30 am. 

Next morning, he went downstairs for a long-scheduled radio interview on RTE, the national broadcaster.  Only thing was, the interview took place shortly after 9 am, ie it was at a rude hour for a man who at the best of times is known more as a nightowl than an early bird.  To some half-a-million listeners, he then proceeded with a laboured, incoherent set of answers, but marked by a rasping voice and slurred vowels - listen for yourself.  So far so bad.  Shortly after the ten-minute session ended, Simon Coveney, a senator from the rival Fine Gael party and a twitterer (then with just a couple of hundred followers - since grown to over 1300), tweeted

God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested...

A firestorm erupted as this tweet and the infamous interview with an allegedly drunken prime minister became a story racing around the world, getting picked by in at least 26 countries over 450 news agencies, including CNN, Fox, Reuters, BBC. 

Brian Cowen, Taoiseach with a hoarse voiceThe Taoiseach himself first blamed Sen Coveney for playing party politics, calling it “a new low”.   A couple of days later he decided to “apologise”, not for his incoherency, not for his inebriation, but solely because his voice was hoarse and that the interview “wasn't my best performance”.   

The fury within Ireland, the nervousness of the bond markets (which pushed Ireland's borrowing rates up over 6.3%) and the amusement of everyone else were predicated on the ineptness of the interview and Mr Cowen's foolishness to have submitted himself to it after such a hard night of partying. 

But to me, that is not the root issue at all.  The really scaring thing is that for a number of hours the country was led by a man who was not in control of his faculties.  As such he was in no condition to deal with a sudden national emergency.  For example:


a natural disaster (eg a major earthquake, such as the one in Christchurch, New Zealand a couple of weeks ago),


a terrorist attack (Al Qaeda has been known to fly planes into buildings),


a sudden financial exigency (such as the near banking collapse of 29 September 2008 averted only by an instant, late-night bank guarantee). 

The Taoiseach and his government were in no fit state to deal with such situations on the night of 13th/14th September; they were all living it up in the bar in Galway.  That is the real scandal, not the fact that he became tired and emotional”, to use a well-worn euphemism

No major commercial business would run itself this way - it wouldn't dare to.  It would always institute a management roster system, whereby senior people would at all times be available and empowered to deal with any eventuality at any time of any day or night. 


If it is your turn to be rostered (eg for the next week or fortnight or month), you must remain alert, sober, drug-free, contactable and within a short distance of the office, for 24 hours a day. 


But if not, you can go anywhere and do anything you want during your time off, provided you show up during office hours in an appropriate condition to do your job. 

No-one is capable of perpetual good behaviour, 24/7/365, and remaining sane.  A roster system is therefore essential for the health of both the organization and of its executives. 

Governments should do something likewise. As such, if the Taoiseach wants to indulge in a bit of late night partying, he should first appoint a senior deputy, presumably his Tánaiste Mary Coughlan (someone else with a reputation for hard drinking) who keeps himself/herself compos mentis and is given authority to take major decisions on behalf of the leader. Similarly, every cabinet minister should set up rosters, which would give them the occasional opportunity to join the party.

But this seems to be a concept too complex for the Irish Government to comprehend, or indeed the citizenry generally. 

I wonder are other national governments any better?

Late Note (28th September):

Meanwhile, US comedian and late-night show host Jay Leno is relieved to realise that America is not the only country with drunken morons

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Protecting Borders

The case for protecting national borders, a concept that with a few exceptions (eg Australia, Japan) the enlightened Western world, principally Europe, the United States and Canada, seem to have forgotten. 

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Where's My Congressman?

You'll love this one-minute Youtube clip, which is apparently going viral. Seems some congressmen have been avoiding their constituents during the summer holidays because they don’t want to be shouted at for supporting unpopular Obama policies.

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Issue 209’s Comments to Cyberspace


Would you welcome a visit by the pope to Ireland?
Comment on 16th September on an Irish Times poll question (40% Yes, 60% No)
I love all the "No"s from Catholic-born Irish and their reasons. They remind me of teenage tantrums when Mam and Dad draw a line in the sand. And then they go off and brag to their friends how brave they are in defying their gombeen father and mother ...


After the deluge
Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog on 14th Sep 2010
concerning education reform in New Orleans following Hurricate Katrina

A most encouraging story. When you combine it with the extraordinary work being done by Washington DC's new education chancellor, Michelle Rhee, we are perhaps viewing the early shoots of a complete educational revolution ...


