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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search
Unpublished and Published [P!] 
Letters to the Press and Cybercomments, during 2011
For letters and cybercomments in other years, click on
or 2007 or 2008 or 2009 or 2010  or 2012 or 2013

December 2011

November 2011

October 2011

August 2011

July 2011

June 2011

May 2011

April 2011

March 2011

February 2011

January 2011

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December 2011
Technocratic, unelected governments are the ideal
Online comment (p1) on 28th December to an Irish Times article by columnist and broadcaster Vincent Browne

+ I have come to believe technocratic, unelected governments are the ideal.

+ The purpose of politics [is] to make a reality of equality or substantive equality – equality of outcomes.

Vintage Vincent! Vintage socialism! Keep the Red Flag flying high. The people must not be trusted. Everyone must have an equal outcome regardless of effort or ability or entrepreneurship. No-one is entitled to his own property if it is more than someone else's.

As failed Communist regimes across the world have shown, individuals beg to differ and therefore these Utopian conditions cannot be met without a brutal police state to enforce them (Cuba anyone?).

Damn that Thatcher and Reagan for fostering growth and wealth. And why oh why did the the world's Dear Leader Kim Jong Il leave us so precipitously, shorn of a Vincentian role model? Sob.

Reply from Conor Burke

@ Tony Allwright, your concept of what socialism is, is as flawed as your logic that Regan and Tatcherite neo-liberal policies have some how brought growth and wealth , take a look around, this is the inevitable consequence of the wealth inequality that those policies have fostered . since the 70s the gap between rich and poor has increased dramatically decade upon decade , and what happens when wealth inequality reaches a certain level , Capitalism collapses and can only be saved by the sacrifice of the working class , Socialism makes the argument that why should those who's labour is exploited by capitalism for the profits of the few save a system that treats them so . Socialism at it core is about democratic control of the means of wealth creation for the needs of the mass of the people and not the profit of a small elite.

Reply from Frank Jameson

Can't see how you think Reagan and Thatcher were socialists.

[No, I don't know what this means, either!}

Reply from Michael O'Byrne

Who had the wealth, TonyAllwright? The Thatcher and Reagan era's have been classified were dominated by the philosophy of greed and the self-gratification of the individual. But as a former sympathizer toward socialism and communism - an admirer of the supposed " workers' paradise " of the Soviet Union and the other communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe and the continuing autocratic rule in Cuba - I acknowledge that there was nothing valuable achieved by any of them. Quite the contrary was the result in humanitarian terms. But unfettered capitalism does not have the answer either. The dogma shared by Thatcher and Reagan appealed to the baser instincts of human nature - the very same dishonourable and discredited doctrine embraced by the PD's and their non-member Charlie McCreevy and embraced by the Fianna Fail-led governments we had to endure from 1997 to 2011. The fervent disciples of that unChristian gospel - the bankers, builders and others - embraced it gleefully as it gave them the freedom to run riot in a regulation free financial environment. However the result from which the great majority now suffer are the smouldering ruins of the Irish economy and the loss of Irish sovereignty - now we are subject to the diktats of Germany and the unelected officials of the EU. How responsible are the former citizens of the once independent Irish Republic and now as mere natives of the EU province of Ireland and subjects of the German dominated EU for the situation in which they find themselves? I would think they must accept a great degree of the blame since they didn't recall the famous maxim, " If it sounds to good to be true then in all probability it is to good to be true "

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Charities need regulation to maintain public's trust
Online comment (p1) on 22nd December to an Irish Times article by Patricia Quinn, CEO of chief executive of Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange

No-one has a clue, really, about how well charities are run. Yes, we know how they collect money, but how do they spend it? Do they have procurement policies? Do they acquire goods and services via open tender that ensure only the lowest bidders get their business? I have no idea. Their lack of scrutiny by either shareholders or government is unique to the charity sector. It is therefore, inconceivable, that without such gimlet-eyed oversight by third parties they will ensure they always get best value for their contributors' money. Such ongoing self-imposed discipline is beyond the capability of ordinary human beings. This is a major flaw in the charity sector.

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It's a funny old game when it comes to corruption
Online comment (p1) on 15th December to an Irish Times article by David Adams about football referees

The huge discrepancy between wages paid to players vs referees helps explain the intimidation of refs by players that you so often see when there is an unpopular decision. Not only does the ref put up with it, without for example upgrading from a yellow card to a red card, but he knows that he - a cash nobody - will not be supported by the FA against an expensive crowd-pulling player like Messi.

This is the real corruption: players because of their star status influencing decisions by underpaid referees.

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Free Speech and BNP Leader Invitation
Letter to the Irish Times on December 5th)

Sir, / How ironic and pathetic that Trinity Against Fascism and its supporters should favour the Fascist ploy of banning speech they happen to dislike (BNP leader invitation, Letters, December 5th). The world's oldest (328 years and counting) debating society and a bastion of free speech, the TCD Philosophical Society, had invited the British National Party's Nick Griffin to speak at a debate on immigration last October. But at the last minute he was banned because people such as those in TAF don't approve of what he says (England for the English etc).

