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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search


This archive, organized into months, contains all issues prior to the current week and the three preceding weeks, 
which are published in 
the main Tallrite Blog (  
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July 2002

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August 2003

ISSUE #49 - 10th August 2003


ISSUE #50 - 17th August 2003


ISSUE #51 - 24th August 2003


ISSUE #52 - 31st August 2003

ISSUE #52 - 31st August 2003 [107]


Chopping Bits Off Babies


The Will to Lose in Iraq


Anti-Semitic Zayed Centre Shut Down


Unworthy Charities


Mars Gets Close


Wealthy Through Habit


Rhubarb Heading North


Quote of the Week

Chopping Bits Off Babies

In recent months, we've heard a lot about the need to circumcise baby boys and adolescent girls in the name of someone or other's rich cultural heritage.  

The issue came to the fore recently in Ireland when a botched back-street circumcision of a Nigerian baby resulted in the baby bleeding to death.  Groupings such as Muslims, Jews, many Africans and others practice circumcision of male infants for no reason other than that it has always been done.  It is widespread across the world.  

When there is a medical requirement for circumcision, this presents no problem, and there are clear procedural guidelines. However, medical need is rare; parents usually request that their son be circumcised only for religious or traditional, not therapeutic, reasons.  In this event, 


the Jews, Muslims etc want circumcision on demand with no ifs or buts, 


many others (myself included) consider doctors have no right to chop bits off children without the informed consent of the patient.  

The British Medical Association has managed to anger both sides by publishing ethical guidance for doctors which amounts to saying if you can get both parents to agree, then you can go ahead and do the non-therapeutic chopping.    

Female circumcision, more commonly called FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), is at least specifically outlawed in many Western jurisdictions, for it is far more barbaric and dangerous than the male equivalent.  It is practiced extensively in 30 African and Middle Eastern countries and by their nationals when they emigrate.  Unlike the religious dimension and utter pointlessness of male circumcision, FGM is not religion-based but has a sinister purpose - to remove a woman's sexual pleasure and thus ensure her faithfulness.  As well as the agony the young girl has to undergo and the infection that frequently follows, it also causes lifelong genito-urinary problems and -  similar to the male procedure - there is hardly ever any medical justification for it.  

There is a third way that children are cut (without anaesthetic as usual).  

The British Dental Association's (subscription-only) Launchpad journal recently described infant oral mutilation (IOM), in which baby teeth, usually the canines, are dug out of the baby's mouth using a bicycle spoke, knitting needle, knife, screwdriver, whatever comes to hand, even finger nails.  IOM is practiced in Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia and is based on neither religion or culture, but on ignorance.  For practitioners believe that the the infant's tiny white tooth follicles - precursors to the emergence of their baby-teeth - are worms” which cause fever and diarrhoea.  So they are brutally rooted out, with much pain and loss of blood.  As with the other mutilations, IOM results in lifelong disfigurement and often causes infection and sometimes death.  

These forms for child mutilation may be summed up and compared as follows : 

Type of Mutilation




Which Sex ?




Widespread ?


Africa and ME


Medically Necessary ?


Very rarely


Hazardous procedure ?




Painful ? (no anaesthetic)




Long term damage ?




Religious Reason ?




Tradition ?




Any Actual Function ?




Parents’ Intentions ?




Any Redeeming Feature ?




The only things in common is that they are all medically unnecessary, hazardous, painful, result in long term damage and have no redeeming feature. 

This is reason enough to trample roughshod over religious and cultural sensitivities and ban all forms of child mutilation in the West.  A condition of living in the West should be to respect children's rights.  Meanwhile we should be campaigning for similar bans in countries where this barbarity finds a home.   

When children are old and mature enough to make their own informed decisions, they should be allowed to undergo the procedures should they wish.  But neither parents nor doctors should be permitted to assault children.  We make enough fuss when the religious orders abuse them.  

Late Note : There is a fourth kind of religious-driven mutilation, 
this time of pregnant women.  It's called symphysiotomy

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The Will to Lose in Iraq

Let me summarise a great 2,000 word article by columnist Victor Davis Hanson.  

He argues that it is not hard to determine who wishes the United States to succeed in rebuilding Iraq along lines that will promote consensual government, personal freedom, and economic vitality.  

Apart from the Iraqi and American people, hardly anyone.  


Not the Baathist holdovers in the Sunni triangle, doomed to popular Iraqi hatred for their past sins.  


Not the theocrats all over the region who fear their loss of control and the empowerment of women and other hitherto repressed segments.  


Not the Shi’ite extremists in Iran who feel threatened if Iraqi Shi’ites discover that freedom, affluence and Islam can be compatible after all.  


Not Iraq's Arab neighbours such as Saudi Arabia, whose corrupt rulers were comfortable with the powerful thug next door because he made their own crimes look unimportant and who received US support accordingly.  


Not Syria and its Lebanese clients, along with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, who share similar concerns, and did lucrative business with the monster on their borders on terms that they won't manage with a noisy and independent Iraqi parliament.  


Not Mubarak's Egyptian dictatorship, which for 20 years has received billions in US aid for very little in return, and which has consistently undermined Israel/Palestine peace attempts.  


Not the United Nations which, unable to disarm Iraq, hindered the invasion and is dismayed that America might create a just society when they themselves could not. 


Not France and Germany who, apart from their now thwarted commercial deals with Saddam, invested their prestige in obstructing America by way of the UN; and for whom a successful Iraq would be a humiliation.  


Not pacificsts and socialists in general who hate to acknowledge that a unilateral war has routed evil and offered hope to millions of oppressed.  


Not Europeans in general, who cannot conceive that crass, naïve Yankees can bluster into the complexities of the Middle East and solve problems that sophisticated Europeans have struggled with for centuries.  


Not Democratic contenders for the US presidency, who preach gloom and quagmire simply because an American success in Iraq probably means a Bush re-election.

All this hysteria and unrest should come as no surprise given the audacity of the American endeavour, which is no less than a war of civilization to end both terrorism and the culture and politics that foster it, across the globe.  Moreover, after two major wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has lost only 10% of those who perished on 9/11. 

In assessing the value or otherwise of what has been accomplished, I would paraphrase Internet Communicator's question (most recently on 24th August) that trumps all other questions. 

Are the Afghanis and Iraqis better off than before the Americans conquered the previous rulers ?  

Forget the bedgrudgers and disparagers.  The answer speaks for itself. 

Back to Index

Anti-Semitic Zayed Centre Shut Down

My colleague Graham in Abu Dhabi informs me that the country's innocent-sounding yet rabidly anti-Jewish Zayed Centre for Co-ordination and Follow Up has been shut down on the orders of its namesake, UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, for “engaging in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance ... a basic principle of Islam”.  

No doubt the bad publicity it has been getting in recent months from 


sites such as Memri, which translates inflammatory Arabic-language news and comment into English and last May did a major exposé on the Zayed Centre,  


blogs such as this post of mine and many others, 


the refusal of respected institutions such as Harvard Divinity School to accept gifts from Sheikh Zayed because of his association with the Zayed Centre 

all had something to do with it.  

