In contests, strong people defeat weak people, right? Usually
yes, but paradoxically weakness can sometimes be a strength.
A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. If you are that
weakest link it can give you disproportionate strength in
negotiating with the other links since their survival depends on
This happens all the time in coalition governments where the
dominant party needs just a few more votes to gain a majority and
there is a tiny party waiting in the wings and willing to provide
them. In return, however, the small party expects goodies -
like juicy ministerial positions - that are out of kilter with the
few votes they bring to the table, yet the strong dominant party has
no option but to agree. Coalition policies thus end up
disproportionately driven by the ideology of the tiny party.
A (parochial) case in point is Ireland, where
Fianna Fail party, which sports no fewer than 215
legislators are in a ruling coalition with the tiny (and not
much liked -
latest poll: 1%)
Democrats, with just
thirteen. Yet the PDs hold two of the eight
heavy-weight ministerial positions, which effectively means 25%
of the power for 6% of the seats (and that 1% in popularity).
Banks also know all about the strength of weakness. They have
a saying to the effect that if you owe them a thousand
€uro/Pounds/Dollars they have you by the throat, but if you owe them
a million then the grip changes hands because you then have them by
the throat. The bank dare not countenance default on a major
loan. Maybe its millions vs billions, but you get the point.
The much derided President George W Bush is finding himself in the
middle of a similar paradox. For the more unpopular he becomes,
whether in Congress, in the Senate,
among Democrats and even with his own Republicans, the less people
approve of him across the country,
the stronger he actually becomes. It's not pleasant being
hated by nearly everyone, but for him it does have some distinct
advantages, particularly since he faces no further election.
Ever. It's unrealistic to suppose - no matter what he does -
that he can ever regain the approval ratings anywhere close to the dizzy
90s that immediately followed 9/11, and pointless to try.
On the other hand, his approval is now so dismal (in the 20s) it is unlikely to go much lower,
and even if it does so what? It won't increase the pain; that's
already at maximum.
This gives him extraordinary freedom of action. For,
notwithstanding his apparent lame-duck status arising out of his
supreme unpopularity, Mr Bush is still the
president of the United States and still the commander-in-chief. He can still do
stuff. And from his point of view, and to quote the
song, things can only get better when he does that
He has nothing to lose (though it's true his party and successor do).
The Iraq Study Group, populated by various revered figures,
recommended that the way for Mr Bush to solve the Iraq problem was
to grovel to Syria and Iran while running away from Iraq. Mr Bush went to some length to
tell everyone how much he truly valued the work of the ISG, and then
He came up instead with his plan for a military surge to subdue Baghdad,
involving much closer integration with Iraqi forces, while making
clear that inadequate participation in the plan on the part of the
Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki would not be tolerated.
Displaying a ruthless streak rarely seen he got rid of the previous
commanders in Iraq, Generals
Casey, replacing them with General
Petraeus, who was the main author of the surge plan.
The surge plan itself has drawn howls of protest, mainly from
Democrats - both the politicians and ordinary people - but also from
very many Republicans. Indeed so loud has been the wailing and
gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that you can't help
feeling they betoken a great fear that the plan might actually
So why don't they stop lame duck Bush in his tracks? For
despite the objectors' distinct majorities in both Congress and the
Senate they haven't.
Firstly, the Senate voted unanimously to approve the appointment of
Gen Petraeus whose specific mission is to
deliver the surge that they say they so strongly disapprove of.
Then it was Congress's turn. With its Democratic majority,
by turncoat Republicans, it passed a motion
the surge of which the commander had just been approved. But
it made the motion
so essentially pointless. Oh, and at the same time, the
Congressmen and women included a sentence saying how much they
the troops, a contradictory and equally vacuous term, which will
give little comfort to Gen Petraus and his men and women in the
armed forces in Iraq.
However next month, they will be voting again. This time to
consider the $100 bn requested by Mr Bush to pay for the surge of
which they disapprove. Yet - extraordinarily - hardly any of
them intends to vote it down, for fear of being blamed for future
military failures or excessive American casualties.
How we enjoyed it when Senator John Kerry the flip-flopper earnestly
told the world in 2003,
“I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for the Iraq
voted against it”.
Well, the rest of his party and many Republicans seem to have caught
a similar disease.
