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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

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 (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm).  
The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July 2002

You can write to blog-at-tallrite-dot-com

December 2003

ISSUE #61 - 14th December 2003 [632+171=803]

Quote of 2003

Quote
Ladies and  gentlemen, 
we got him !

 

Paul Bremer, US Pro-Consul in Iraq, on 14th December, 
announcing the capture alive 
of Saddam Hussein, 
for 24 years 
the merciless tyrant of Iraq

Back to Index

The Religion of Environmentalism

My attention was kindly drawn by Michael Mac Guinness to a recent speech by Michael Crichton, doctor, movie director and prolific author.  In it, he distinguishes reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda, problems from non-problems, and  fumes about environmentalism as the new religion.  

He is convinced that the human psyche demands that we believe in something which gives give meaning to our lives and makes sense of the world.  It may not be God, but such a belief is still religious in nature. 

Today, he suggests, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism, the religion of choice for urban atheists. He draws parallels :

Judeo-Christian Beliefs

Environmentalism Beliefs

World begins with Eden, a paradise, a state of grace

World begins with unity with nature

Communion                           

Organic, pesticide-free food

Fall from grace

State of pollution

Judgment day

Judgment day

Sinners, doomed to everlasting punishment for our lying, cheating, killing and fornicating,
unless we seek salvation

Energy sinners, doomed to die from fossil fuels and global warming, unless we seek sustainability

Facts not necessary, this is faith

Facts not necessary, this is faith

Whatever about religion, there was, however, never an environmental Eden.  In times past, lifespans were 40, plagues swept the planet, famines were endemic.  Humans lived amongst filth, flies, disease, killed animals with abandon to survive, they waged constant warfare against each other, practiced infanticide, human sacrifice, cannibalism.  Parts of the world are not much different today.  Yet people today still hang on to the Eden myth in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, dreaming of returning to that blissful pre-pollution nature paradise that never existed. 

If you want evidence of how facts are not allowed to get in the way of environmental faith, look at world population growth.  Population explosion has become a cliché, and indeed since 1750 it has grown from one billion to six billion, and is still climbing at 40 million a year.  Yet, as elaborated in a previous post, this is a mark not of failure but of extraordinary human success in combating early death.  Nevertheless,  environmentalists for most of the last century have been bewailing the disaster the explosion foretells as the global population races towards 11 billion by 2050.  There will not be enough space and food to support the explosion, they fear, and it heralds even deadlier pollution. 

This was still the theme only a year ago, at the Johannesburg World Environmental Summit

Yet recently, environmentalists have begun to notice what scientists have been predicting for at least ten years – that due to falling fertility the population around 2050 will actually stop rising.  It will flatten off, at 11 billion, maybe less, and may even decline.  heir faith demands a continuing threat of doom, so now they confidently predict an economic crisis caused by a population that is shrinking and ageing, without a thought that they’ve been proved wrong for the past 100 years.  Faith does not require facts. 

In fact there’s a whole slew of wrong predictions

  • Oil, natural resources and space are running out. 

  • In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted that 60 million Americans would die of starvation in the 1980s.

  • Forty thousand species will become extinct every year.

  • Half of all species on the planet will be extinct by 2000.

He goes on to claim that, contrary to the unshakeable belief of the religion of environmentalism, 

  • DDT is not a carcinogen, and that banning it caused the malarial deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children,

  • second-hand smoke is not a health hazard,

  • the Sahara is shrinking,

  • Antarctic ice is increasing, and

  • trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is pointless.

Just as religious fanatics see no other path for humankind but their own, so too do many environmentalists, and this is a dangerous path.  Religious extremism in its various forms has been responsible for millions of deaths over the centuries – indeed, the trend continues to this day.  So too has environmentalism, the DDT ban being but one example.  (The  wicked diversion of precious billions of dollars to meet the ineffectual Kyoto requirements on CO2 emissions would be another.)

We therefore need to get environmentalism out of the sphere of religion  altogether and start applying hard science instead. 

We need to be trying various methods of accomplishing things that appear to threaten the environment, encourage a market in competing analyses and solutions. We need to be humble and open-minded about assessing results of our efforts, and to be flexible about balancing needs. Religions are good at none of these things.

So it’s time to abandon the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of environmentalism, and base public policy decisions firmly on that. 

If you have the time, you should read the whole 4,000-word speech

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Invite Old Europe to Bid for Iraq Reconstruction Work

On 12 December, blogger Andrew Sullivan made a robust defence of George Bush’s exclusion of France, Germany and Russia from nearly $19bn-worth of contracts being handed out in Iraq.