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Unworthy Charities

I had a run in a couple of months ago with the Justin Kilcullen, Director of Trócaire, Ireland's largest charity, when he deliberately misquoted a Paul Wolfowitz speech that purported to say that oil was the purpose of the Iraq war.  Mr Kilcullen half-apologised when I caught him out (ah, the power of cyberspace).  

Unchastened by this, he was on the radio last week being interviewed by Pat Kenny, together with Tom Arnold the CEO of Concern the next biggest Irish charity.  (You can listen to the interview here up to Monday 1st September.) 

Ireland recently decided to double its aid budget to the Ugandan government.  Pat suggested the behaviour of the Ugandan government made this a mistake.  Surely it was better that aid be channelled via NGOs like Trócaire and Concern so as to make sure it goes where it is needed.  

However, Justin and Tom put up a robust defence as to why the Irish taxpayer should indeed send more money to the corrupt Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his government, while Uganda continues 


to support militias who are fighting, killing, limb-chopping and raping in the Congo civil war that has killed some four million people over the past five years;  


to export diamonds in quantity though it has no diamond reserves of its own whereas Congo is full of them.  

The interviewer therefore posed a simple question - if the current circumstances warrant an increase in aid, how much worse must the Ugandan authorities behave before aid should be frozen or withheld ?  The two charitymongers were unable to answer coherently, only to say that there were some signs of improvement and that should be sufficient to keep shovelling across the cash.  

When questioned about Ugandan corruption, they said that there are no clean leaders in Central Africa, therefore you must deal with what you have.  Isn't that racism, asked the interviewer, to apply lower standards to Africans than to Westerners ?  If France were to support a brutal civil war in Austria should we support it ? Should we overlook Saddam's minor infractions and invite him back to help rule Iraq in the interests of stability ?

The charityeers were pretty dumbfounded.  Governments have to make judgments, they mumbled.  NGOs can't do their business unless the Irish taxpayer pays money to the Ugandan government, which according to Pat Kenny, creams off 70%.  

It was an ignominious performance, prompted, I can only think, by an expectation that some crumbs of the Irish taxpayer's subvention ends up in those charities' coffers.  Either that or the charities want to suck up to the governments of Ireland and Uganda in exchange for unspecified favours.  

By comparison, John Shea, the head of GOAL, Ireland's third biggest charity, in an earlier interview had clearly stated his opposition to sending any aid at all to the Ugandan government while it continues its illegal activity.  

So long as certain charities devote their energies to politicking instead of the causes they purport to support, I for one will give them nothing.  

So, Trócaire and Concern are taboo for me; my vote and €uros go to GOAL.  

Late Note : Read this follow-up, entitled “ Trócaire Fisked not Fixed

Back to Index

Mars Gets Close

Counting outwards, Earth is the third planet (after Mercury and Venus) to whizz around the sun, and the next one out is Mars.  

Mars is coloured red by iron-rich dust kicked up in the swirling, wind-blown atmosphere as the planet spins like a toy top.   It has polar caps of ice and frozen carbon dioxide, an incredible 25-kilometre high extinct volcano, a canyon system 5,000 km long, dunes and channels carved by water, and surface temperature averages minus 50ºC.  

Earth, bigger and heftier than all four planets, is double the diameter of Mars and ten times heavier.  Because of these variations and their different orbits, their proximity to each other varies over time.  

To see what Earth looks like from Mars click here.  

Mars generated a flurry of interest last week when it skidded by within a mere (sic) 56 million km of earth, and was visible with the naked eye as a reddish dot.  

The last time it was this close was 59,619 years ago, so the last people to have seen it this easily were the Neanderthals who lived in parts of Eurasia during the last Ice Age. They looked similar to us but with more pronounced foreheads, wider noses and larger jaws. Neanderthals were short, stocky and said to be robust, though not enough to avoid mysterious extinction 25,000 years later.  

My friend Samir, a skilled amateur astronomer, was the first to send me a photographic image, achieved with his computer-controlled 8” telescope mounted on the roof of his house in Muscat.  He remarks that thanks to digital technology there is no comparison between photographs produced by professional observatories in the 1950s and what his $100 webcam can achieve today, such as this marvellous picture.  Altogether, he took 200 photos, five seconds apart, exposed for a 50th of a second, then started picking out the best.  

When he publishes his full selection on the web, I'll provide a link.  

Latest Images are now (30th Sep) available

To see more of his Mars photos and a comparisons of these with images obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope (latest and best at Mars' closest) and also from the Mount Wilson Observatory from the 1950s, click here.

Meanwhile, cartoonist Martyn Turner is not convinced that everyone is happy to see Mars and Earth pass so close.  

And that's plenty close enough
Mars News : Earth closest for 60,000 years ... 35 million miles away

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Wealth Through Habit

A lot of people think wealthy people become wealthy because they either make a lot of money or they inherit a lot.  But that's not true for the vast majority people. In fact, most of the wealth accumulated by the so-called well-off was accumulated over a lifetime by simply making a habit of saving.

The reason rich people get richer and poor people get poorer is that 


rich people keep doing the things that got them rich in the first place, while 


poor people keep doing the things that keep them poor. 

So let's examine how rich people became, well, rich.

To begin with, 


pooris a state of mind; 


broke is a state of purse. 

It's not so easy to fix being poor, but we can fix being broke.

There's no magic.  We must just work hard, get a little money, save some of it, and turn this process into a habit for very long periods of time. Eventually, we won't be broke any more. But the poor people next to us will remain poor - because they will spend any small amounts of money they might come upon, so preventing themselves from accumulating wealth.

To make this work ...


We need to start early. Don't wait until next month or next year. We must start to save as early as we can, because we want to take maximum advantage of time. 


The next thing we need to do is save or invest often - not every six months, not once a year, but at least monthly.


We mustn't let anything stop us from investing.  It's easy to get sidetracked when we're hit with unexpected expenses or changes in our life. But if we want to be financially successful, then we must continue investing, through thick and thin.


All those who lament their poverty can offer dozens of reasons why they don't save. Lots of people face challenges, but what sets the financially successful people apart is that they didn't let life events interfere with their goal to save for the future.

We can make all the excuses we want, but the fact remains.  Either we will or we will not achieve wealth. 


We can make excuses for why we are not saving, or we can move past the excuses and save anyway. 


We can lament our low pay, our high expenses, our difficult circumstances, or our bad luck. 

Or we can ignore all those problems and save anyway. It's entirely up to each of us. That means we need to start saving money now - no matter how little we have, no matter how old or young we are.  For example, 


Save €$£10 or €$£25 before you pay this month's bills. Then pay the bills. You'll be broke when you're done (like you are every month), but this way, you'll have saved a few bucks before you went broke.


Stop spending small coins (change below €$£I). By saving your change every month, you'll accumulate €$£20 or more - literally without trying:

It won't take long to realise how remarkably easy it is to save money. And, over time, the wealth will come, little by little.  It's just a matter of habit.