But what on earth are the disapproving legislators playing
at? I don't think even they know. All they can observe
is that the lone lame duck moron, at the weakest that any American
president has been in a generation, is somehow turning out to be
stronger than their combined might of 435 Congressmen/women plus 100
Mr Bush, for better or for worse (and I think for better) is
getting his way. The American/Iraqi onslaught prompted by the
surge is happening, and though it's still early days, the results
are already encouraging.
The Iraqis have reported that Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who replaced
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
(killed last year) as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, has been
wounded, his aide Abu Abdullah al-Majemaai captured
his second in command, Abu Adawa al-Majahami killed;
Muqtada al Sadr and the heads of his
Mahdi Army militia
fled to Iran, and
as a result the security situation in Baghdad appears to be
calming, with a
dramatic reduction in sectarian killings, from 40-50 per
night to just ten.
Only time will tell whether this is a temporary or permanent
improvement. But the outcome for the moron is straightforward:
things either get better (good for him) or get worse (no change for
him). He can't lose. His weakness is his strength.
And this strength, viewed through an adversary's telescope, can be
enlarged further by the adversary's imagination. People can
become intoxicated with the exercise of power, but they can also be
regarded by others as intoxicated without actually being
Remember how Mrs Thatcher, against all
expectation and to considerable consternation around the world,
re-took the Falkland Islands from Argentina? From then on,
many regarded this middle-aged house-wife prime minister of a
clapped-out medium-sized country as a heavily-armed madwoman drunk
on power, who must be approached with extreme caution. In
particular, the Chinese Communists who run China suddenly started
taking her seriously in the negotiations over the future of Hong
Kong, a colony they had long proclaimed their willingness to march
in and seize at any time. You could never tell what that
madwoman might do if provoked too far. Britain and Hong Kong
were no match for China in any confrontation, yet the madwoman
reputation turned their weakness into negotiating strength.
As a result of the subsequent negotiations between Britain and China, Hong Kong was given a fighting chance at a democratic
future that it would never otherwise have had.
Well, Mr Bush has earned a bit of a madman reputation of his own
(all that Bushitler guff). Combining this with his
strength-through-weakness will also serve him well if he has the courage and will to
confront the other great existential challenge of our times.
Few but the most obtuse can doubt the ingrained malevolence of the
theocratic regime that runs Iran. Since it
first invaded American sovereign territory in 1979 (the US Embassy
in Teheran) and suffered no adverse consequences, it has been inflicting on
Western targets a steady dose of outrages, always with virtual impunity.
Iran created Hezbollah in 1982 as its militant arm to do its dirty
work abroad (including, last summer, in Lebanon). In turn
Hezbollah also sports its own militant arm, Islamic Jihad.
Over the years, Hezbollah has been very busy and very effective.
Professor Victor Davis Hensen
that before 9/11 it had killed more Americans than any other
terrorist group in the world.
In his usual methodical style, Mark Humphrys lists and links its
murderous antics. I have incorporated some more from
Camera (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in
And then there is the still-valid
death fatwa (with bounty) imposed by that
paedophile Ayatollah Ruholla Khomenei on Salman Rushdie in 1989
for writing the Satanic Verse, because it is irreverent towards the
prophet Muhammad. It has not (yet) been carried out, though a
number of publishing staff have been killed or injured.
This is today's Iran under its depraved theocratic dictatorship.
Given this utterly amoral track record, if its openly-expressed
nuclear ambitions do not constitute a threat to Western civilisation
(not just Israel), I don't know what does. If there is one
thing we should have learnt since 9/11 (indeed since Karl Marx's
Das Kapital and Adolf Hitler's
Mein Kampf), it is that when totalitarians threaten bad things,
you cannot afford not to believe them. It's the one area where
they don't tell lies (unlike many democratic
politicians issuing empty threats!).
Some say Iran is bluffing, that it is nowhere as near to completing
its bomb as many in the west fear. If so, it is playing a very
dangerous game. For it was Saddam's subterfuge in allowing the
west to believe, wrongly, that he had WMD ready for immediate
deployment, which triggered the invasion of Iraq, his ousting,
the violent death of his only sons and eventually his own execution.