“.. after doing everything they could to undermine the U.S. at the U.N. and elsewhere in order to protect their own favored dictator, they have absolutely no claim on the tax-payers of the United States. The idea that we should reward them for their obstructionism out of our own coffers on the same terms that we are rewarding countries that gave money and lives to help the liberation is a preposterous one ... Let France, Germany and Russia live with the consequences of their own moral bankruptcy and strategic error.”

George Bush’s own defence was similar : 

The taxpayers understand why it makes sense for countries that risk lives to participate in the contracts in Iraq.  It’s very simple. Our people risk their lives. Coalition, friendly coalition folks risk their lives, and, therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that.”

These are great words that really give me a warm feeling of schadenfreude at the expense of those perfidious Old Europeans.  

But both men are wrong.  For in their understandable rush to punish America’s non-Allies, they are falling into the tired trap of protecting producers at the expense of consumers, rather than the other way round.   For this is always a zero-sum game - you can never protect both. 

In this case, the consumer is the Iraqi people.  The war was launched to liberate them (as well as to forestall proliferation of WMD), and Congress has budgeted up $20 bn solely for reconstruction.  

So surely that means getting the best value you can from every dollar spent, because only in that way can you maximise the amount of reconstruction you can get done for the money.  In turn that means fostering open, global competition for every contract.  Only where there are genuine concerns about security, should particular contractors or countries be excluded from particular tenders.  You might hesitate to invite a Syrian or Sudanese company to bid for a contract to build a new armaments bunker.  But it is ridiculous to exclude, on security grounds, the German company Siemens that already provides most of the passenger screening equipment at US airports.  

To prevent companies from Old Europe from bidding will indeed punish them, while at the same time rewarding those economies that supported America in the war, put their troops in harm’s way and suffered deaths.  But it is not right that such a reward will also be a punishment for Iraqis by reducing the amount of reconstruction they’re going to get.  And by the way, Americans will also be punished, because it’s their hard-earned tax dollars that will be unnecessarily squandered.  

So, distasteful as it feels, Mr Bush should, for the sake of the Iraqi people, re-think his exclusion policy.  

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Amnesty’s Communist Human Rights Week

Last week was designated Human Rights Week by Amnesty International.  Its Irish section chose the occasion to launch an Imagine Campaign.  Yoko Ono has donated to Amnesty the rights to John Lennon’s tuneful song, Imagine, which, as we come up to Christmas, is being sung and recorded by children for distribution on CD and video.  No song, say Amnesty, has the power to more eloquently capture the spirit of our message of human rights and dignity for all than Imagine.

Really ?  Have you seen the lyrics ?

  • The words invite us to imagine all the people living for today, in peace, with no need for greed or hunger, nothing to kill or die for.  A brotherhood of man.  

    Truly an inspiring vision.  

  • But to achieve this utopia, we are exhorted to imagine away heaven, hell, religion, countries and possessions.  

Aren’t we talking here of a rabid Communist ideology ?  All mankind’s problems will go away once we eliminate every vestige of religion, national characteristics and private property ?  

Yes, as that cuddly Uncle Joe or Papa Mao would say, we may have to kill another hundred million people who do not conform to Imagine’s society model we are building, where no-one takes responsibility and everything is provided.  But it’s all for the best in the long run.  Once we have imposed this new world order, there will indeed be a brotherhood of man.  Only we prefer the term Comrade.  

Beautiful as the song sounds, Amnesty’s wilful association of it with a campaign for human rights is a scandal.  The very ideology that the lyrics advocate was responsible for more deaths and misery in the 20th century than the total of all other man-made causes in history.  

Only if you emphatically oppose human rights and human dignity should you be singing this on the barricades.  

And it is especially disgraceful to deceive children into thinking it’s something warm, comfy and Christmassy.  It’s sinister.  

Back to Index

The Economist Drops its Commas

I’ve always been a believer in clarity of expression, especially in the written word since unlike talking you don’t get a chance to correct yourself (although with blogging you do !).   

I am irritated by sentences without verbs. (This being a common example.”).  It grates to hear the use of feminine-sensitive plural pronouns in a singular sense (“Everyone is responsible for their own destiny”).  Nevertheless, to very occasionally split an infinitive is just about tolerable in some circumstances.  

For many years, the Economist’s Style Guide has been my bible, and in fact based on it I’ve written two other style guides for companies I’ve worked for. As the Style Guides sums up, clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought.   

Now Lynne Truss has come out with a cheerful little book entitled, Eats, Shoots & Leaves - The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” which is turning out to be this Christmas’s bestseller.  Naturally I’ve bought a copy, and it’s excellent.  Tells you everything you need to now about squiggles, lacking only a reference to Victor Borge’s seminal phonetic punctuation

It was, therefore, with some interest that I read the (subscription-only) Economist’s approving and entertaining review of it, “The joy of dots”, on 6th December.  