This wisdom is plagiarised from a print-only article in the September 2003 edition of Dublin's PORTfolio magazine.   

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Rhubarb Heading North

I've noticed that there's much less rhubarb in the shops this summer than in previous years.  Apparently we should blame the global warming that we Europeans have all been enjoying (well, perhaps not French grandparents).  

Rhubarb, which has been flourishing since its first mention 4,700 years ago in China, just can't take the heat.  

With its pharmaceutical roots, delicious stalks and poisonous leaves, the Chinese over the centuries used different bits of it variously as 


a purgative, 


a potent drug, 


an anti-plague medicine, 


a suicide drug, 


a wound-healing palliative, 


though apparently not as a foodstuff.  

Cultivation began in Europe only in the 17th century and in America the following century, and rhubarb gained notoriety in the dual function of medicament (the roots) and pie-filling (the stalks).  In England, medical rhubarb was often sold by Englishmen dressed up as Turks to give it a convincing exotic aura.  

Some say the name comes from Rha Barbarum, because it once grew along the river Rha (now the Volga) on the other side of which foreigners (barbarians) lived.  Others think it comes from rheo, the Greek for 'to flow', a coy allusion to the purgative properties of the root.  Still others think rhubarb simply means red beard.  

Whatever, it's not going away, just north to cooler climes.  Icelanders are apparently keen growers - they love rhubarb soup.  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “America’s bitter victory in Iraq has been described a thousand times. The mistake made by the international community, and by France, is to see nothing beyond this apparent failure and to cynically rejoice, proving America wrong. Even if the US is not going at it right, it is trying to defend freedom against an aggressor who wants total war, as proven by the attack on the UN. 

We must remember and never forget the original act of terror against the World Trade Center: the war against the ‘World’.  


This war is not a war against America, but against a rich world of trade and against its democratic partners ... 


This is a war waged by an enemy without a face but with a vision: killing knowledge and emancipation ... 


This is not blind terrorism. 

Its goals are clear: whether we are French, American or Moroccan ... Christians, Jews or Muslims, we are all a target. The US is caught in a quagmire in Iraq. To join them under the banner of the UN is an act of self-defense.

Alain Genestar, editor of Paris Match
writing on 28th August 2003, and demonstrating that 
there is still a segment of common-sense in French society

Back to Index


ISSUE #51 - 24th August 2003 [122]


UN Bombing in Baghdad as a Breakthrough


Israel's Bleak Options


Shooting Cameramen


Virgin Mary Besmirched


Top Ten Sports Photos


Arnie for Governator


Quote of the Week

UN Bombing in Baghdad as a Breakthrough

That dreadful UN suicide-bomb in Baghdad snatched 23 innocent lives last week, including that of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN High Representative to Iraq, who was also successor to Ireland's ex-President Mary Robinson as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.   Some 100 more people were injured.  Yet, to the disappointment of those malefactors who planned the outrage, it may herald a breakthrough into a new era of mutual understanding, respect and co-operation between the UN and the US, after the bitter row that followed the UN's unwillingness to enforce its Resolution 1441.  

For it has surely driven home a few truths.  


Baghdad is a very dangerous place, if not all of Iraq.  


It contains well-equipped thugs, whether Ba'athists or Al-Qaedaists, who have no interest in the well-being of Iraqis and no respect for benevolent international institutions such as the UN or NGOs.  


The UN therefore is no safer than the US/UK/Oz Coalition, nor will any UN mandate make any of them any safer.  The bad guys just want to kill everyone.  


Only American muscle has the capability and command structure to provide what security there is (though the UN would let it provide very little for the Canal Hotel which housed the UN offices that were bombed).  


Without security, nothing constructive can be achieved in Iraq.  


America will be blamed for everything that goes wrong and will get little credit for anything that goes right.  

Actually, columnist Mark Steyn expresses the American blame thing much more elegantly than I ... 

It's the Americans' fault because: 

  1. they made Iraq so insecure their own troops are getting picked off every day; 

  2. okay, fewer are being picked off than a few weeks back, but that's only because the Americans have made their own bases so secure that only soft targets like the UN are left; 

  3. okay, the UN's only a soft target because they turned down American protection, but the Americans should have had enough sense just to go ahead and install the concrete barriers and perimeter trenches anyway; 

  4. okay, if they'd done that, the beloved UN would have been further compromised by unduly close association with the hated Americans, which is probably what got them killed in the first place.

Nevertheless, those red bullet points above surely must point in only one direction - the need for the US and UN to co-operate together in the reconstruction of Iraq, but with overall responsibility remaining in US hands.  


In such a dangerous maelstrom, it is naive to think that the UN could take over the management of Iraq without its own large, well-armed force of blue berets with robust rules of engagement.  

Equally, the experiences of Srebenica, Rwanda and 
elsewhere illustrate the utter unwillingness of member states to provide such a force, and what can happen in dangerous situations when they don't.  


Nevertheless, the US is undoubtedly struggling.  

It sorely needs help in a wide sphere of humanitarian and nation-building functions, help that the UN is uniquely equipped to provide.  

We have to assume that the countries of the UN - refuseniks like France, Germany and Russia included - do at heart have the best interests of the Iraqi people, no matter how much they may resent what they see as America's high-handed action in removing Saddam.  

All parties should now therefore seize the opportunity to use the bombing of the UN offices as a breakthrough - an excuse to put their differences behind them - in order to confront the common enemy in the pragmatic way suggested.  But will they ?  

There is much to do on the civic front; appointing the Governing Council was only the first step towards democratisation.  

In fact, democratisation is in a sense not a beginning but an end point that you achieve only after doing more difficult things - services and constitutionalist things -  such as   


restoration of electricity, water, waste-removal, etc; 


building of a professional police force (which is now proceeding apace with 37,000 already trained); 


fostering of a free press, radio and TV; 


federalist protection for the different religious and ethnic groups - Shi'ites, Sunnis, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, Turkomen etc


creation of an independent judiciary;  


Separation of powers between the future parliament, executive government and new judiciary; 


conducting of a census; 


writing of a constitution and getting it approved in a referendum.  

The contribution that the UN can make in many of these areas is immense, if it can put its mind to it.  

But the US, because there is no-one else and because they will continue to provide up to 80% of the manpower, will have to remain in overall charge, though should be prepared to allow the UN significant input in decision-making.  The UN should be pleased with such a pact - involvement and influence, yet still leaving America to carry the can for any and all mishaps.  

Kofi Annan recently remarked that America should share with other countries not just the burden of managing Iraq but also decisions and responsibility.  This is doable provided sharing” is interpreted to mean “consultingrather than the unworkable paralysis ofunanimity”.  As for responsibility, everyone is going to blame America no matter what, and  for non-Americans you would think this was just fine.   

There are therefore grounds for optimism that some sort of UN Resolution will take shape to embrace such concepts in a face-saving formula.  In that case, the sacrifices of those unwitting UN victims will not have been entirely in vain.   And the chances of creating a successful new democratic Iraq will have been bolstered.  

The alternative - where everyone just walks away and leaves Iraq to descend into civil war - is too dreadful to contemplate.  