Free speech is pointless UNLESS it applies to people you disagree with or dislike or are offended by. Anyone - even the most fiery mullahs of Iran and Saudi Arabia - can agree with free speech so long as it conforms to the current orthodoxy, evidently the TAF position. / Yours etc,

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November 2011
Preparing for the budget
Letter to the Irish Times on 27th November

Sir, / Your correspondent Liam O'Mahony of ILP, presenting some imaginative ways to reduce the deficit to "€9 billion or €10 billion", concludes "problem solved" (Preparing for the budget, Letters, November 25th). Would that were so. The Government tells us that the deficit has been around €20 billion for the past two years. So both his plan and the Government's own paltry austerity budget of €3.9 billion will still disgracefully add an eleven-figure sum to the existing debt of €117 billion to be settled by today's innocent children and the yet unborn/unconceived.

This should make young people demand more austerity not less. / Yours etc,

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No escaping fact that rich continue to get richer
Online comment (p3) on 17th November to an Irish Times article by Vincent Browne about wealth disparity

Vincent, you perpetually make two heroic assumptions, and this article is no exception - + That it is instrinsically wrong that some people are extremely wealthy + That "inequality" is intrinisically wrong.

Neither stands up to any dispassionate rational scrutiny. They are impulses grounded solely on prejudice, emotion and envy, seasoned with economic zero-sum illiteracy. If you earn an extra €100 it does not follow that someone else has had to lose that €100.

Were you to say "poverty" is wrong, and defined "poverty" as having little or no money and few or no material possessions and not being able to feed, clothe or house your family, then I would agree with you. But there is none of that in Ireland. No-one goes hungry or naked, and social housing (albeit often of poor quality) is available for all who ask for it. Even homeless people on the street can avail of hostels. The individual, not society, is responsible for raising his/her own standard of living.

But you always talk about "relative poverty" which is, frankly, an oxymoron and an irrelevance.

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Just try imagining there was no EU
Online comment (p2) on 15th November to an Irish Times article by Fintan O'Toole about the €uro crisis

Fintan, your analysis of the two undo-able options being mooted is spot on. But your "solution" boils down to more spending.  
Yet spending is what the problem has been all along, as in spending more than you take in. The only solution, long term, is to stop spending, to stop loading ever larger lifetime debts on the yet unborn. It is wicked, morally repugnant behaviour, in effect a vicious form of child abuse, which current generations are perpetrating.  
Yet no-one, and certainly no politician, wants to articulate the basic truth that we must simply stop spending. Tough? Of course. But tough on the current generation who are the cause of the crisis, instead of being tough on the innocent future generations.

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Notes not the answer  [P!]
Letter published in the Sunday Times on 6th November
(available online but behind firewall)

Economist Matt Cooper writes "the EU must dismiss fears of inflation and follow the example of Britain and America by printing more money" ("It's payback time, at least for some of us", Comment, 30 Oct 2011).

What has he been taking? Inflation is the inevitable result of printing more money, because it automatically devalues existing money, thus requiring more of it to buy the same stuff. It's why Britain and America are both in its grip. But Governments like printing money, because it inflates away their debts, at the cost of every citizen's income and savings. Let's not encourage them in such confiscatory folly.

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October 2011
Race for the Áras
Letter to the Irish Times on 25th October
From Tony Allwright From Bernadette Edgeworth
Sir, Bernadette Edgeworth lists six reasons why Sean Gallagher has none of the qualities necessary to become the president of this country (Letters, Oct 25th, see right). As distinct from ... Sir, – Facts about Sean Gallagher:
1. A participant, actually a leader, in a real, dirty war. 1. A participant in a reality TV show.
2. A member, actually a leader, of a terrorist organization that was responsible for the majority of 3,000 needless sectarian murders (and also countless bullets in knees). 2. A member of a political party at a time when that party brought the country to its knees.
3. A man who never founded any legitimate business nor met a payroll, but fostered countless criminal businesses about which we have very little information. 3. A man who founded many businesses about which we have very little information.
4. A man whose innocent, smiling face features on countless lampposts. 4. A man who says he put up no posters, yet his face features on many posters on rubbish bins!
5. A man who has not at any time served the people of this country, indeed has apparently allowed them to be killed them in large numbers. 5. A man who has not at any time served the people of this country.
6. A man who has experience in State affairs, but only in a foreign jurisdiction within a legislature deliberately rigged to ensure his sectarian party cannot be ejected by voters. 6. A man who has no experience whatsoever in State affairs.
Such a person has, according to some, all the qualities necessary to become the president of this country. Seán Gallagher has none of the qualities necessary to become the president of this country.
Hydraulic Fracturing [P!] 
Letter published in the Sunday Times on 9th October
(available online but behind firewall)

Many misunderstanding surrounds the technique of hydraulic fracturing that you discuss ("Explosive argument", Comment, p16, 2nd October).

Fraccing (to use the oil industry's spelling) is by no means a new technology - it's been around for half a century. It is simply a matter of pumping fluid (usually water) down a borehole and into rock formation at sufficiently high pressure to cause it to fracture open and increase the paths by which oil and gas can reach the borehole. Material such as Sand (known as proppant) is often also pumped in order to keep prop up the fractures and keep them open. Chemicals can be used to reduce friction; or help suspend the proppant in the fluid when being pumped. no explosives are ever involved.