But I was even more amused to note that the Economist had itself in the same edition committed an elementary punctuation error that changes the meaning of the sub-heading of its cover story, no less, there on the first page.  The dollar’s slide has further to go, but if handled carefully it could help not harm the world economy” 

What happened to the two missing commas either side of not harm

Without them, the sentence means that the dollar’s slide could help to not harm the world economy.  I think they mean help instead of harm

I wonder if they’ll publish my letter to them (they didn’t).  Pedants and sticklers unite.  

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Mass Spam

I cannot speak for others, but I am now receiving 15-20 spam e-mails for every proper one.  Provided I remain in Dublin, it’s no more than a minor irritant to hit the delete button 20 times, always checking I’m not accidentally deleting a genuine message.  However, if I go away for, say, a week, several hundred e-mails await my return.  Longer, and it can exceed a thousand.  Outlook Express has a Block Sender facility which can help, however it requires five strokes per message which is just too clumsy when you’re dealing with maybe 30 spams at a time.  Moreover, spammers usually use different sender addresses for each mailing.  

Has anyone got any low/no-cost sure-fire ways for deleting or diverting spam before it hits the inbox ?

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UK Telephone Scam  

Don’t let yourself be caught by this telephone scam that is earning a lot of money in the UK.  Similar scams are probably occurring in other jurisdictions. 

Upon answering the telephone, you hear a recorded message congratulating you on winning an all-expenses trip to an exotic location. You will then be asked to press 9 to hear further details.

If you press 9 you will be connected to a premium rate line that costs approximately £20 per minute.  Even if you disconnect immediately, it will apparently remain connected for a minimum of 5 minutes, costing around £100.

The final part of the call involves your being asked to key in your postcode and house number (which has other serious consequences).  After a further two minutes, you will receive a message informing you that you are not one of the lucky winners after all.  Your total bill will be around £260.

Since the calls are originating from outside the UK, the telephone companies are relatively powerless to act.

The only safe solution is to HANG UP before the message prompts you to press 9.  Even safer is to HANG UP on any unsolicited free offer call.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch. 

The scam appears to be a variation on a theme.  A variation is a call, or text message, from someone claiming to be a telephone engineer conducting a test on the line and asking you to press buttons. 

The rule should be never to press 9 (or 9, 0# or 0, 9#) for anyone you don’t know and trust.  

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Slash Men’s Urinals

Those canny New York feminists are delighted to have found a fresh reason to be outraged at the way women are oppressed by males at cinemas, auditoriums, stadiums, dance halls, bars and other types of gathering hubs in the city.

The latest symbol of brutal subjugation is that males are provided with more than their fair share of rest-rooms in these establishments.  

Therefore, the numbers of places where they can have a slash is to be slashed until they are half the number of the women’s rest-rooms.  

Doughty Brooklyn Councilwoman Yvette Clarke is trying to get The Restroom Equity Bill enacted for all new construction and renovations.  A key clause explains that, the absence of sufficient women’s bathrooms in many places of public assembly, and the resultant lines for women’s bathrooms, is one of the most blatant, demeaning, and visible forms of gender discrimination in our society.”  

I’m not making this up.  

Equity, you see, should be measured not in the number of male/female restrooms, but in the time spent there by males/females.  Women spend twice as long, therefore they should have twice as many. Oh, and their restrooms should also be bigger, because men just, er, zip in and out.  Men don’t need extra space to struggle with pantyhose, nor to handle delicate grooming matters, trade advice and admonitions, bond with their buddies, complain about the women in their lives. 

And if you don’t agree, you’re a male chauvinist pig, obviously a wife-beater and probably a racist.   

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Quote of the Week  

Quote : Wanted - young, well-built men aged 18 to 30 to slaughter” 

Cannibal Armin Meiwes, 
a 42-year-old German computer technician, 
advertising on the internet,
for a victim willing to be slaughtered and eaten.

Bernd Juergen Brande
another 42-year-old German, 
lied about his age to apply for this opportunity, 
and was successful.  
He apparently tasted of pork


Have a look at Internet Commentator’s recent post on this bizarre episode, strangely juxtaposed with FMG.  

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SEE THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE

ISSUE #60 - 7th December 2003 [245]

Miss World 2003

Miss World 2003: Ireland's gorgeous Rosanna Davis

It’s not everyday a nearby neighbour becomes Miss World, so forgive me for giving the top spot to the gorgeous Rosanna Davis from Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, a friend of my (very lucky) nephew, and daughter of singer Chris de Burgh

Now known as Miss World 2003, she describes herself as a fun-loving yet humble person and hopefully a great ambassador for my country and for women all around the world.