Industrial output a ray of light amid gloom of banking crisis
Comment on Dan O'Brien's Irish Times Opinion piece on 13th September 2010
The first seven comments are far more insightful, rational, coherent and plain sensible than Dan O'Brien's rambling wishful-thinking article.
One observation. This Govt has made not a single single civil/public servant redundant. Not one. Yet industry has been crushed with redundancies and ...


“Burn a Koran” Day vs “Ground Zero” Mosque
Letter to the Irish Times on 9th September 2010
Madam, / I refer to your Editorial of 9th September (“An incitement to hatred”) about the threat by evangelical pastor Terry Jones to burn the Koran on the ninth anniversary of nine-eleven.
Hillary Clinton also roundly castigates the proposed “Burn a Koran” day protest. On the other hand, Barack Obama has, like yourself on August 17th, defended the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero” mosque ...


Confidence and climate change
Letter to the Irish Times on 3rd September 2010
Your editorial of 3rd September seems to adopt the same kind of assumptions that brought about the international collapse in confidence in the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Confidence and climate change).
While dismissing the very serious errors that we have come to know about that emanated from the IPCC, you have nevertheless assumed that its underlying message ...


Should an Islamic cultural centre be constructed close to the site of Ground Zero?
Comment on 1st September on an Irish Times poll question (50% Yes, 50% No as at 12th September)
Firstly, while the vast majority of the world's billion Muslims are not terrorists, calls for subjugation and terrorism in various guises against infidels occupy some 60% of the Koran, so it is incorrect to infer that 9/11 was somehow anti-Islamic. Moreover, even non-terrorist Muslims are virtually silent ...

I'll add to this as the month progresses. 

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Quotes for Issue 209

Quote: I see some [foreign investment] funds looking for returns of 20 to 25% at a time when fellatio is close to zero.”

Rachidi Dati, a French MEP and former justice minister entertains the nation
while trying to talk about matters economic. 

It works better in French where “fellatio” and “inflation” sound similar.

U.S. apologizes for inverted Philippine flagQuote: This was an honest mistake.”

Rebecca Thompson, a spokeswoman
for the American Embassy in Manila
explains why the Americans
flew the Philippines flag upside down 
during a joint press conference in New York between their respective presidents, Barack Obama and
Benigno Aquino
(son of my one-time acquaintance former president Cory).

Behind Mr Aquino on the right in the above photograph,
the blue should be on top, the red below.
Inverted like this signifies that the Philippines are at war. 

Mr Obama's foreign policy blunders continue.

Quote: In that awful moment when the facts became clear, and they were called to make an impossible choice, they all found the same resolve.  They agreed to the same bold plan ... And then they rose as one, they acted as one, and together, they changed history’s course.

Michelle Obama reveals that her own soaring rhetoric
is matched only by a level of ignorance of history
that is remarkably similar to that of her husband. 

Only a handful of passengers on hijacked Flight 93 on 9-11
took the heroic action that she chooses to ascribe to every passenger. 

The facts themselves are dramatic enough:
to embellish them with fantasy is to disrespect the actual heroes.

Quote: “Capitalism takes no prisoners and it kills competition where it can ... On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers.”

Britain's [anti?] Business Secretary, Vincent Cable
speaking to the Liberal Democrats' annual Conference,
while conveniently forgetting

(1) his lucrative years as Chief Economist
for the Capitalist-in-tooth-and-claw
multinational oil and gas conglomerate Shell,


(2) that by his definition, spivs include his leader's dad and brother,
his prime minister's late father, lots of generous
LibDem’s donors,
and the party's own former chief secretary-to-the treasury David Laws.

Hattip: Guido Fawkes

Quote: Michael O’Leary outside Ryanair is just as beloved, sensitive and caring as he is in Ryanair.

Ryanair's pugnacious boss, on his family life

Quote: If I behaved like Tiger Woods I would find himself minus a vital organ.

Singer Michael Bublé, at a sell-out concert
in Dublin's brand new 50,000 seat Lansdowne Road
disappoints his overwhelmingly female audience by telling them
he has become engaged to
Loreley Lopilato, an Argentinean beauty.

Argentinean women are not to be trifled with, apparently. 

It was his biggest-ever concert and the stadium's first-ever concert.

- - - - - P O P E - - - - -

Quote: Mr Ratzinger, as head of the world’s second most evil religion you are not welcome ... Go home to your tinpot Mussolini-concocted principality, and don’t come back.