To suggest that this technique can pollute ground water, affect building foundations or cause other environmental damage is way off the mark.

To clarify, Aquifers occur are found at depths of a hundred or so metres at most. The shales in Letrim that would be fracced are at 1500 metres, so there's more than a kilometre of solid rock between them. With standard well-engineering practice, there is no way that anything done to gas-bearing shales at 1500 metres can have any effect whatsoever on aquifers, foundations, flora or fauna. Moreover, wells drilled horizontally means wellheads can be clustered within a few small unobtrusive pads.

Nevertheless, experience with Corrib, where objections have tripled costs and tripled the delivery time, show that Ireland presents one of the world's politically riskiest climates for oil and gas investments. So fraccing in Leitrim, already gathering protests, will probably never go ahead. Indeed, with prospects in Iraq, Africa and other hotspots offering less political risk, it will probably be a generation before anyone dares make serious O&G investments in this country again.

Full disclosure: I worked for Shell for thirty years.

Note: The above shows deletions from the original text
by the Sunday Times letters editor

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August 2011
Ignorance about Hydraulic Fracturing in Leitrim
Letter sent to the Irish Times on 27th August

Sir, / Last week RTE ran a crazy Prime Time discussion [as from minute 15] about producing gas in Leitrim by hydraulically fracturing shale, crazy because it involved three spokespersons whose grasp of the technology was clearly very shaky (to be polite).

A representative from No Fracking Ireland pushed the idea that fraccing (to spell it correctly) would cause environmental damage and introduce pollutants and flammable gas into the water supply. She was appalled to then hear that the energy company Tamboran Resources would not be pumping toxic fluids. For their part, it was clear that the two Tamboran spokesmen had very little technical grasp of what they proposed to do in Leitrim, and moreover that fraccing has been around for over 50 years. With people like this speaking out, no wonder ignorance of fraccing is widespread, as is evidenced by, for example, Deirdre Lillis's letter of 27th August (Energy for the future).

To clarify, acquifers are found at depths of a hundred or so metres at most. The Leitrim shales that would be fracced are at 1500 metres, so there's more than a kilometre of solid rock between them. With standard well-engineering practice, there is no way that anything done to gas-bearing shales at 1500 metres can have any effect whatsoever on aquifers or indeed house foundations. No-one made this utterly obvious point, which destroys all rational objections. Moreover, wells drilled horizontally means wellheads can be clustered within a few small unobtrusive pads. / Yours etc

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'Botox Bob' dilemma for men of a certain age
Online comment (p3) on 26th August to a tongue-in-cheek Irish Times article by Brian Boyd about men's tribulations over ageing

This is a great article, very entertaining, especially because of all the whining comments it elicited - 10 out of 13 [so far]!    

Whingers - you sound more ridiculous than you accuse Mr Boyd of being. To quote one of you (that means you Ted Sheehy), just grow up. There, that's an eleventh moan.

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More power to us if we choose nuclear option
Online comment (p1) on 25th August to an Irish Times article by environmentalist John Gibbons advocating nuclear power

Good to see you back in the Irish Times, John, if only for the rich pickings you provide! This time it's your statement that

“On the other hand, at least three million people will die this year as a result of air pollution. That’s more than 8,000 people every day. The principal source is airborne particulates arising from the widescale mining and burning of fossil fuels. It blights the lives of the tens of millions more who live with chronic respiratory disorders from breathing polluted air.”

First, such a preposterous statistic - 3m dead - needs to be sourced.

Secondly, even if true (!), it is meaningless unless offset by the untold improvement to people's lives and longevity arising since the industrial revolution from the use of fossil fuels. Take away fossil fuels and that 3m figure would rapidly become not an annual figure but more likely a weekly one.

That said, I agree with your overall thesis - nuclear energy should be embraced not shunned. Provided it is economic and the economics take into account waste disposal and eventual decommissioning.

And, of course, not a cent of (non-existent) public money should go into it. If the economics stand up, the private investors will come. But the state must guarantee a nuclear-investment-friendly environment, which Corrib (three times over budget and over time due to protests) has shown to be absent for fossil fuel investments.

David Healy writes:
Tony Allwright says "such a preposterous statistic - 3m dead - needs to be sourced." The enormous global mortality due to air pollution has been recognised for many years. Here's a recent estimate (quite a bit more than 3million/yr): 

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Legal system provides no guarantee of justice
Online comment (p2) on 22nd August to an Irish Times article by Michael Casey, in IMF board member, excoriating the Irish judicial system

An excellent and shocking analysis.

But the author is completely misguided when he complains about all the trappings of a royal court – wigs, gowns, prayer bands, tipstaffs, being ordered to stand when a judge enters a room. These symbols have no place in a republic; they represent privilege rather than justice.

These so-called trappings etc represent Ireland's continuous legal inheritance and tradition dating back 800 years to Magna Carta, one that is honourably shared by the Anglophone world from England to America to Australia to South Africa to Nigeria to Jamaica. These trappings signify the supremacy of the people over the ruling elite, not the other way round as in the days of King John before he was forced to sign the charter in 1215.