 

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DHL Missile Strike - The Inside Story

On 22nd November, at 10:15 am local time, a Russian-built SAM-14 (shoulder-fired Surface to Air Missile) hit an Airbus A300 B4 freighter over Iraq. Despite the fire that erupted in the port side wing on impact and the in-flight emergency that was declared, the aircraft managed to land safely in Baghdad with no casualties. 

The aircraft, registration OO-DLL, was leased to and operated by European Air Transport (EAT), which is a Belgian company owned by the courier company DHL, itself a German company owned by Deutches Post World Net.

Media coverage of this attack has been scant.  What is presented here is an inside account from impeccable sources, never before published. 

What Happened on Board the Aircraft

The aircraft had just departed Baghdad International Airport (formerly Saddam International) bound for Bahrein, and was passing 8,000 feet when the crew felt a shudder and heard a rumbling noise from the left hand side of the aircraft. Immediately the crew were alerted by the “Master Warning” system of problems on the hydraulic systems.  With three separate hydraulic systems – blue, green and yellow – the A300 will fly and is controllable with the loss of any two. But it is not controllable with the loss of all three, as all the control surfaces – rudder, ailerons, elevators, horizontal stabilizer, flaps and slats – are directly moved by the hydraulics and have no manual reversion.  

The flight engineer checked the hydraulic panel and noted that the pressure and quantity for the green and yellow systems were reading zero. The crew therefore started the “Dual Hydraulic Systems Failure” checklist and whilst doing this, realised that the blue system readings had also reduced to zero.

Whilst discussing this and attempting to find out what control if any was still available,

  • the aircraft banked to the left and the nose dropped;

  • the flight engineer noticed that the left wing outboard fuel tank gauge was reading zero;

  • Air Traffic Control (the US Air Force) radioed that the left engine was on fire, though there was no indication of an engine fire on the flight deck. 

In fact the fire was in the outboard end of the wing in the area of the aileron and end of the flaps and was being fed by both the hydraulic fluid and the fuel.  

 

 Left wing of the airplane is on fire

Due to the configuration of the aircraft with its engines slung low beneath the wing and fairly well outboard of the aircraft centreline, it was still possible to maintain some control.

  • Increasing the power pitched the aircraft up,

  • decreasing it pitched it down, while

  • using asymmetric thrust provided some left and right control.

The landing gear was successfully extended and locked down using a manual procedure. An attempt was made to land on runway “33 right” at Baghdad International, but due to the circumstances the aircraft actually touched down – fast and very heavily – on the parallel runway, “33 left”.  The speed at touch down was approximately 210-220 knots with a sink rate of 2,000 feet per minute, compared with “normal” figures of 135-145 knots and 200-300 feet per minute. After landing, the only retarding devices available were the engine reversers. No brakes or speed brakes and no nose-wheel steering either, due to loss of hydraulics.

Whilst slowing down - unmanoeuvrably - the aircraft left the runway and ran off into the sand, with the engines still in reverse, until the aircraft finally came to halt (they would normally have been deactivated at 60 knots). The engines were damaged after landing, with the starboard one ingesting a rolled barbed-wire fence.

In fact, the whole aircraft is a write off, but due to the flight crew’s skill and presence of mind, no-one was hurt. Whether or not the insurance will pay out for the hull loss is under debate.                         

Who Did It and How ?

The SAM-14, sometimes known as the Strela 3, is built in Russia.  Weighing 10kg, it is the successor to the SAM 7.  More accurate and reliable than the SAM 7, it has a larger warhead - 3 kg, twice that of the SAM 7. Its maximum range is 4.5 kilometers with an altitude of up to 9,900 feet. 

Two SAM-14s had in fact been launched against the DHL aircraft,  but only one reached its target. It was the first strike on a civilian aircraft since the war.  Clearly, the attack was carried out by people allied to Saddam’s defeated Ba’athists and/or foreign insurgents.  

An extraordinary aspect, however, is that the attack was covered live by French journalist Claudine Vernier Palliez and her photographer, working for Paris Match, who seemed to be - to use the familiar euphemism - embedded with the perpetrators.  They are the source of the photograph below.  With difficulty you can hunt down their story, in French, on the magazine’s painfully clumsy website.  Amongst other things, the magazine proudly proclaims, Iraq: Exclusive, Our reporters were with the rebel commandos who hit the DHL cargo plane. They fired missiles at the Airbus

But you can easily find 

  • eight of their pictures here and 

  • a dozen more photos here.  

Saturday 9:08 am, spaced 50 meters apart two men open fire. The first one reaches his target. Here, one of them in a djellaba fires his  SAM-7

In addition to the Paris Match scoop, a six-minute video showing a masked militant firing the missile was delivered to Sara Daniel, who is a journalist with the French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur. 

The footage, which you can view, shows ten militants, their faces covered by chequered keffiyeh headdresses or white scarves, carrying out the attack.  