Yet I heard on the radio only today (Sunday 24 Aug), Ireland's distinguished Senator David Norris declare exactly that - that the Americans and British should get out of Iraq.  Chilling.  

Back to Index

Israel's Bleak Options

Once again, the Israel/Palestine question looks utterly intractable. 

A three-month ceasefire is supposed to be in place.  The Palestinians call it a hudna”, whose true Islamic meaning is a short-term truce against a stronger enemy, to be employed as a tactic to build up forces in order to subsequently vanquish the foe.  Both sides have taken a few tiny, bad-tempered steps down the roadmap.  But violence has continued and it looks like everyone is now abandoning the truce.  

The violence has a grim pattern, which precedes the ceasefire.  


The Palestinians send some youth strapped with explosives into a place crowded with Israeli civilians.  They can identify him because his head is always blown off intact.  

Most recently it was a bus full of Jewish families in Jerusalem returning from prayer at the Wailing Wall, of whom 20 were killed including many children.  


The Israelis respond with the assassination of a leader of one of the terror-sponsoring organizations, usually killing a few bystanders in the process.  

Most recently it was Ismail Abu Shanab, a high-profile senior leader of Hamas, the group that claimed responsibility for the bus-bomb; two of his bodyguards also died.  


The Palestinians send another suicide-bomber, and so the cycle continues.  

The first job of any Government is to protect its citizens.  That includes Israel, the only proper democracy in the Middle East and thus its only legitimate Government with a mandate from its people.  There are only three ways for them to respond to an attack on their civilians.  

  1. Do nothing 

    Unrealistic.  The bad guys are certainly not going to stop 
    their bombings if they know there will be no retaliation.  

  2. Attack civilian targets

    Gross.  The Palestinian attacks on civilians are 
    unforgivable, but do not justify retaliation in kind, under 
    any circumstances.  

  3. Target militant leader(s)

    The only remaining alternative.  And it has some inbuilt 
    justice, despite the civilians that also get (unintentionally) 
    killed in the process.  And of course, Israel is berated 
    round the world for doing it.  

Israel is thus in an impossible situation.  

Yet the world remains largely tolerant of the Palestinians' suicide-bombing behaviour, even though, because they overwhelmingly target non-combatants, their human rights record is far worse than Israel's.  A study last year showed that 


Only 20% of the Israelis killed were combatants, whereas 


62% of Palestinians killed were combatants.  

This highlights the irony that Palestinians attack soft civilian targets because they cannot get close to tough military ones.  In other words, the very success of the Israeli Defence Forces as a fighting unit established to protect Israeli civilians is in fact contributing to the Israeli civilian casualties.  What is the solution ?  To downgrade the IDF’s capabilities so that Palestinians can kill them more easily ?

Nevertheless, I am still hopeful about Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, who at least denounced the bombing as a horrible act which does not serve the interest of the Palestinian people at all”, and vowed to hunt the bus-bomb organizers despite threats by Hamas not to act against it.  

Abu Mazen, ever the pragmatist, has said that Israel has the capability to defeat every Arab nation, simultaneously, if it so chooses.  

He must fear that a point may come when Israel feels it no longer has anything to lose from a decisive military defeat of Palestinian lands, accompanied by mass deportation of Arab inhabitants.  

At a stroke, crowded Israel would increase its landmass by a third, win valuable extra Mediterranean coastline (Gaza), and strengthen its defences to the East (ie regaining absolute control over the West Bank and its commanding hills).  

The Palestinians, and most of the 21 Arab dictatorships around Israel, have long proclaimed their intention to drive the Jews into the sea.  Israel may one day feel it is time to do that to the Palestinians.  

The recognition by realistic Palestinian leaders such as Abu Mahzen of such a scenario is probably the only grounds to hope that a peaceful settlement might one day be struck.  

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Shooting Cameramen

In recent months, five cameramen have tragically died in combat zones in Iraq and Israel. 


On 8th April 2003, cameramen Taras Protsyuk from Ukraine and Spaniard José Couso were shot dead in Baghdad's Palestine Hotel by soldiers in an American tank during fierce combat with Iraqi defenders.  The US Army mistook the cameramen for enemy fighters.  


On 19 April, Nazeh Darwazi, a cameraman for both Palestinian TV and Associated Press, was shot dead by an Israeli soldier after a small Israeli army unit captured three Palestinians in the Casbah area of Nablus, one of whom was preparing for a suicide attack.  When the soldiers were attacked by a group of young people with stones and home-made fire bombs, they responded with rubber bullets and then live fire. 


On 3 May, freelance British cameraman James Miller was shot dead as he covered a clash between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in an Israeli anti-arms smuggling operation in Gaza, near the Egyptian-Israeli border.  This was an operation taking place at night, in which the (Israeli) force came under fire from an anti-tank weapon and in which the force returned fire with light weapons, hitting Mr Miller. 


On 17 Aug, Mazen Dana, a veteran Palestinian television cameraman for Reuters, was shot dead in Baghdad  while filming a US tank driving towards him outside the city's Abu Ghraib prison, where where six Iraqis had been killed and 59 wounded in a mortar attack the night before.  The US soldiers thought Mr Dana was aiming an RPG at them.  

The thing in common is that the five cameramen were all trying to film armed US or Israeli soldiers at a time of high tension when armed conflict was either going on or reasonably to be expected.  

The other thing in common is the bulky, shoulder-mounted cameras that they were carrying.  Which in each case, the soldiers in their jumpy state mistook for RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).  

Should we be surprised at this ?  Look at the pictures below 


of Mr Dana, the most recent casualty, 


of another cameraman atop a phone booth and 


of a soldier carrying an RPG.  

Mazen Dana



Suppose, in your heightened state of mind, you were expecting people to shoot at you with an RPG, and the ongoing situation was confused, or at a distance or in poor visibility (or all three).  

Would you really want to wait and get up close to ensure that that big thing pointing at you really was only a camera -  and not an RPG ?  Or would you say, I'm not taking a chance, I'm taking him out.  

This is not to defend the killing of innocent cameramen.  

But I am astonished that some cameramen don't seem to take every possible measure to ensure that everyone in the conflict zone knows they are only taking pictures.  


And ensuringdoes not mean simply wearing a bullet proof vest that says TV in big letters.  


It means getting confirmation that everybody - especially those with the guns - understands your rôle, and without that confirmation, it means keeping your head down.    

So long as cameramen ignore these essentials, they will continue to get shot.  

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Virgin Mary Besmirched

Last week, I watched a TV documentary made by the BBC and Jerusalem TV called The Virgin Mary, who is the second most important person in Christian iconology after Jesus Christ himself.  It's anti-Christian bias was unmistakable in the incessant snide remarks along the lines of, there is no truth in the rumour that ...”  

Amongst other things, the programme suggested that


Mary became pregnant as the result of being raped by a Roman soldier rather than by divine intervention, a cornerstone of Christianity because it is the foundation of believing that Jesus was the Son of God; 


Jesus had four brothers and two sisters, which of course further repudiates Christian doctrine that Mary remained a virgin;


The crucifixion was the sole work of the Romans with no mention that it was in fact the Jewish hierarchy and Jewish mob who demanded it, not the Roman colonial masters who wanted to wash their hands of him.  