We tamper with them at our peril.

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Let's make Norway joint owner of our oil and gas
Online comment (p7) on 17th August to an Irish Times article by Fintan O'Toole proposing giving 50% of Ireland's (non-existent) oil to Norway

This article is unbelievably infantile! Firstly, Ireland does not have reserves of 6.5 billion barrels of oil and 20 trillion cubic feet of gas off the western seaboard. This is just a wild futuristic guestimate of what might be there in the rosiest of scenarios. Reserves is a term meaning the oil/gas has already been PROVEN to be present and to be ECONOMICALLY EXTRACTABLE at current prices and using current technology.

It is interesting that Mr O'Toole compares Ireland's licensing conditions to Cameroon's.

Ireland's terms may be generous compared to other countries, but consider this. Corrib will have taken 12 years to develop instead of four, and cost €2.4 billion instead of €0.8 billion. In other words the time and cost have TREBLED not because of problems with technology or finance, but solely because of local difficulties. In the business this is known as political risk, akin to the risk of war, regime-change, expropriation etc which we might expect in developing world economies such as Cameroon's.

Future would-be investors in Ireland's oil and gas are not stupid and will have studied Corrib. They will have to factor in a political risk premium of 200% in an already highly dubious geological environment and technical conditions offshore which are among the most demanding in the world. There are plenty of less financially scary oil and gas investment opportunities than those in Ireland, such as in Iraq, Libya, Russia, Cameroon, so why does he think Norway would be interested in 50%? No wonder Ireland has to offer easy terms.

If Mr O'Toole doesn't like this situation, perhaps he should talk to Shell to Sea and its many friends in the media and elsewhere.

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The end is nigh and it's all because of single mothers
Online comments (p3) on 15th August to an Irish Times article by Anne Marie Hourihane about mass lootings in England

Ms Hourihane, your hysterical diatribe in defence of single motherhood is in fact deeply misguided. No serious commentator is criticising single mothers per se. The issue is the absence of fathers and the seriously deleterious effect of this on children raised in family arrangements other than that of the biological married parents - see overwhelming evidence at  

Do you hate children? I ask because your article seems to rejoice in the fact that so many children lack their fathers, as if in your opinion fathers (and there will be tens of thousands who read your piece) are totally irrelevant to their children's wellbeing.

Above deleted by moderator.  This toned-down depersonalised version was published:

No serious commentator is criticising single mothers per se. The issue is the absence of fathers and the seriously deleterious effect of this, in general, on children raised in family arrangements other than that of the biological married parents - see overwhelming evidence at  

Oblivious to the wellbeing of children, this article seems to rejoice in the fact that so many kids lack their dads and the view that fathers (and tens of thousands of them will have read it) are irrelevant to their children's wellbeing.

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Merely a study document
Letter to The Economist on 9th August

Sir, / You wrongly and misleadingly say that the Vatican dismissed child-protection procedures set up by Irish bishops in 1996 as “merely a study document” (Church and state, July 30th 2011). The actual letter of 31st January 1997 from the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland where this phrase appeared ( is clear. The phrase in fact refers to the letter itself and the letter specifically declares that it is “not an official document of the Episcopal Conference”. / Yours etc,

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July 2011
Why is Vatican so miffed at reaction to Cloyne report?
Online comment (p4+) to an Irish Times article by its religious affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry.  But censored out by the Moderator (perhaps due to too much honesty in using the word “dishonest”!)

You are dishonest, Mr McGarry.

You allege that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, who was responsible for the 1997 letter to the Irish bishops, dismissed their 1996 Framework Document as “merely a study document”. Had you bothered to actually read that 1997 Vatican letter you would have learnt that the phrase merely a study document in fact referred to the letter itself and that the letter specifically declared that it was not an official document of the Episcopal Conference. See

If you don't get your facts right you do your anti-clericalism no service.

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Vatican did not try to obstruct abuse inquiry
Online comments (p5) on 25th July to two an Irish Times article by Breda O'Brien

It's worth reading the Vatican's actual 1997 letter which Mr Kenny disparages, not least for its gobbledook nature -

Somebody should really teach those Vatican guys to write proper, simple English. Their convoluted phraseology makes them their own worst enemy.

However the one clause that stands out in terms of its uncharacteristic clarity, is also fundamental: "The above-mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document". This makes the Taoiseach's attack on the letter look rather silly.

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Tackle Shatter on male circumcision P!
Letter published in the Irish Independent on 21st July

Kevin Myers points out that a Jewish Minister for Justice may introduce a state law governing private Catholic sacramental practices such as the seal of the Catholic confessional, and contrasts this with Rabbinical circumcision [There's never been a safer time for children, Opinion, July 19, 2011].

What radio or TV interviewer will now be brave enough to follow up this article by asking Minister Alan Shatter his views and intentions concerning such religion-based male genital mutilation in the context of child-protection? So far, no-one.