So back to George Bush, the weakest president any of us can
He has said in the past that he feels he should not leave the
to his successor. Just this month he
“It’s an important issue whether or not Iran ends up with
nuclear weapons. People are going to look back and say, you
know, how come they couldn’t see the impending danger? What happened
If you think about it, his is a very moral position to take, because
it is unthinkable that in America's new anti-war climate the next
president will ever be in a position to attack Iran. Good,
some might say. But it also means he will never be able to use
the threat of force in his negotiations, which will make him far
less effective than otherwise. (Or her, if it's Hilary.)
A recent EU report, written by
the staff of Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, leads
analysts to suggest that Iran may need only
two more years to produce its first crude nuclear bomb, which
happens to be the time remaining to Mr Bush. It's no
good waiting until Iran drops such a bomb on Israel to be
convinced of its capabilities plus malign intent.
So Mr Bush is tightening up the rhetoric and screws on Iran.
the latest (rather flawed)
agreement constraining North Korea's nuclear programme takes
it off the table as a potential nuclear ally for Iran.
Whether activities such as these are mere bluster to frighten the
Iranians into making a no-nukes deal or preparation for some kind of
military strike against Iran no-one except Mr Bush knows.
However, it must be plain to all - and especially the Iranians -
that attacking Iran, whether to destroy its nuclear facilities or
simply to take out the current theocratic regime, is well within Mr
Bush's capability, and if push comes to shove he will certainly do
it. Whether his craziness is real or imagined, they cannot
afford to dismiss it.
know she is the socialist candidate, but I have been secretly hoping she would win the French presidential
election, just to brighten the world of international politics.
I was not in the least put off by her various recent gaffes, which
to me just added to her charm.
So some Canadian prankster
fooled her into thinking she
was chatting on the phone with the premier of Quebec;
Why, a few years back, didn't a certain presidential candidate of a
(OK, the) major world power
even know who was leading India or Pakistan, yet went on to win
eight years of power?
But then Ms Royal got serious and earlier this month
delivered her first manifesto speech.
Prior to this, her staff had held 6,500
across France; some 2.7 million people allegedly visited her
website; 135,000 sent in written contributions. Seventy
moderators sorted and stirred all this stuff to produce a
“notebooks of hope”,
which a team of no fewer than twenty then used to construct her two-hour
she called it, with a 100-point programme. Whew!
So with such intensity of research and manpower, there was no chance of gaffes or slips of the tongue.
Every word deadly serious.
She delivered her speech in a packed hall near Paris.
France would be a stronger France”,
she declared, to delirious applause.
But what did
actually say? Well they provided a blueprint guaranteed to
drag poor France further down the wealth-destroying spiral it's
already locked in. Here's a sample.
She intends to raise the minimum monthly wage to €1,500,
which is a recipe for job destruction where joblessness has long
been stuck at over 9%.
With a 35-hour week, this translates to about €10/hour,
20% more than
She'll raise taxes for companies with the temerity to distribute
profits to shareholders rather than reinvesting them.
She'll create a hundred new state agencies, with
funds and spending programmes, whose remit will include
“national agency for re-industrialisation” to stop
“guaranteed purchasing power and lifelong housing” to all
raising of pensions and disability benefits;
building of 120,000 low income housing units every year;
requiring every town to build emergency housing for a thousand
paying deposits for tenants who could not otherwise rent
requisitioning housing left vacant for more than two years;
a diploma and a first job given to all young people
(yes, given, yes to all);
creation of half a million
“trampoline jobs” for them;
Payment of an
“autonomy allowance” and
a loan of €10,000 to every young
Raising unemployment pay to 90% of the last salary for the
Giving free medical care to everyone under the age of 16;
Providing contraception free to all females
creating 100,000 jobs by committing France to
(whatever that is);
reorientation of the Common Agricultural Policy aid
(reorientation towards disappearance would make more sense);
“unfair competition”and outsourcing, by establishing
minimum levels of (ie raising) corporation tax.
Yet not a whisper about costs. And apart from that last little hint about raising corporation
tax and the earlier one about taxing companies which don't reinvest, not a word about where the money for all this largesse is going
to come from, other than a hopeful
“reform of government bureaucracy”. Yeh, right!
Nonetheless, she assures everyone, this would
“reconcile the French with business to
get France out of deficit-spending and achieve social progress”.
Dear oh dear. If only
the delectable “Ségo” as she is affectionately known
could just stick to blunders about submarines, she would be far less
irresponsible and threatening.