Had the BBC made a programme which similarly distorted the story of Mohammed the Prophet and grossly offended believers in Islam, there would be an uproar in the liberal West.  Had it been screened in a Muslim country, riots and killings (probably of Christians) would have followed.  Remember the lethal rampage in Nigeria when a journalist suggested that Mohammed might have liked to take a Miss World contestant as his wife ?

But causing deliberate offence to believing Christians is apparently OK.  We will not go on the rampage.  The BBC is safe.  But our disgust is no less for that.  

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Top Ten Sports Photos

The Observer has published the top ten of what it calls the greatest sports photographs of all time, with a little story about each of them.  They are all quite magnificent.  

This is my favourite, a shot of Mohammed Ali knocking out Cleveland Williams in Houston in 1966.  

The dramatic effect is enhanced by the plain white ring with no billboard ads, the champion in plain white shorts, the defeated challenger prostrate in black.  

This photo is also ranked number one by The Observer, but only third by a poll of its readers.  

To see the full selection, click here.  

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Arnie for Governator

In his race to become the next Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has probably received a set of the best endorsements he could hope for.  For there is an equation : 

California = Hollywood = Left-Wing Movie Stars = Democrat

Arnold is, however, both a movie star and a right-wing Republican.  Hollywood is appalled.  Here is a roll-call of some who have sworn to block his ascension to the State's highest office.  

Barbra Streisand, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Ed Asner, Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, Rob Reiner, Steven Spielberg, Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks, Warren Beatty, Woody Harrelson.  

In typical understatement, Cybill Shepherd the once-upon-a-time presidential hopeful (yes, really !) says it would be the worst tragedy in the history of California”.  

So that's about the end of the campaigning.  With people like these as his enemies, Arnie cannot fail to be elected Governator by the sensible and disgruntled voters of California.  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : "An attack on the United Nations is an attack on the United States.  The UN is a soft target, just like oil pipelines and water mains. They got very lucky, and we got very unlucky because we lost some of the best people in the international system today."

Richard Holbrooke, 
a former US ambassador to the United Nations

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ISSUE #50 -17th August 2003 [144]


Nauru - Enriched and Impoverished by Guano


Heartening Riots in Iraq


Harbouring a Mass-Murderer


Moral Guidance from the Old Testament


Instant Water Purification


Perjury and Paedophilia on Coronation Street


Quote of the Week

This is the 50th issue of the Tallrite Blog; 
some sort of milestone I suppose.  
It gets more difficult every week !!

Nauru - Enriched and Impoverished by Guano

Nauru is a dot of just 21 square kilometres in the Pacific, three thousand kilometres north-east of  Australia and a further three thousand from Hawaii. 

Nauru is midway between Australia and Hawaii, 3,000 km from each

Throughout most of its antiquity, it was a nesting place for seabirds, who, over the aeons, deposited thousands of tons of droppings right across the island, until it lay 60 metres thick.  This huge reserve of guano was to shape its modern-day history, for better and for worse. 

It was first inhabited by seafaring Polynesian and Melanesian explorers. A future blog will explain the curious story of how they sailed there, against the wind, from … Taiwan. 

The first European who set foot on Nauru was English whaleship captain, John Fearn in 1798.  He liked the little settlement with its small houses and called it “Pleasant Island”. 

But around 1850, Europeans began to arrive in some numbers, bringing with them firearms and alcohol.  These products destroyed the social balance and defied the island’s name by leading to a ten-year internal war, which reduced the population from 1,400 to 900.

In 1888, and with no reference to the inhabitants, the island was allocated to Germany as part of an Anglo-German Convention.  But when the British realised that it was covered in guano, from which valuable phosphate fertilizer could be made, it quickly concluded a deal with the Germans to start exploitation in 1906.  It was around this time that the name Nauru began to replace Pleasant Land

The peace conference of 1919 which followed the carnage of World War 1 then allocated it from defeated Germany to victorious Britain, with participation of Australia and New Zealand who said their agriculture would collapse without it.  Guano exports resumed, with a royalty paid to the few thousand locals. 

Apart from three years of Japanese occupation during World War 2, these arrangements continued until 1968 when at last the local people gained  independence as well as control over their resource. 

Not much going on in Nauru!

But they had not been suffering through the years, because by this time they had one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world, though at the same time their homeland was disappearing under their feet.  

For it was not just the guano that was being removed on an industrial scale (680,000 tons in 1994), but the vegetation and wildlife habitat that overlay it.  Astutely, the Naurans in the 1980s began a campaign of investment in Australia, Southeast Asia and elsewhere as a hedge against the future.  Indeed I remember hiring offices in downtown Manila in 1993 in the Pacific Star building, which had been built by the Nauru Government as part of this multi-billion dollar programme. 

Today, with its population of 10,000, Nauru is turning into a bit of an environmental and economic disaster.  The phosphate reserves are nearly exhausted, and but for a few fields still used for agriculture, the place is barren.  Most of the plants, trees, flowers, animals and birds are gone, while young people are leaving to find work elsewhere. Everything has to be imported, even water, so the cost of living is high.  GDP is down to $5,000 per head, ranked 100th in the world.  Income from those foreign investments helps, as does a limited amount of fishing and tourism.  But it has found a lucrative fresh source of income in money-laundering for the Russian mafia. 

Yet there is some spark of hope.  Effort is going in to restore the island’s fertility – removing the coral outcrops laid bare by the removal of guano, relaying fresh soil.  But they reckon effective rehabilitation will take over twenty years. 

The guano, with the help of human hands, has truly enriched and  impoverished an island race.   

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Heartening Riots in Iraq

Last weekend rioting erupted in the southern Shi'ite city of Basra. Residents angry at shortages of power and fuel barricaded roads with burning tyres and attacked vehicles with chunks of concrete. 

The city was calmer the following morning, but electricity was still off for most of the day, leaving residents at the mercy of searing summer temperatures. British forces distributed fuel to petrol stations in 25 tankers; some people were furious at rationing that restricted fuel supplies to 25 litres for each car. 

Isn't it great to hear such encouraging news from that unfortunate country ?  Let's pray for more such riots. 

For if Iraqis dare vent their fury over lack of services, it means they are feeling increasingly secure over, well, security. The menace of Ba'athism is receding. 

The riots are thus another sign of returning normality. The Iraqis are becoming just like us pampered people in the West, moaning when things don't work properly. OK, we may not be attacking vehicles with chunks of rock, but the difference is one only of degree.

There's no doubt it will be a long, slow grind for Iraq to drag itself into the modern, confident, free world where it deserves to be. So while we may deplore the bloodshed arising from the violent actions of dissidents, we should also rejoice at the evidence of normalcy. 

Riots over no electricity in the 50°C heat of summer is one. New Yorkers have hardly been relishing their own power cuts. They might as well be Iraqis. 