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Letter to the Sunday TimesHuman Harvest P!
Letter published by the Sunday Times (subscription only) on 17th July

Brenda Powers refers to the book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and says that in his world, human clones are crops to be harvested for their organs”(“With organ donors and transplants, there's not time for euphemisms”, Comment, last week). Powers goes on to say that this is far-fetched stuff. Would that it were. The Chinese communist has  engaged in the systematic harvesting of organs including of Falun Gong practitioners. They are the only prisoners who are given a medical examination upon arrest apparently for tissue matching purposes.

Details are available on the
Tallrite Blog here.

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Palestinian push for state status
Letter to the Irish Press on 15th July

Sir, / The alphabetically endowed Brian Dineen BCL (Int) III asks "Must history repeat the same mistakes? The best solution to the current impasse is the recognition of a provisional border along 1967 lines" (Letters, July 15th). 

Actually, the best solution is for the Palestinians simply to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. This has been the sole obstacle to peace in the area for the past hundred years.

Yours etc, Tony Allwright BE MEngSc MEI SPE I

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Anti-Murdoch Harangue
Unpublished letter to the Irish Times on 13th July 2011;
inserted instead as an online comment (on p2) on 14th July

Sir, / Columnist Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe begins his piece by telling us that he used to work for Rupert Murdoch, then follows with an entertaining 800-word anti-Murdoch harangue laden with hysterical epithets (“Murdoch's US interests vulnerable to UK woes”, Opinion, July 13th).

Murdoch’s output is variously described as a “sickening stench”, “sleaze”, “slime”.  His staff are “hyenas” (who curiously “bleat”) and “peripatetic bosses with English and Australian accents” (which can sound both sexist and racist).

As for Murdoch himself, he is apparently “a tax-dodging foreigner” with a “reptilian smirk”, and is likened to the late “Slobodan Milosevic” who was indicted for genocide and war-crimes. 

Of course everyone enjoys playing the man rather than the ball, but with such venom you have to ask about the circumstances in which the Murdoch empire and Mr Cullen parted company.

Anyway, I can only assume the Irish Times libel lawyers went through the article carefully before publication! / Yours etc,

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June 2011
Mission aims to loosen illegal grip on world's largest open-air prison
Online comments (p2) on 30th June to two opposing Irish Times contributions by Mick Wallace (for the Gaza flotilla) and Richard Humphreys (against it).

In any case, the argument may be moot. Israel seems to be having enormous success with a campaign of "Lawfare" against the latest flotilla, orchestrated by the legal firm Shurat haDin. Already, the number of boats has been whittled down from 15 to 10, and activists from 1500 to 350.

An Irishman is one of 14 such activists against whom two Israeli soldiers are bringing a private prosecution in connection with the 2010 flotilla, which seems to be having a chilling effect.

Surely everyone who was outraged at last year's deaths on the Mavi Mara should applaud this year's non-violent method of resisting the flotilla.

Details at

This second comment the moderator refused to publish - he/she deleted it no fewer than THREE times. I can't see why. 

People may be interested to know that Richard Humphreys is an ardent supporter of human rights in the wide sense, as his piece clearly demonstrates. Mick Wallace merely re-iterates the boilerplate anti-Israel claptrap that is the dogma of today's Left and indeed much of the Right (much of it apparent in this thread).

You will, however, rarely find an Irish politician prepared to openly defend Israel's right to resist its own extermination.

Have a look at what Mr Humphreys says, starting at Minute 1, at

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Golfer drives home the message of social justice
Online comment (p3) on 22nd June to an Irish Times article by Vincent Brown, in which he hijacks Rory McIlroy's phenomenal success in winning the US Open to drive home a raw socialist message.

Great to see Vin the Red back to his fighting best. Up the Revolution!

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Relieving Gaza Siege
Letter to the Irish Times on 3rd June

Fintan Lane of Irish Ship to Gaza says the objective of his colleagues and him is to non-violently break the siege of Gaza and to deliver much-needed materials that are banned or heavily restricted by Israel to the ordinary people there (Controversial Gaza flotilla, Letters, June 3rd).   

Then why not, at much lower cost thus freeing up more money for aid, simply waltz through the Rafah border with Egypt, which the new Egyptian regime has kindly opened, permanently?  Moreover, with this border open there is, inconveniently, no siege anyway. 

This letter was not published, in favour of a wittier one making essentially the same point:

Now the Egyptians have opened the border to Gaza why carry on with this Gaza Flotilla nonsense? If Mr Lane wants to shop in the newest mall in Gaza he can fly to Cairo first and then get a bus.

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Political stunts not the way to end Gaza conflict
Online comment (p4) on 1st June to an Irish Times article by Ruth Zakh, deputy ambassador at Ireland's Israeli embassy

David Smith and others say that the Jews have no right to be in Israel, though they have lived there continuously for at least 3,000 years.