In this past week of roses, chocolates and pink champagne, it is
interesting to learn something about Saint Valentine who started it
all, as largely recounted by
A martyr for the cause of matrimony and patron
saint of love, his remains lie buried in a casket in a
church in central Dublin. People from all over the world come
to his shrine to get their wedding rings blessed or just to say a
prayer to this most interesting of saints.
The Catholic church actually recognises three St
Valentines. One, a little-known saint, died in Africa. But the two
that lived in Italy, one in Rome and the other in Terni, could have
been the same person. It is this Roman St Valentine (Valentinus)
that we have venerated all these years.
In the 3rd century AD, Claudius II, or Claudius
the Cruel as he was known, ruled Rome. Claudius banned marriage, on
pain of death, saying it distracted his soldiers and made them less
likely to leave their wives to go off and fight. He had a point.
The Christians of Rome, however, thought it a
terrible suggestion and still sought to get married. So their priests, one
of whom was Valentine, married the sweethearts in secret.
Claudius learnt of Valentine's disobedience and
sentenced him to death by clubbing, stoning and then decapitation.
A prison guard friendly to Valentine asked him to
help him with his blind daughter, Julia. So Valentine taught Julia
to appreciate things with her other senses and to regard her
blindness as a gift, another way of
things. The night before Valentine was to receive his fatal
clubbing, he wrote a note to Julia, urging her to stay close to God,
enclosed a flower and signed it
“From your Valentine”.
He was executed the following day, 14th February 269 AD, near a gate
that was later named Porta Valentini (now Porta del Popolo).
When Julia opened the note she could see the bright yellow crocus
inside. Her blindness was cured and the miracle was attributed to St
Valentine; which sent him on the road to sainthood. That is why
Valentine cards are traditionally signed
“From your Valentine”.
In the time of Valentine, 14th
February happened to be a holiday to honour Juno - the Queen of the
Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of
women and marriage. It had long been a tradition that young men and
women - normally strictly segregated - would draw names out of a jar
and then spend the day together, which sometimes led to love and
This is a story to stir all good husbands,
fiancés, boyfriends and stalkers to organise, in good time, a card, a few
goodies and a night out on the town.
How come St Valentine reposes in Dublin?
1865 a young Irish Carmelite priest, Fr John Spratt, so impressed
Pope Gregory XVI with his sermons and work with the poor, that he
gave him the casket containing the (clubbed) remains of St Valentine, which Fr
Spratt brought back to his home church in Dublin.
Now that was a Valentine goodie with a
difference, and a bit better than chocolates. Yet those who
take their sweethearts out, er, clubbing on St Valentine's day are
celebrating his martyrdom in a way they mightn't have imagined.
Two letters this week. To my surprise the one on
Iraq was published but not the one about an attempted food price cartel;
I would have expected it to be the other way round.
Food Price Rise Warnings
Madam, - Ibec's Food and Drink Industry
Ireland group and the grocers' federation Rgdata
us of impending food price rises. How very thoughtful, but it sounds
awfully like a cartel is kicking in to soften up consumers prior to co-ordinated
price increases, in order to swell its members' profits ...
Krauthammer's View of Iraq
Because Charles Krauthammer supports the freeing of Iraq from Saddam
Hussein, Alan Barwise asks, "why does The Irish Times persist in
publishing Mr Krauthammer's articles?". For the same reason that
it publishes a letter from Mr Barwise who patronisingly believes Iraqis
are not ready for freedom and deserve only authoritarian rule ...
“I can say with certainty that the Quds force, a part of the
Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed
our troops. And I'd like to repeat: I do not know whether or not the Quds
force was ordered from the top echelons of government.”
cranks up the rhetoric against Iran.
“Congress and the American people will continue to support and
protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who
have served bravely and honorably in Iraq ... [but] Congress
disapproves of the decision . . . to deploy more than 20,000 additional
United States combat troops to Iraq.”
resolution saying that
Congress supports all its troops except the last 20,000.
What ever is that
supposed to mean?
Especially since the Democrats plan to approve
the $100 bn needed for the surge.
It is redolent of
John Kerry's famous
words in 2003,
“I actually did vote for the $87 billion [for the Iraq
voted against it.”