Oooooh!  Richard Dawkins, the Pope of Atheists
doesn't like to see a competitor Pope visit the UK,
even if invited by the Queen and (previous) prime minister. 

I wonder what Pope Dawkins thinks is
the world’s first most evil religion”?
He won't dare say.

Quote: When you land at Heathrow Airport you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country.

Papal adviser Cardinal Walter Kaspar. 

The Pope promptly dropped him from his entourage visiting Britain,
although the Cardinal was only referring to
the vast array of non-white faces at London's main airport. 

Can't have Cardinals making accurate observations, can we?

Quote: “I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers ... I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes ... I acknowledge the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins ... I ask all of you to show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.”

Pope Benedict XVI apologises, during his State visit to the UK,
for the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clerics . 

Nevertheless, he was, curiously, quoting the third line of Stone Free,
the first song that Jimi Hendrix wrote after moving to England in 1966.

- - - - - U S A - - - -

Quote: There is no doubt that when someone goes out of their way to be provocative in ways that we know can inflame the passions of over a billion non-Muslims around the world at a time when we've got our troops in a lot of Muslim countries, that's a problem.

President Obama appeals to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
not to build his 13-storey triumphalist mosque near Ground Zero,
because it is so offensive to a billion non-Muslims. 

Oh wait, my mistake.
It seems he was objecting to a few Korans getting burnt,
and it is Muslims deciding to get offended.

Quote: I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faith.”

Hillary Clinton is referring to Rev Terry Pastor's
proposed Burn-a-Koran commemoration of 9-11. 

A pity she is not heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation
of the disrespectful, disgraceful act represented
by the proposed Ground Zero Mosque,
which has come from Americans and foreigners of all hues.

Quote: The coming Eid would expectedly be observed on 9/11, this a golden opportunity for President Obama to offer Eid prayers at Ground Zero and become Amir-ul-Momineen or Caliph of Muslims. In this way, all the problems of Muslim World would be solved ... Barrack Hussain Obama must act now. This is a golden opportunity, Muslims badly need it.” 

Ayatullah Durrani, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Industries
and former member of its Ideological Council,
reckons Mr Obama is not just a Muslim
(we all know he was born one and raised as one in his early years),
but the man to lead the world's Sunnis.

Hattip: Mark Humphrys

Quote: And they're not always happy with me -- they talk about me like a dog. That's not in my prepared remarks, but it's true.

President Obama whines. 
He really should avoid wandering off his teleprompter.

Nevertheless, he was, curiously, quoting the the third line of “Stone Free”,
the first song that Jimi Hendrix wrote after moving to England in 1966.


- - - - B A N K I N G - - - - -

Quote: Banks, like all sensible bullies, target the weakest first. Once you are in debt it is very difficult to escape and piling up the interest charged keeps the unfortunate victims trapped for longer. It is a recurring theme in this column that banks always bounce back, no matter who gets squashed on the way. They are already doing just that.

Rodney Hobson, an investor and investment adviser with Morning Star

- - - - - A U S T R A L I A - - - - -

Quote: The Greens are like water melons, green outside and red inside ... Stalinists ... For those who value our present way of life, the Greens are sweet camouflaged poison.

Cardinal George Pell, Catholic archbishop of Sydney,
has no time for Australia's anti-human, anti-Christian,
anti-family, pro-poverty Greens

- - - - - E U - - - - -

Quote: It is not easy to have a rational discussion with a moderate Jew about what is happening in the Middle East.”

The EU's Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht lets the mask slip
to reveal his (the Commission's?) true anti-Semitic fervour.

Caught out, he later apologised saying
anti-Semitism has no place in today's world

Quote: You got the Belgians running Europe?

The newly-elected, incredulous and much-missed George W Bush,
on being told in early 2001 by Tony Blair (according to the latter's new memoir),
that the Belgian Prime Minister,
the theretofore deservedly unheard of Guy Verhofstadt,
was attending a G8 meeting as the “president of Europe”.

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

Quote: (14th September 2010): “God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested.”

Opposition TD Simon Coveney,
about a radio interview at 9am by Ireland's leader Brian Cowen,
after the latter had been up boozing and carousing until 3 am
with his party colleagues at their annual

This tweet attracted international attention,
as a drunken prime minister will always  make great copy.

He called this a new low in politics” and “pathetic and pitiful”.   

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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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