The missile, launched from the shoulder, is seen shooting up into the sky after being fired by one of the men. Leaving a vapour trail it makes a sharp U-turn and homes in on the DHL plane. 

The militants are then seen rushing away in a car. The eleventh militant - who presumably shot the footage - films his own lap in his haste to get into the vehicle. 

Later shots show the stricken aircraft descending.  

The militants clearly have great trust in the integrity of French journalists.  

Background to the DHL Operation

Since August of this year, EAT have been operating from Bahrein to Baghdad on a daily basis for DHL Bahrein. For convenience, “DHL” is used in this article to designate the employer of the crews flying the aircraft. 

Although George Bush declared that “major hostilities” were over last May, Iraq remains, as we all know, a hostile place, for both machines and people, whether military or civilian, and of whatever nationality or religion.

The Hazards of Baghdad International

A vital document for flight crews in any country is the Air Information Publication, or AIP. 

It contains all the data necessary to operate safely and within the rules of the issuing State -

  • Information on procedures to be carried out in certain emergencies such as loss of radio communications etc,

  • charts of all the airfields and airports in the State,

  • their approach and departure procedures, minimum safe heights, minimum descent altitudes for the approach (the height at which, if you cannot see the runway, a missed approach must be carried out),

  • go-around” procedures and

  • lots, lots more.

No Air Information Publication has been published for Iraq since 1990 and no such AIP is in force at the present time.  The French airline Corsair has given this reason for refusing to fly British troops into Basra.

The operation into Baghdad is particularly hazardous, without the absence of an AIP and the added risk of people firing missiles at you.

As a result, the crews flying into Baghdad were basically having to make it up as they went along, with a lot of input from certain security people.

The approach favoured by the military and ex-military crew members is to come overhead the field at 15,000 feet and start a spiral descent keeping within a two-mile safe zone around the airfield. The safe zone is maintained by US Army helicopter gunships.

This approach results in the aircraft turning finals well above the normal approach speed.  And with more than 45° of bank, sometimes up to 60°, the only way to lose the speed is to pull the aircraft’s nose up with the power at idle and rolling out of the turn at the same time. 

This hazardous routine would definitely be a fail if you did it in the simulator on your check ride.  Perhaps for this reason, it was never practiced in the simulator, and not much thought seems to have gone into what to do if something went wrong. A failure of the engine on the inboard side of the turn with more than 45° of bank at less than 1,000 feet could be disastrous.  

It should be noted, moreover, that this evasive manoeuvre is possible only when landing, not on take off.  It was, therefore, not available to the DHL aircraft that was shot during its departure from Baghdad. 

Insurance ?  What insurance ?

With all this extra and unfamiliar risk, the DHL flight crews were understandably concerned about insurance cover, especially as those who had their own personal insurance policies, eg mortgage protection or life insurance, were informed by their respective companies or underwriters that the policies would not cover Iraq or any other war zones. 

Initially, DHL management told the crews that the normal company insurance policy would continue to cover all crew members operating in the Middle East with no reduction in cover for Iraq.  But no documentary evidence of this was ever shown to anybody.  Then, because of the disquiet, the Director of Operations wrote to advise that DHL had set up its own fund for additional cover up to a maximum of €400,000 per employee, but again no documents were presented. 

The insurance status of the crews is still uncertain. 

Danger Money

Meanwhile,  when the company first told employees that there was the possibility of operating into Iraq (and Afghanistan), with crews being based in Bahrein for 15-day tours, the first question on many people’s lips was “How much danger money are you paying ?

None”, came the reply.

This seemed a little strange as

  • the ground engineers and mechanics who were contracted from a British company were receiving $500 per day above their normal rate for going to Iraq or Afghanistan, and

  • DHL was making 200-300% above the normal air cargo charter rate per flight.  

Moreover, as the normal night stop allowance in Scandinavian countries is €30 per night higher than anywhere else that DHL goes to, most people thought that it was probably better to stay in Europe and fly to Stockholm occasionally, than to spend 15 nights in Bahrain with no extra allowances and without the added hassle of people trying to shoot you down.

Volunteers, Please

Though the company insisted that all crew members were to be asked to go to the Middle East on a strictly voluntary basis only, with no pressure applied, the reality was a bit different. 

There were first-officers on the now defunct Boeing 727 fleet looking for a future on the Airbus fleet, and others on the A300 fleet who were eligible for promotion to Captain.  They knew that part of the selection process consisted of asking the Crew Scheduling Department if the proposed aspirant had been cooperative. 

Refuseniks were not given a friendly response.  One was asked why he’d never complained about flying to Belfast; another was told that flying to Baghdad was safer than Vitoria in Spain (not true, despite some high ground).  They were told again and again that the operation was safe. 