“I do believe that if you really believe that this is doomed to
failure and is going to cost American lives, then you should do what's
necessary to prevent it from happening rather than a vote of
... This is a vote of no confidence in both the mission and the troops
who are going over there.”
Senator John McCain
(R) comments on
the Democratic efforts to table a Senate debate
which would censure George Bush's planned surge or 21,500 troops in Iraq,
but not deny the $100 bn needed to implement it
- - - - - U S P R E S I D E N T I A L E L E C T I O
N - - - - -
“I've never seen our country as much as of an international pariah ...
as it is today.”
John Kerry, his treasonous foot once again in his mouth, as he addresses the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland,
wills defeat and humiliation on America and its armed forces,
just as he did after his Vietnam service
“I don't have any plans to run for president, but I appreciate
hedging his bets.
I think he's lying. No doubt he has not yet made a decision,
but it is inconceivable that he actually has made no plans at all.
- - - - - J I H A D - - - - -
“Yes, I do recognise these books, of course. We have these books
in our school ... the books should not be scrapped ... we don't teach hatred
towards Judaism or Christianity - on the contrary.”
Dr Sumaya Alyusuf, headmistress of the
King Fahd Academy in Acton (London),
which is owned and funded by Saudi Arabia.
She was defending school textbooks which
and Christians as
- - - - - O T H E R - - - - -
“[Britain's] Channel 4 is a supposedly independent
channel: in fact, it is long since a cheap, debased network, being to the
ideals of public service what dysentery is to freshly-laundered underwear.”
Big Brother episode when
nobody-celebrities Jane Goody and other young harridans
harangued Bollywood star Silpa Shetty.
“Hooker Hits New Heights On Borrowed Pole”
story beneath this salacious headline is simply that
pole-vaulter Steve Hooker lost his pole so had to borrow someone else's
Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World”
was published in 2005. I
was given it by someone who felt I needed a bit of re-education out
of my right-wing neocon views. I welcomed the gift because I
had never studied Noam Chomsky's work in any depth yet wouldn't like
to line his pockets by buying it; moreover it is always wise to know
your enemy. I last wrote about him a year ago when he visited
Ireland, in a post entitled
Chomsky Rants in Dublin”
(from which you can guess at my bias).
Imperial Ambitions is an easy book to read of
just 200 small pages, with well written sentences. But it's a
lazy, rambling production which randomly jumps all over the world
from topic to topic, because it is simply a series of interviews
with the great man by a fawning radio broadcaster,
David Barsamian, who has produced a dozen such books. Mr
Barsamian lobs up the easy balls and Mr Chomsky whacks them.
In the process, this American Jew makes it abundantly clear that he
despises Americans and Jews, well Israel anyway.
In one sense Mr Chomsky is admirable. Not
only is he extremely articulate and clear in what he says, but he
has an absolutely phenomenal memory for facts, figures, names,
But he is a seething mass of hatred and
resentment at the world he is lucky enough to find himself in, that
is to the say the western, democratic, capitalistic part of the
world which he thinks intolerable and - yes - undemocratic.
On the other hand, he has extraordinary tolerance
for things like
racism by non-whites,
including India's pernicious caste system
(perhaps mankind's most sophisticated racist ideology) (see page
48 of his book),
brutality perpetrated by non-Americans (p47),
flouted UN resolutions such as the infamous
with its threat of
(p77) should Saddam fail to demonstrate disarmament,
Soviet tyranny (p89)
the Vietnamese Communist tyranny
that followed America's defeat and flight, a dictatorship which he thinks
makes the country
He is also perfectly relaxed about peddling
patent untruths provided they denigrate America. For example,
he tells us that the US doesn't want a democratic Iraq (p80),
Halliburton is out to control Iraq's oil (p81), the US wants to
attack everyone (p87), and its major enemy is - wait
for it - its own domestic population (p103), though Europe and Asia
are also it enemies (p112).
Iraq, as you might expect from a
fervent anti-warrior (translation: an
“ABA” who wants Anyone But
America to win), gets a lot of attention, some of it bizarre, some
Marxist, much of the rest simply dishonest.
Iraq is guilty of limiting tax to 15% and trying
to encourage foreign investment (p81) - which is far too
capitalistic and wealth-creating for Mr Chomsky's Marxist taste.