  • The Jews got it (via UN Mandate) from the British in 1948,

  • who took it in 1917 from the Ottomans,  

  • who took it in 1517 from the Egypt-based Mamluks,  

  • who in 1250 took it from the Ayyubi dynasty (descendants of Saladin, a Kurd ),  

  • who in 1187 took it from the Crusaders,  

  • who in 1099 took it from the Seljuk Turks,  

  • who ruled it in the name of the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad,  

  • which in 750 took it from the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus,  

  • which in 661 inherited it from the Arabs of Arabia,  

  • who in 638 took it from the Byzantines,  

  • who in 395 inherited it from the Romans,  

  • who in 63 BC took it from the last Jewish kingdom,  

  • which in 140 BC took it from the Hellenistic Greeks,  

  • who under Alexander the Great in 333 BC took it from the Persian empire,  

  • which in 639 BC took it from the Babylonian empire,  

  • which under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC took it from the Jews (the Kingdom of Judah),  

  • who - as Israelites - took it in the 12th and 13th centuries BC from the Canaanites,  

  • who had inhabited the land for thousands of years before they were dispossessed by the Israelites.  

There is no evidence that today's Arab Palestinians are descended from the Canaanites who were completely wiped out in ancient times. Arabs come from Arabia, an entirely separate area.

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May 2011
Flotilla aims to turn tide on Israel's Gaza policies
Online comments (p2 and 4) on 31st May to an Irish Times article by Claudia Saba, Palestinian spokeswoman for Irish Ship to Gaza

Ms Saba writes: Describing the myriad harassments to which the Palestinian population is exposed – be they bombs, hostile checkpoints or imprisonment – sounds like something out of a Kafka novel; it is almost too sordid to be real. It is exhausting to keep up with a seemingly never-ending conflict. The unfortunate reality is that the plight of the Palestinians is a dramatic one. It is a history of military occupation, statelessness, extrajudicial killings, detention without trial and law-enshrined discrimination.

Well if you as a Palestinian don't like what Hamas and Fatah are doing to Palestinians, stop voting them in. As long as you support them, they will continue to oppress you. And when necessary throw you off the tops of tall buildings.

Raymond Deane: It was to be expected that the usual Israel-firsters would clock in to spill their bile about Ms Saba's tremendous article. Tony Allwright, as usual, is all wrong: "stop voting them in (i.e. Hamas or Fatah) and they won't oppress you." So the oppression is NOT caused by the Israeli occupation, and Palestinians supposedly live in a polity where oppression can be imposed or deposed depending on whom they vote for - although if they could vote for Allah himself, they would STILL be under the jackboot of Israeli occupation.

Similarly, various people talk about what "both sides" must do, as though we were dealing with two equal opponents. Nonsense! This is a brutal, belligerent occupation in which one side is above the law and the other apparently beneath it.

As for qwerty51, the fact that Egypt has partly opened its border to some Gazans will undoubtedly make some difference, but makes NONE WHATSOEVER to the fact that an illegal maritime blockade is still in force, and essential construction materials to enable the Gazans to rebuild homes smashed during Israel's criminal "Cast Lead" massacre STILL cannot be legally imported.

Tony: For once I agree with Raymond Deane when he (albeit sarcastically) declares that "the oppression is NOT caused by the Israeli occupation".

He's got it in one. Palestinian misery is entirely the result of the actions of their leaders. For 63 years their leaders and the rest of the Arab world have waged non-stop hot, tepid and cold war on Israel with the singular objective of eliminating it. All the misery of the Palestinians is the direct result of this and nothing else.  It would stop tomorrow if the aggressor (yes, the Arabs) stopped aggressing and accepted the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

I would challenge even Mr Deane to declare such an acceptance. I bet he won't dare.

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Argentina's 2001 Default: 'I lost my job and my wife left me taking our son . . . the crash cost me my family'
Online comment (p2) on 16th May to an Irish Times article

The main message from this Argentina story is to get your money out now from any bank with the word Irish or Ireland in its name. Send it abroad, put it under the mattress, buy gold; it doesn't matter. Just don't leave it where the State can grab or freeze it. The State has already made a grab for private pension funds; don't think it will stop there. 

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Need to protect Muslims in Ireland from extremism
Online comment (p2) on 8th May to an Irish Times article by Sheikh Umar al-Qadri, who is imam at Dublin's al-Mustafa Islamic Cultural Centre

"The Irish Government needs to work very closely with the Muslim community here in order to ensure that such ideas [ie radicalism and extremism] do not deeply penetrate Irish borders."

Hel-l-lo-o-o-o! It's up to the Muslim community, most of whom are guests in Ireland and not natives, to keep out these radical ideas. They should stop expecting the Irish Government to do Muslims' work. It is their responsibility to integrate into Irish society, not the converse.

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April 2011
Visit by Head of State
Letter to the Irish Times on 20th April

Madam / How churlish of Clare Bourke to ask "Can we afford the visit of President Obama?" (Letters, 20th April). Oh wait, she said Queen Elizabeth. So that's OK then. / Yours etc.

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Shell and the Argument from Morality
Comment on 13 April on a post moaning about Shell's development of the Corrib gasfield off the west coast of Ireland

This democracy thing is a pain.

You vote for people to make laws on your behalf. They make them. And then they apply them. And if you don't like them, tough, you have to put up with them until you can persuade the elected politicians that they should be reversed or you get a fresh set of politicians elected who will reverse them.