PS - I can't resist sharing with you 
Saddam singing,
There Were Three Of Us

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Harbouring a Mass-Murderer

Suppose I were to take into my home a known murderer and protect him from the authorities who want to bring him to justice.  If the murder were an evil act, would that not make my protection also evil ?  Suppose he were a multi-murderer, multi as in 400,000 murders, would the extent of my evil behaviour also be multiplied 400,000-fold ?  And suppose he was also a cannibal ?  And had evicted 40,000 people from their country of birth ?

Step forward Saudi Arabia.  Congratulations on having protected for 24 years the despicable, cannibalistic, multi-murderer Idi Amin, granting him a life of comfort which ended only when he (thankfully) died in a coma a few days ago.  

I suppose it's all of a pattern - 


Provide protection to a mass-murderer; 


Nurture home-grown suicide bombers (of the infamous nineteen murderers of 19/11, eleven were Saudis, as is Osama bin Laden); 


Fund numerous schools at home and all over the world that preach jihad to children.  

The harbouring of Amin is yet another example of the moral depravity of the drinking, smoking, womanising, money-grabbing Saudi royal regime which pretends to defend Islam while squandering the patrimony of the 18 million Saudi citizens it rules over without their permission.  

Perhaps it really is all about oil.  If you have enough of it, you can get away with murder.  

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Moral Guidance from the Old Testament

And while we're on the subject of morality, Dr Laura Slessinger is a well-known conservative talk show host in the US.

She firmly supports and advocates biblical morality on her TV and radio shows, and on this basis, has expressed very negative beliefs about homosexuality

An anonymous American correspondent, “Jim”, recently wrote an open letter on the internet seeking Dr. Laura's advice on applying biblical morality and religious duties in today's world. 

Dr Laura failed to respond, so I have tried to provide meaningful answers to the dilemmas Jim has posed.  


Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.

When people try to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22** clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.                
Lev 18:22 - You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how best to follow them.   

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan



Jim’s Question

Bible's Words

Tallrite's Answer


When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev.1:9).The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them.

How should I deal with this?

And the priest shall burn the whole [bull] on the altar, as a burnt offering, an offering by fire, a pleasing odour to the Lord

D'oh !  You’re supposed to remove the intestines and internal organs first.  Then apply some BBQ sauce.  The neighbours will love the odour.  Get in some beer;  invite them round 


I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7.

In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do

These days renting is usually more profitable than selling.  You should aim for around $100/hour, a typical rate for a good IT consultant


I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness (Lev.15:19-24).

The problem is, how do I know? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

When a woman has her regular discharge of blood, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches shall be unclean until the evening, … etc

Ask her ugly friend.  She’s bound to tell. 


Lev.25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.

Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

  you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you

You can. 

But I recently saw a TV programme about a bridge to be built joining Alaska to Russia.  I would wait for that and then buy Siberians – they will be cheaper and more obedient


I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.

Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

The modern way is to contract out such tasks. 

But not on the Sabbath as otherwise you’ll have to hire a second hit-man to kill the first. 


A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev.11:10-12), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality.

I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales … is an abomination to you … of their flesh you shall not eat …

Stick to heterosexual shellfish as they are less abominable than homosexual practices. 

But lay off the gay prawns as they are more abominable than anything.


Lev.21:16-23 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses.

Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

No-one who has a blemish shall draw near,  … a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles shall not come near to  … the altar

Good contact lenses will fool the Lord every time. 


Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27.

How should they die?


You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard


The problem with rounding off the hair on your temples is that you end up looking like the Beatles in 1964, which is an abomination. 

For this reason, tell your friends that trimming is OK, but not rounding


I know from Lev.11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean. 

But may I still play football if I wear gloves?

And the swine, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.  Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you

Toughen up your own hands until they are as hard as pig hide


My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread, cotton/polyester blend. He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.

Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev.24:10-16)?

Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)

… you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff. 

… the Israelite’s son blasphemed the Name and cursed … and the Lord said … ‘ let all the congregation stone him’.

If a man takes a wife and her mother also, … they shall be burned with fire, both he and they

Tell your uncle to paint a line between the two crops; this will divide the field into two fields. 

Farmers are so cheap.  Tell him to give his wife a proper clothing allowance so she can buy pure silk dresses like all her neighbours.

When he’s done that you better get on with the stoning, but you only need your church congregation, not the whole town. 

Make a day of it.  Afterwards, invite them back for that beer and bull barbecue    

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Instant Water Purification

Water, water, everywhere, 
Nor any drop to drink.

So goes Part II of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 
epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

But It isn't just mariners who run short of good drinking water when there is plenty of unpotable water around.  Think of  


Africans living on the swamps of the Niger, 


mothers drawing water from the putrid Chittagong River in Bangladesh, 


water tables contaminated by waste, 


the water-borne cholera that breaks out after every earthquake disaster, 


the 50% of patients hospitalized in Iraq due to bad water.  

An astonishing new product has recently hit the market that, with no moving parts or power or chemicals, will purify the dirtiest, most contaminated bilge you can imagine, full of viruses, bacteria, poisons.  

The HydroPack is essentially a bag made from a membrane with pores so small that even the tiniest particle, bacteria, virus or solvent cannot pass through it, but pure water can.  Just drop the bag, which contains some nutrient material, into the dirty water or cesspit.  Osmosis will then suck pure water into it, while the small pore size will ensure that the contaminants and the nutrients keep to their own sides of the membrane.  Then just drink the water through the outlet provided.   

And for what it is, the price isn't bad.  Weighing just 175 grams, a two-liter bag costs $17, and gets cheaper the bigger the set-up you buy.  No doubt mass-production - and competition - will reduce costs further.  In a disaster or emergency situation, flying in 175 grams is nothing compared to the 2 kg weight of two litres of water.    

Hydration Technologies Inc has full details on its website and more information is available here.  

The US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is apparently planning to use the technology for the first time to supply hospitals and clinics across Iraq with clean water for use as oral rehydration therapy.

Oh, and I've ordered one HydroPack.  

  Update September 2009 

The company that makes these and similar devices things has changed its name to Hydration Technology Innovations

You can learn about an alternative product in the Tallrite Blog here.


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Perjury and Paedophilia on Coronation Street

I admit it.  I watch Coronation Street, that long-running soap opera featuring ghastly people living in some working class slum near Manchester.   

I have been intrigued lately by the casual acceptance of serious crime as nothing to get overheated about.  


Two police officers, long-term Coronation Street star Emma and newcomer Mick, blatantly perjure themselves in court.  The judge does not permit rigorous cross-examination of witnesses and an innocent man (the horrible Les Battersby) gets sent down for six months for assault.  No-one cares; Emma gets promoted.   According to Hello! (always an impeccable source), she is not about to be written out of the script, which means she will not get locked away for two-plus years for her perjury like Jeffrey Archer.  In other words, she will get away with it, as presumably will Mick.  


In another storyline, 35-year-old Martin (a grandfather) is regularly sleeping with Katie, a child of 16, still at school.  There is much talk and drama concerning the need not to get caught, especially by the child's parents (who are friends of Martin's), mainly because Martin will get beaten up.  But not a word to acknowledge that one of the most serious crimes on the statute books is being committed.  