Indeed, his meandering case for an American
welfare state (only government systems, it seems, can be highly efficient)
devoid of personal responsibility for anyone, and how this utopia is
impossible unless you get rid of free capital movement and
investment (p145-7) only underline his commitment to Communist
principles. No wonder he loves dictatorships.
Bizarrely, he criticises America for using both
too much and too little force in Fallujah (p102), yet
dishonestly gives the
murder and mutilation of the four American soldiers that
triggered the battles not even a mention. On the other hand,
the moderate damage inflicted on Fallujah with
hundreds of fatalities is likened to Grozny (p123), the capital
of Chechnya utterly flattened by the Russians with
He makes clear he fears a sovereign, democratic
Iraq because this would legitimise the Iraqi leaders, police and
army and thus prevent him from likening them to the Vichy government
in Nazi-occupied France (p140). He goes on to say it is
that the US will ever permit one to emerge (p148-9), though
subsequent events demonstrate it has done everything in its power to
create precisely that. How disappointed he must be.
As far as America is concerned, he supports a
view that an attack by America is justified only when planes are
“flying across the Atlantic to bomb the US”
(p135), which most non-nutty people might think is a bit late,
especially if they are nuclear bombs.
Thus Bill Clinton is in trouble for bombing that
pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (p108), thinking it was an Al Qaeda
munitions dump, because he apparently killed
“tens of thousands”
of people through lack of medicines. Of course Mr Chomsky
fails to note that the attack was in (relatively mild) retaliation
for Al Qaeda's bombing of
two US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 257
innocents, nor that the Sudan dictatorship was harbouring Al Qaeda.
Britain, as America's ally, gets a lot of
opprobrium. A subtle device he often uses is to call it
especially when being critical. I don't know why, but I
imagine it is because “England” sounds more
Anglo-Saxon-Protestant which seems to be one of his most hated
racial stereotypes. One example is his excoriation of the
Hutton Report, an independent investigation into the BBC's
allegation that the British government had “sexed
up” the case for invading Iraq. He reckons this shows
“the very low commitment to freedom of speech in England”
(p151). Apart from the extraordinary non-sequitur of his
conclusion, presumably everything is fine in Wales, Scotland and
Anyone can prove anything by
selecting only facts and references that support the desired
conclusion. Mr Chomsky is a master at this. He
castigates the Washington Post for telling children (no reference
provided) that the root of the Palestine/Israel conflict is the
Palestinians' desire under Arafat for
“part of Israel”.
This, he tells us, is “disgraceful indoctrination” because it
infers that the so-called “Occupied Territories” are part of
In fact, he should be outraged because the
newspaper did not make clear that the Arafat wanted not part but all of Israel, as the Palestinians' current Hamas leaders
still openly do.
It is interesting - but not
surprising - to deduce that Japan bore no responsibility for the two
atomic bombs dropped on them - it was of course the sole fault of
those American imperialists, who didn't care about the suffering
they caused (p182). Though Mr Chomsky is careful to note that
100,000 Japanese died, he fails to mention how quickly the war then
ended and how many Allied servicemen's lives the bombs saved by
avoiding a ground invasion of Japan. (My fully alert,
91-year-old, ex-RAF father is in no doubt that for this reason dropping those bombs
was the right thing to do.)
A major drawback of the book, which can only be
deliberate, is that, out of the 202 references at the back of the book,
just three provide URLs and are thus easily checkable. All
serious books in this internet age provide web links to their
references wherever possible. Why would they not?
But Mr Chomsky's other 199 non-URL references
refer the unfortunate reader
either to books and
publications not available online or subscription-only, so
difficult for most people to verify,
or to articles which are freely
on line (such as newspaper reports from the Daily Telegraph, the
Guardian, the Washington Post) but he makes it hard by requiring you
to do your own hunting.
Oh, and a significant number of references
are to the writings of ... Mr Chomsky himself, as if that makes
There can be only one reason for all this: the
author provides copious references to convince readers that what he
says is trustworthy, but strongly discourages them from doing their
own authenticating. So you have to conclude that he
knows much of what he says cannot be backed up.
“Bullshit baffles brains”,
as someone once said.
Sometimes he goes beyond
parody: like when he quotes, approvingly, John Steinbruner and Nancy
Gallagher in Daedalus, the journal of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences. They hope that
“a coalition of peace-loving states led by China [sic]
will coalesce to counter US militarism and aggressiveness”.