That is Shell's sin over Corrib: conformity with the law. They (and their predecessors) obtained the licence to develop the gas field under Ireland's democratically constituted laws, and everyone freely signed binding contracts. Shell's development activities have likewise conformed to all the planning and other regulations that the democratic state has put in place.

If you don't like it, stop whingeing and get the laws changed, including - incidentally - laws that prevent lawful contracts from being unilaterally and retrospectively rescinded.

Or go live in Somalia where the law is whatever you want it to be, provided you are the one with the gun.

Declaration of Interest: I worked for Shell for 30 years. That doesn't invalidate what I have said.

Later contribution (by me):

Interestingly, offshore oil and gas installations (including wind turbines and subsea pipelines) have one major, if counterintuitive, effect on marine life: they attract and foster it.

Molluscs, vegetative life, corals etc soon attach themselves to the warm steel (heated by the oil and gas flowing through it) and start growing. Then small fish arrive to nibble and hide and breed, bigger fish predate the smaller fish and so on. The agglomeration of healthy fish is a really tempting target for fishermen, so offshore operators have to create exclusion zones to keep them away lest their nets and lines damage the installations or interfere with diver or subsea vehicle interventions.

This exclusion of humans makes for an ever cosier environment for the wildlife - not unlike the central reservations on many motorways where humans rarely tread.

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Critics who demonised Israel should say sorry
Online comment (p4) on 12th April to an Irish Times article by Boaz Modai, Israel's ambassador to Ireland

This comment thread represents a great debate, for which the Irish Times is to be congratulated. It is especially interesting that there is so much support (perhaps 50%) for Israel rather than Palestine, because if you relied solely on Irish journalists and Irish politicians you would conclude the score in Ireland was 1% to 99% against Israel.

Some people argue that, notwithstanding his admissions of falsehood, the Goldstone Report nevertheless remains largely intact, since his admissions apply to only parts of it, much like the curate's egg.

But a better analogy would be the mixing of a few spoonfuls of urine in with a bottle of fine wine. The entire bottle is destroyed, because no-one can now know which other bits of the Goldstone report to believe and which bits are false. The whiff of falsehood permeates everywhere.

Goldstone's recantation destroys his entire report. All those who were overjoyed by the report should accept this with humility.

Meanwhile, the Irish Times has always been excellent about giving air-time to the Palestinian viewpoint, so let's wait and see.

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Mel Gibson's battery-charger
Letter to the Irish Independent on 17th March

Sir, / That was certainly a curious headline you ran on St Patrick's Day, Mel Gibson booked on battery charge”.

What kind of whizz-bank e-phone is Mr Gibson using that requires him to get a booking before he can charge the battery? Yours etc,

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March 2011
Japan's avoidable accidents make folly of nuclear energy clear
Online comment on 15th January to an Irish Times article by John Vidal, the Guardian's Environmental Editor

This article is just not good enough, Mr Vidal. You must at least desist from making stuff up just to scare people.  
You say that
in just one generation it [the nuclear-power industry] has killed, wounded or blighted the lives of many millions of people and laid waste to millions of square miles of land”. Huh? Who were they, where is it? What hat did you pull these particular (and uncited) rabbits from?  
There are 100 other safer ways ... to light up a bulb or to reduce carbon emissions. Huh? Perhaps you could name, oh I dunno, say, just the first half-dozen that could replace the power generated by the world's 440 commercial nuclear plants.  
Better to save your propaganda for the Guardian and stop trying to ride Japan's tsunami of horror.

Colm McGinn
To Tony Allwright, on your request for suggestion of how can the 440 nuclear plants (worldwide) be replaced.

("There are 100 other safer ways .. Perhaps you could name, oh I dunno, say, just the first half-dozen that could replace the power generated by the world's 440 commercial nuclear plants. ")

The costs of nuclear are currently externalised to the rest of community, either those who live close by, or the national community, who have to pay the hidden subsidies/ the clean up costs/ the storage of waste costs; or the worldwide community, who accept, willy-nilly, both the risk of damage (*Chernobyl- Three Mile Island style) and the actual costs of mining and transport of base ores.

Also, nuclear generated electricity is intrinsically inefficient (Low temperature steam) which is only slightly important, and is a continuation of the central generation/ remote distribution model, which has its own loss inefficiencies, and is a continued drain on the money wealth of individuals/ communities who partake of this model (very important).

We need to rethink our energy usage, reduce waste, need less, spend less money as a portion of income. That is achievable with a more 'distributed' energy collection matrix, including grid connection, but with a major part of an individual's or family's needs coming from as locally as possible. Small(ish) wind generators, solar heat collection, intensive effort on heat insulation, heat engines driving other needs (air conditioning, refrigeration, electricity generation), solar PV, wood & brush biomass, anaerobic digesters. More local food consumption. Revised transport models.

It only takes 6 months to set up solar or wind farms, 6 years to build transmission lines and 17 years to build nuclear power plants in the United States.