This criminal activity is held to be all good fun.  

But imagine the outcry from the media if (when) they get hold of such stories in real life, especially the paedophilia.  I find it pretty hypocritical for the same media to tacitly condone such behaviour just because it occurs in a soap opera that is meant to represent real life and that millions of all ages watch addictively.   

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “These are people who have been displaced three or four times in the last few months, people who can fit everything they own into a plastic bag

Charity worker David Tropp 
on conditions in the Liberian capital Monrovia

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ISSUE #49 - 10th August 2003 [109]


EvilBehaviour of Catholics 


Sour Reception to Release of Palestinian Prisoners


Amrozi Rejoices in his Death Sentence


Legible Signature


Onions With Joy Not Tears


Fresh Fish Challenge


Quote of the Week

Evil” Behaviour of Catholics


Consider three Catholics, or three classes of Catholic.  


  1. A convicted terrorist who lives with a partner, and who for many years has held senior leadership positions in terrorist organizations that have murdered 2,000 people; 29 in a single bomb blast.  

  2. A tyrant president of a country, who lived with a partner, and who tortured, executed, massacred and generally terrorised his countrymen for fourteen years, causing up to 60,000 violent deaths.  

  3. A conservative journalist who lives with a partner, and advocates personal liberty, personal responsibility, fiscal rectitude, transparency, honesty and non-violence, which he also practices.  


The Vatican condemns the behaviour of only one of these as “evil”.  


And it’s not the behaviour of married man Mickey McKevitt, 


leader of the “Real IRA”, 


jailed for twenty years last week for directing terrorism, 

that attracts the epithet “evil” from the Vatican. Nor has any IRA member - Catholics all - been excommunicated from the Church.  


Nor did the Vatican call “evil” the behaviour of Catholic-born Papa-Doc Duvalier, the (married) tyrant of Haiti, from whose knee perhaps Saddam Hussein might have learnt his craft. Oh, and shortly before the Iraq war, the Pope gave an audience to Saddam’s Vice President Tariq Aziz, a Catholic, shook his bloodied hand and never used the word “evil” in respect of that regime’s behaviour.  


No. “Evil” is reserved solely for the behaviour of number three, 


the peaceable web-logging journalist Andrew Sullivan, because he lives with another homosexual.  


And for that of all other co-habiting or practicing homosexuals, male or female.  


This use of “evil” comes from a document entitled, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, which was published a week ago by the Vatican under the Pope’s authority. In four pages it reiterates the Catholic Church’s position on such unions. It points out that marriage between a man and woman is, in effect, society’s founding unit, blessed by God, whose prime purpose is the procreation and raising of children.  Few can find fault with that. 


But obviously no gay behaviour will result in procreation. Therefore, from the Church’s viewpoint, it is 


instrinsically disordered”, 


gravely contrary to chastity”, 



and that’s why gays may not marry each other. The Pope is perfectly entitled to state - indeed make - the rules of the Church, regardless of whether others agree with them or find them offensive. Providing guidance to adherents in matters of faith and morals is the very function of every religion.  


However one of the main objectives of the Considerations is to tell Catholic politicians across the world that not only are Catholic marriages between gays impermissible, but so are civil unions, in whatsoever form. This is where things get freaky.  


Gays who seek a form of marriage typically want to get State recognition of mundane things that many unmarried co-habiting heterosexuals in the West are also demanding, such as


shared tax allowances, 


next-of-kin nomination, 


pooling of pension rights, 


mutual inheritance rights.  


How do these fall into any religious ambit ? An argument put forward is that 


to recognise any kind of gay civil union is 


to delegitimise a straight civil union and that this in turn 


downgrades a straight religious marriage, 

but frankly I just can’t see the logic of such connections. 


If anything, gay unions would reduce promiscuity among gays which from both the religious and the society viewpoint is presumably something desirable. 


The Considerations also say that for gays to adopt children is to perpetrate violence upon them, which is another blatant non-sequitur (my Oxford dictionary says violence means physical force). Nevertheless, while few can doubt that a married father and mother represent the best possible environment in which to raise their child, two caring gay parents adopting, for example, an abandoned child certainly seems preferable to a Romanian orphanage, a Brazilian street, an African slave-market. Life is often about seeking out least-bad alternatives.  


The Considerations are heavy on what is wrong with gay behaviour and how society should treat them, and they do reserve some words of compassion for people with “homosexual tendencies”, saying that “unjust discrimination” must be avoided.  


However the document contains absolutely no guidance for those at the very centre of the issue. The only thing Catholic gays themselves can glean from it is that they must remain single and celibate for life, the only group so required. (Priests and nuns have voluntarily vowed to remain single and celibate, which is a totally different proposition.)  


And this is really at the nub of the matter. Because the Church believes that innate homosexuality does not really exist.  


It is a chosen lifestyle or 


a tendency or, 


going by what Monsignor Andrew Baker of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops said last September, it is essentially a curable disease (like leprosy).  


Therefore, gays should get themselves cured and marry a nice spouse of the opposite sex.  


When someone is born with an incurable mental disability, physical deformity or congenital disease, the Church teaches that this is God’s will and the rest of us should therefore rally round and do what we can to make life more bearable for the afflicted to the best degree possible.   


But if the Church were to designate homosexuality as an inborn affliction, not only would it mean recognizing it as God’s will, but that we should seek ways for such people to enjoy companionship and fulfillment to the best degree possible. And that’s the slippery slope leading to recognition not of civil unions but of religious marriage itself. Which is just too radical for any leading Churchman to contemplate.  


So against all the scientific and social evidence throughout the history of mankind, not to mention the large percentage of its own priests and nuns who are gay, the Church maintains that homosexuality is curable.  


And it’s fighting tooth and nail to protect the façade. Even if it means branding gay behaviour as more evil than mass-murder.  


Declaration of Interest
I am a practicing and believing heterosexual Catholic. 




There's an interesting dialogue on the “evil” issue over on Internet Communicator.  


Canadian columnist Mark Steyn also has a great, ironic piece

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Sour Reception to Release of Palestinian Prisoners


It is said that the Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity.  


This time it’s over the release of Palestinian prisoners, of which the Israelis hold some 6,000.  Last week they let out 330 as part of the UN/EU/US/Russia-backed Road Map to a Palestinian/Israeli peace.  At just 5% it was a pretty miserly move, especially since many were due for release pretty soon anyway, but it was at least a step in the Palestinians’ direction.  And as Mao Tse Tung said, the longest journey begins with a single step.  


You would think that the Palestinians would want more releases, but to call the first 5% worthless and meaningless” as Palestinian Minister Mr Yasser Abed Rabbo did, will hardly encourage more such steps.  Furthermore, judging by photos of the joyful reception that families and friends gave to the 330, the new-found freedom was anything but worthless and meaningless.  