So volunteers did indeed come forward, for a project that was highly lucrative for DHL, and demanded extra and unconventional skills because of the dearth of infrastructure information and the tricky two-mile safe zone over Baghdad International.  Yet it carried high personal risk with dubious insurance cover and no extra remuneration. 

Indeed, the heroic captain on the flight that was attacked had only held a command for six months and was one of the more junior captains on the fleet. 

Conclusion

The whole operation seems to many to be amateurish and mercenary.  Some also ask what is a German-owned Belgian company doing in Iraq anyway. 

The crew were extremely lucky, as well as skilful.  Had the missile exploded in the fuel tank or hit the engine, the outcome could have been very different.  Just as lucky are DHL and its associates who before long can resume earning earn large rewards by flying into Iraq.   

Late Note (11th December) : Aviation Weekly has a good article about the incident in its latest edition, which accords closely with the above, though with less detail. 

Back to Index

Zimbabwe - A More Optimistic View

Despite differing viewpoints and perspectives, it is interesting that Guest-Blogger Des below, many of the Commonwealth Heads of Government who met last week in Nigeria and myself all seem to conclude that President Robert Mugabe should go.  

Late Note (8th December) : The Heads of Government have now extended Zimbabwe’s exclusion from the Commonwealth, and Mr Mugabe in a fit of pique has decided to withdraw from the organization altogether - as he had earlier promised.  Dictators can act as they please.  

By Guest-Blogger Des

It was quite a coincidence that you had just written about Zimbabwe in the Tallrite Blog Issue #58 as I was returning from spending a week there.  I read your piece with interest.  There is no doubt that most of what you wrote was factually accurate - indeed, in a few instances the truth is even less encouraging than you stated (eg, the Minister for Finance is now projecting that inflation will reach 700% by the end of the year rather than 455%, a loaf of bread now costs Z$5000 rather than Z$2900).  Despite the accuracy of your facts and statistics, I felt that the impression created by your piece was materially different to that I formed by visiting the place.

I believe that most Zimbabweans - most particularly those who share your own views on the political situation there - would be disappointed by the impression created.  The country is in the grips of a political and economic crisis, but it is not in ruins. 

  • The most productive agriculture industry in Africa - if not in the world - has been reduced to chaos by an ill-advised and disastrously-badly implemented land redistribution programme.  Most other forms of trade suffer because of foreign exchange shortages caused by government-created economic difficulties.  Nonetheless, Zimbabwe possesses a cadre of well educated and sophisticated business people who have not lost either their optimism or their sense of balance.  It is not at all too late to put right what is now wrong.  

  • The government continues to attempt to muzzle the press and stifle opposition, but they have not succeeded.  The opposition press (or more accurately, the objective press!) continues to publish, and I would have to say that I experienced an absolutely free flow of ideas and opinions throughout my visit.  Your statement Zimbabwe’s people exist in an information blackout so effective that all they hear is government propaganda and official denials from the state-owned media is simply wrong.

  • While many dreadful things have happened on farms, and while many political activists have suffered for their opinions, I do not believe that the majority of people live in fear of either police or army.  One could add that a person is likely to feel safer on the streets of Harare than in many other places, including  many parts of Dublin !   

  • From what I can gather, Zimbabwe’s major educational institutions retain the values and standards that characterised their past.  Certainly, those of their alumni that I met represent an excellent advertisement for their qualities. 

It suffers from an AIDS epidemic, but then so does every country in the region - most notably, South Africa and Botswana, whose political and economic achievements most of us admire.  This is one thing we probably can’t blame Mugabe for.

You are right to refer to the indomitable spirit of the people of Zimbabwe.  You could add that the majority are gentle, cultured and well educated, and - much more than our own society - guided by strong religious principles.  Similarly, you are right to suggest that they have, in many ways, been abandoned by the world.  I know you’re not suggesting it, but I do not think that sanctions or other forms of isolation will help Zimbabwe at all. 

  • The only good that came of England’s and New Zealand’s politically-motivated failure to fulfill their Cricket World Cup commitments in Zimbabwe was the early elimination of NZ from the competition !  People in Zimbabwe want more contact and involvement with the outside world, not less.

Zimbabweans have achieved a lot in the years since independence.  I strongly agree that they could do with some sympathetic attention from the rest of us.  But, I believe they need more engagement, not less.  I would be optimistic that there is potential for early resolution of the current crisis - I believe the quiet diplomacy to which you refer has a decent chance of succeeding, and I would be optimistic regarding the prospects for an early change of heart (and personnel) at the top.  I don’t really see Osama bin Laden being given the run of Harare !  There are plenty of models of peaceful transition around, including the current case of Georgia.  Similarly, there are plenty of models for the early elimination of mega-inflation and restoration of a stable economic environment - the former Yugoslavia comes to mind as a relevant example.