Nuclear doesn't 'work'. You can't build them fast enough. A standard nuclear facility might be of 1 GigaWatt capacity, and more than $2 Billion to build. A solar thermal farm of equivalent capacity, and generously oversized to account for the hours of darkness, is of comparable price. But has a low environmental impact, in relative terms. A wind farm, out at sea where the wind energy is steadiest, will cost between €800 million (210 of 9 MW turbines at 50% availabilty) to €1.4 Billion (350 of 9 MW turbines at 30% availabilty)

The material & environmental & money cost may be amortized over 20- 40 years. Lowish maintenance costs, and zero fuel costs, zero pollution risk, zero contamination, low to zero security costs.

Richard E Smalley in his paper 'The Terawatt Challenge', pointed out that if you could build a new nuclear plant, EVERY DAY, for 27 years, you would not quite reach the goal of 15 Terawatts energy generation capacity. (You would have 10 Terawatt capacity)

Nuclear doesn't 'work'. It doesn't work financially, or economically, without large subsidy.

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Merkel and Corporation Tax
Letter to the Irish Times on 14th March

Madam, / To justify a demand that Ireland increase its corporation tax in return for a reduction in the interest on its EU bail-out, Angela Merkel declares that it is simply fair to say we can only give our commitment when we get something in return (EU corporate tax base, Editorial, March 14th).

If she want fairness she should be fair to German industry by reducing Germany's own corporation rate, and be fair to Germany's taxpayers by maximising the chances that Ireland will eventually repay them, at least in part, thanks largely to the healthy revenues generated by its competitive corporation tax. /  Yours etc,

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Germany and €uro rules
Letter to the Irish Times on 10th March

Madam, / Angela Merkel's admonishment that “if we have a common currency like the euro it can only be stable if all follow the rules” is ironic (Merkel warns of need to stick to euro zone rules, March 10th).

Someone should remind her that under the euro's Stability and Growth Pact, demanded by Germany in 1997 as a condition of supporting the euro, no country may run a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, under pain of fines of up to 1% of GDP.

Yet in 2002/3, it was Germany itself and its partner France who were the first to flaunt this provision by exceeding the 3%. But because of the weight of the Franco-German behemoth, the other €uro members were too scared to insist that the fines he applied.

So these two countries long ago set the precedent. Subvert the rules as you like. Yours etc,

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February 2011
Jew! Jew!
Letter to the Sunday Times on 21st February

Sir, / Marie Colvin's report on the brutal sexual attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan in Cairo said the mob shouted Spy and Israeli (Mob stripped and beat CBS reporter, News, p10, 20th February 2011, behind online paywall). But you curiously omitted the most ominous epithet, Jew! Jew!, which adds an entirely new, anti-Semitic angle to the assault, even though Ms Logan is not a Jewess. / Yours etc,

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Gender-neutral language
Letter to the Irish Times on 11th February

Madam, / Ted Mooney (Letters, February 10th) had hoped that the new missal would show a willingness to espouse inclusiveness in relation to women — a fond hope, the third person singular is invariably male throughout

He displays ignorance of English grammar. In the absence of gender-neutral nouns and singular pronouns, the use of male terms — man, mankind, he etc has always, where the context so requires, included the female sex, as we all learnt many years ago at school. The modern attempts to invent words like s/he and, worse, to bastardise and bowdlerise ordinary grammar by pluralising singular expressions, eg themself, in supposed deference to the emotions of hyper-sensitive women, are nothing less than pathetic.

In any case, one can always find a different way of writing a sentence, eg by pluralising it, which would sidestep the conundrum. However, this would require some — what's the word? — oh yes, effort. Yours etc.

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January 2011
Micheál Martin, Hamas & Castros
Letter to the Irish Times on 22nd January

Madam, / Now that [Ireland's ex-Foreign Minister] Micheál Martin is no longer running Ireland's foreign affairs, can we take it that there will be an end to this country's kowtowing to the dictatorships of Hamas and of the Castro brothers? . Yours etc,

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Did bankers breach anti-monopoly legislation?
Letter to the Irish Daily Mail on 16th January
Note: This newspaper has no online edition

Click to enlargeSir, / Jason O'Toole's exclusive interview with Anglo's ex-CEO David Drumm is both fascinating and incredible (The Drumm Files, 14th January, relevant extract attached). He describes how as Anglo CEO he visited the executives of AIB and of the Bank of Ireland, three publicly quoted corporations, to get them (unsuccessfully) to invest in Anglo. As such, these men seem to have been meeting in private to conspire against their investors and depositors, which looks like a serious breach of anti-monopoly legislation. Imagine the CEOs of Shell, Exxon and BP holding such a secret meeting, or of Tesco and Superquinn.

I trust you have turned over the relevant data in your possession to the Gardaí to facilitate an investigation leading to a possible prosecution. / Yours etc,

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Time to take the tough decisions on oil and gas
Comment on 4th January to an Irish Times article by Fintan O'Toole

This is probably Fintan O'Toole's most ignorant article! The posts of the evidently erudite "sexitoni" "brendan", "Brian Flanagan", "Peter C", "hughsheehy" demonstrate this with great clarity.

I would only add that the enormous delays and cost overruns of Corrib caused by the carry-on of a handful of locals with spurious "safety" concerns has only added to the political risk with which would-be oil and gas investors now view this country. "Political risk" translates to a need for higher potential returns.

Mr O'Toole's plan would at a stroke kill all such investment for a generation.

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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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