Abu Mahzen (Mahmoud Abbas), the Palestinian Prime Minister, is a sensible pragmatist, which is the main reason I have called him the Palestinians’ great hope.  He believes in doing things that work, things that help achieve Palestinian objectives, rather than making empty or counter-productive gestures.  


In this vein, he now has to drum into his people - including Minister Rabbo - the concept that tit-for-tat applies just as much to a peace process as it does to a war process.  


One side makes a small gesture (such as a prisoner-release);


the other side responds with a small gesture (such as rounding up a minor terrorist suspect).  


In this way progress along the road-map is made on both sides, and at the same time mutual confidence grows. And perhaps with time the individual steps get bigger.   


Sour reactions can only put a break on the process.  Just look at the sourness that bedevils sectarian politics in Northern Ireland, where no-one ever gives the other side credit for anything ever.   Where graciousness exists in no-one’s vocabulary.  

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Amrozi Rejoices in his Death Sentence

In one sense there is grim satisfaction in the death sentence an Indonesian court passed last week on Amrozi Bin Nurhasyim, a 40 year-old Javanese mechanic, for his part in the Bali bombing of 12th October 2002 which killed 202 people.  He himself turned to the cameras and punched the air in delight, shouting Allahu Akbar (God is Great).  The execution will probably be carried out in a matter of days.  

One of 50 men in custody for the Bali outrage, he is utterly without remorse and says he welcomes death as a martyr.  After the sentence, he burst into song

This is us, the warriors of Allah,
We are not shaken by the death penalty; 
Always continuing jihad, whatever happens.
Get rid of cruel Zionists; 
Get rid of the Christian filth; 
Yell to Allah, Allahu Akbar; 
This is my song

And yet, is a death sentence really the most appropriate punishment for his crime and the right deterrent to others ?  

Put yourself in Amrozi’s shoes.  


you have psyched yourself up to die; 


as a martyr, you have been promised eternal happiness in heaven (including those 70 virgins);


you are convinced you are a holy warrior; 


you have been encouraged, nurtured and revered in these beliefs by all those around you; 


your colleagues will celebrate your martyrdom for years to come; 


you will become an international icon for the fanatical, Islamist men of violence.  

And so you are not afraid of dying (a quick, painless death of course).  Even death by judicial execution.  

But suppose instead you were to to be sentenced to life imprisonment, where


life means life and 


imprisonment means incarceration in one of Indonesia’s stinking hell-holes.  

To eke out your life, to grow old, in utter despair, year after year, behind those hostile prison walls, despised and - worse - forgotten.  To die a broken nobody in perhaps thirty years time.  

Could there be a more dreadful prospect, for Amrozi and for others who might want to follow his path ?  Shoe-bomber Richard Reid is currently living out this hell in the US.  

I do not support the death penalty under any circumstances mainly because I believe it is morally wrong.  But in this instance, 


a life sentence would simply be more effective; 


an execution counter-productive.  

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Legible Signature

My signature is illegible as are those of many others, particularly those of doctors who write prescriptions.  It has never caused me any difficulty anywhere, nor those doctors.  

But Glaswegian Charles Weinstein, 45, has difficulty precisely because his signature is legible and this can sometimes really irritate the authorities.  

Recently, he visited the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles to register a change of address on his driving licence.  But they told him his signature was unacceptable and he would not get his new licence unless he stopped fooling around and signed right”.  Right as in right way up.  

Because Charles signs his name perfectly legibly, but upside down.  

He refuses to sign any other way, saying that this is his valid legal signature that he’s been using without problem for more than eight years on all official papers, cheques, credit cards - even his old driving licence. So the licence office threw him out as a trouble maker and wouldn’t give him back his old licence.  

It’s now become an issue for the American Civil Liberties Union, who say they know of no provision in the law requiring a signature to be legible; therefore who is to say if it is right-side up or upside-down.  Since no-one else has been able to find any statute that defines an acceptable signature, the matter has been sent to Delaware’s attorney general for a ruling. 

Oh, and since you ask.  My own illegible signature is upside-down also.  But this is acceptable because it is illegible when viewed from any angle.  

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Onions With Joy Not Tears

Northern Ireland’s (print-only) Farm Week newspaper - not one I’d ordinarily subscribe to - informed its readers on 8th August that supermarket chain Tesco is about to launch the world’s first tear-free onions.  It’s what millions of cooks have been waiting years for, the chance to cook with tears of joy instead of tears of pain.  

The Supasweet onion contains less than half the usual amount of pyruvic acid, the volatile constituent which stings your tear ducts, skin and nostrils and makes your eyes weep.  Tesco are apparently waxing lyrical about the social revolution now in the making : 


You can munch into the Supasweet raw, like an apple, as you always wished you could.


It’s high in Vitamin C, so it’ll do you good.


For the minority who are especially allergic, the Supasweet will open up a whole new onion-filled culinary world.


But the nation’s actors will suffer.  For with the Supersweet, how will they be able to play tear-filled scenes on stage and screen ?

The most curious claim is that it’ll reduce knife accidents in the kitchen, of which there were almost 30,000 in the UK last year.  And no, I don’t understand the connection either.  

The other strange thing is that though the Supasweet story features on such reputable websites as those of, for example, the BBC and the Sydney Morning Herald, Tesco’s own website contains not a word.  

Also, no-one is talking about onion breath or sweat.  

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Fresh Fish Challenge

And while we’re on the subject of food ... 

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish. But the waters close to Japan have not held many fish for decades. 

So to feed the Japanese population, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever. The farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish were not fresh. The Japanese did not like the taste. 

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats. They would catch the fish and freeze them at sea.  Freezers allowed the boats to go farther and stay longer. However, the Japanese could taste the difference between fresh and frozen and they did not like frozen fish. The frozen fish brought a lower price. 

So fishing companies installed fish tanks. They would catch the fish and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin.  But after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive.  Unfortunately, the Japanese could still taste the difference. Because the fish did not move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The Japanese preferred the lively taste of fresh wriggling fish, not sluggish fish. 

So how did Japanese fishing companies solve this problem of getting fresh-tasting fish to Japan ?

All they did was to add a small hungry shark to each tank. The shark eats a few fish, but the remaining fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged, to put it mildly.

Moral of the story

Instead of avoiding challenges, jump into them. Enjoy the game. If your challenges are too large or too numerous, do not give up. Failing makes you tired. Instead, reorganize. Find more determination, more knowledge, more help. If you have met your goals, set some bigger goals. Once you meet your personal or family needs, move onto goals for your group, society, even mankind. Don’t create success and lie in it. You have resources, skills and abilities to make a difference. 

So, put a shark in your tank and see how far you can really go!

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Quote of the Week

Quote : “The panel of [five] judges declare that the defendant Amrozi has been found guilty of criminal acts in carrying out terrorist crimes ... and the sentence on the defendant Amrozi is death ... [The bombings were] actions beyond the bounds of humanity and outside any religious teaching.

Chief judge I Made Karna passing judgment and sentence 
on Amrozi Bin Nurhasyim for his part in the Bali bombings 
that killed 202 people,  mostly young Australian revellers, 
in October 2002

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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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