Zimbabwe is located at the centre of of a zone whose fortunes are improving rapidly following the ending of civil wars and local conflicts.  Zimbabweans have the skills and the status to take a leadership position in the rapid expansion of economic activity in the region.  They have the advantage of speaking English as a first language.  

As soon as there is change at the top, it is certain that the USA, the UK, the EU, the IMF, etc, will see the advantage in helping restore the Zimbabwe economy and bringing its government back into the fold.  

As I said, I am optimistic for their future.

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Putin and Bush Do a Couple of Things Right

Two unconnected twists in favour of common sense and prosperity emerged last week, perpetrated by two presidents.  

First, President Vladimir Putin’s senior economic adviser Andrei Illarionov announced, twice, that Russia had no intention of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which requires countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2012.  

Russia’s withdrawal will torpedo the implementation of this pernicious deal - already sensibly disowned two years ago by George Bush and 99 US Senators - a deal which

  • in a century’s time will make a miniscule difference to 
    global warming (delay it by six years) 
  • and at the cost between now and then of $100 billion 
    per year, money that would otherwise be available 
    to better the welfare of today’s impoverished people, 
    who can’t wait a hundred years. 

    (Note : These are published figures that
    even  groups 
    like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth agree with.)

Mr Putin himself has also provoked environmental outrage by very reasonably pointing out that a bit of global warming is just what Russia needs to boost harvests and reduce heating costs, a comment that could be applied to most of northern Europe, not to mention Canada, southern Chile and Argentina, to name a few.  Global warming - if it exists - threatens only the poor in hot climates, the people whom Kyoto requires to wait for a century.  

Russia’s reluctance is, however, rather curious, because it will find the Protocol painless since its economy has crashed since Soviet days.  Thus, with no effort at all, its CO2 emissions are already 39% below the 1990 levels, which means it could make money by selling CO2 credits to others.  

It would be a shame if its Kyoto reluctance is just a negotiating ploy to obtain other favours, as anything to protect the world’s poor from continued hardship caused by environmental zealots is to be applauded. 

The second piece of good news is President Bush’s decision to rescind the bizarre 30% tariff he imposed nearly two years ago on steel imports to protect inefficient US producers and their 160,000 steel workers.  This was blithely to ignore the 12 million Americans who work in steel-consuming industries (machine tools, cars, oil, white goods etc.), not to mention the 293 million steel consumers.  A study last year showed that a tariff of only 20% would save 9,000 steel jobs but throw 74,000 people out of work elsewhere - a ratio of one to eight. 

Meantime, Europe is now congratulating itself for forcing Mr Bush into a U-turn by threatening counter-sanctions.  “He blinked first” some say. 

But given this administration’s disdain for Old Europe, I doubt whether European histrionics had much to do with his action.  

Far more likely that he recognized the damage the tariffs are causing to US consumers and jobs, especially now that the economy is rebounding and an election is beginning to loom.  And certainly, he also listened during his recent state visit to Britain to the common sense of his poodle to whom he happened to owe a huge favour.  Tony Blair is, notably, neither gloating nor claiming.  

Regardless of motivation, the U-turn has been rightly welcomed by Europe and Asia.  

So, a good week’s work by both presidents.  

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EU Afraid of European Anti-Semitism

Over the last couple of weeks, we have learnt that our intrepid mandarins in Brussels are afraid of anti-Semitism.  Not, obviously, as afraid as Jews are in France, Germany, Holland, UK, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Sweden and Denmark, where they are the direct recipients of anti-Jew behaviour.  

In a moment of weakness last year, a body called the European Monitoring Centre (EUMC) on Racism and Xenophobia commissioned a study on anti-Semitism from the Technical University of Berlin.  Earlier this year, the authors, Werner Bergmann and Juliane Wetzel, produced their report entitled, Manifestations of anti-Semitism in the European Union”.  

The EUrocrats took one look and immediately suppressed it.  That was back in February, and it has been kept out of sight ever since.  We’ve only just learnt, through a leak, of its existence.  

A central finding of the report is that Israel is seen by many in Europe as a capitalistic, imperialistic power, the Zionist lobby, with the US as the evildoers in the Middle East conflict.  Many do not distinguish between supporting Palestine and opposing the Israeli government on the one hand, and hostility towards the Jewish diaspora on the other.  In the increasingly blatant anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim media, including audiotapes and sermons, it says that the call is made to join the struggle not only against Israel but also against Jews across the world. 

The report reviews, country by country, specific anti-Semitic behaviour within the EU during May/June 2002, finding that the countries listed above are the worst offenders.  Anti-Jew conduct includes - 

  • physical attacks on Jews,

  • desecration/destruction of their synagogues, cemeteries and memorials, 

  • anti-Jew slogans and swastika graffiti, 

  • threatening and insulting mail and phone calls,  

  • Holocaust-denial, 

  • anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and in Arab-language media.  

It then makes the shocking finding that such acts are committed above all ... by right-wing [and left-wing]  extremists, radical Islamists or young Muslims mostly of Arab descent

D’oh.  That’s a surprise.  

But it’s been far too strong for those delicate EUrocratic stomachs these past ten months.  If this ever gets out, they fear action may have to be taken to curb entrenched anti-Semitism and this is likely to anger many Muslims, as well as the political extremes.  So let’s simply keep everything under wraps and hope it will just go away.  

Far more comfortable to ignore the evidence and go along with noted left-leaning intellectual Noam Chomsky, himself a Jew, who when recently asked, “Is anti-Semitism on the increase? innocently replied, In the West, fortunately, it scarcely exists now, though it did in the past.

Meanwhile, Ireland, a country that gets off lightly in the EUMC report, tried to show its anti-anti-Semitic credentials by proposing a UN resolution, to be co-sponsored by the EU, that would specifically condemn anti-Semitism.  

But to a cacophony of Arab and Muslim objections, it took just two weeks for Ireland to capitulate and withdraw the motion a few days ago.  (This also smacks of treachery, according to Atlantic Blog’s post of 8th December).  

So perhaps Naom Chomsky is right.  There is no anti-Semitism in Europe and so we don’t need any high-falutin UN resolutions.  

By the way, you can find the suppressed, confidential, under-wraps, for-your-eyes-only, top-secret report in an 814kb pdf file right here.  Thank God for the internet !

Late Note (8th December) : After ten months of secrecy and subterfuge, it has taken less than three weeks of sustained exposure, leaks, scorn and ridicule in the media and cyberspace to persuade the EUMC finally to publish the report, though it says it doesn’t support it.  

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Rummy’s Foot-in-Mouth

The media reported with glee that the Plain English Campaign has awarded its 2003 Foot-in-Mouth trophy to Donald Rumsfeld for remarking

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.

They display their ignorance.  

For what he said in that press conference at Nato HQ in Brussels back on 6th June last year, which is truncated in the above extract, was in fact expressed in terminology that was crystal-clear, and free of jargon, gobbledygook and other confusing language.  In other words, totally in keeping with plain English as defined by the Plain English Campaign.  

You can listen for yourself here.  

It is the concept that he was explaining (“unknown unknowns” etc) which is a little complex - yet very pertinent for the terror situation he was describing.  The bemused journalists, commentators and evidently the Plain English Campaign simply failed to understand it.  And because of this, they like to pretend that Mr Rumsfeld expressed himself in clumsy un-plain English, which he assuredly didn’t.  

Have a look at my earlier post on this matter.  

Back to Index

Phrase Books for Japanese

Oh, those inscrutable Japanese tourists.  They have such fun when they visit America and Britain, especially when they’ve taken the trouble to swot up on the language beforehand.  But we’re not talking plain English here.  Or maybe the English is just too plain.  

A practical joker has stirred up trouble by publishing 50,000 copies of a Japanese-to-English phrase book with incorrect definitions for every phrase.  

Now thousands of Japanese tourists who’ve painstakingly studied the bogus dictionary are encountering blank stares, hysterical laughter and even the odd beating as soon as they open their mouths abroad.  For example, 

What they 
think they’re saying

What they’re 
actually saying

Can you direct me to the rest room ?

Excuse me, may I caress your buttocks ?

I am very pleased to meet you

My friend, your breath could knock over a water buffalo

May I please have film for my 
camera ?

Would you place your copious breasts in my mouth ?

We love you so much

We’re here to take your head

I am lost. Which way is uptown ? I know martial arts. May I kick your ass ? 
You guys are the best, keep it up You have fat butts. Sit on my head

The book is already sold out and has become a collector’s item.  

It lends new meaning to the lament of Anglophone countries, coined by Winston Churchill (or was it George Bernard Shaw), Divided by a common language”.  

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Quote of the Week 

Quote : If our sovereignty is what we have to lose to be readmitted into the Commonwealth, well, we will say goodbye to the Commonwealth, and perhaps time has now come to say so .... They tell me [Australian Prime Minister John Howard] is one of those genetically-modified because of the criminal ancestry he derives from - criminals were banished to Australia and New Zealand by the British.” 

President Robert Mugabe,
reacting to Zimbabwe’s exclusion 
from last week’s Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria
of Heads of Government,
as a result of violently rigging his presidential re-election in 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
This
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
in
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.

+++++

Superfreakonomics
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.

+++++

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