So, he concludes, “let's hope China will rescue us [benighted
Americans]”. No doubt just as it “rescued”
in 1950 and is
itching to “rescue” Taiwan. A search of the journal's
website however turns up no such phraseology. Did he make
But America is, of course, a
“failed state”, mainly because
[sic] it lacks a National Health
Service (p198), and also a “frightened” one (p186). In
the absence of “rescue” by China, it would, it seems, do
better to emulate Brazil and Haiti (p200).
As I said, beyond
Action and Imperial
Finally, Mr Chomsky talks endlessly about the
need for people to take action to redress the wrongs he enunciates,
but you have to wonder why in that case he has never sought public
office so that he himself can make a real difference. You have
to deduce that he knows that his following, while enthusiastic, is
small, that he would be unsuccessful, and that he fears real
Indeed he is noted for ensuring that his adoring
audiences are never infiltrated with those who might pose awkward or
embarrassing questions; heavies always screen out undesirables.
And he won't accept TV or radio network invitations if an opposition
personality will be there to challenge his ideas - he is apparently
too easy to take apart.
Nevertheless his ambition is clearly to live within
his own imperium, dispensing his version of wisdom to the less
enlightened masses, undisturbed and unchallenged by dissent.
tells you all you need to know about this
rather silly book. Don't waste your money buying it or your time reading it.
For the past several years, not a week has gone
by in Ireland or Britain when the papers and TV have not been full
of stories about the respective health services, and they're all
rather similar and nearly all negative.
Hospitals can't keep up with demand
hence trolleys in corridors, operations
Hospitals are dirty
hence people get infected with MRSA or
the winter vomiting bug or septicemia or whatever;
and why aren't offices and
hotels also dirty?
Food is unpalatable
what's the mystery if restaurants can do
Staff are demoralised
hence reduced quality of care for
Money is short (despite massive infusions)
so insufficient equipment is available and
No-one is in charge
hence reform can easily be sabotaged and
consultants can ignore hospital managers.
Yet I recently brought my wife for a state
sponsored check-up in the local facility and I found absolutely no
evidence for any of the above. Having made an appointment
(online, without fuss),
patients were seen with the minimum of waiting, the buildings and
equipment were new and spotless, everyone was cheerful, specialists
checked different aspects and at the end a comprehensive report was
provided which set out everything that had been done, what had been
measured and how the measurements compared with safe norms. It
was literally, a clean bill of health. The facility is busy
night and day, never without patients, yet never overwhelmed.
So why is it so different from the norm?
What's so special about its patients that they are treated so well
yet others are only good enough to languish untended on trolleys?
Well, the difference is between metal and meat.
It was in fact not my wife but her car I took to the facility, for its biennial
and it cost me €49. It is a legal necessity and
organized entirely by the state, which however periodically tenders
for a contractor to carry out the actual work. If the
contractor's performance is unsatisfactory, it can be terminated and
replaced by another. If the state were also to pay my €49, the
car-test facility would be operating exactly like a public hospital
- the only difference would be its efficiency.
It is a scandal that the state is able to
organize excellent service for a car but not for a human being, yet
the reason is obvious.
A hospital (or a school) is first and foremost a
business, even when its care is free of charge to
its patients. Simply put,
it provides a service,
it pays its staff, its operating costs and its
it reinvests money and
anything left over (as if)
reverts to its shareholder, the state.
The fact that the
revenue comes from the state, the staff are state employees and the
assets are owned by the state does not alter the business nature of
the enterprise one whit. It's still as much as a business as
Microsoft, a corner shop or, indeed, a car-test facility.
The reason state-owned hospitals struggle so much
is therefore pretty straightforward. There is not a government
on earth that is good at running businesses. None.
Politicians as a group have a completely different skill set and
simply don't possess the necessary competences - or incentives - to
run a business, just as businessmen rarely become effective
Silvio Berlusconi might be an exception).
This is not to
denigrate politicians; they have wonderful abilities that I for one
could never hope to emulate, not to mention (in democracies) the
courage to put their jobs and livelihood on the line every few
years, and countries couldn't function without them. But as a
group they're institutionally unable to run businesses properly.
Thus in cases where governments get out of, or
don't venture into, the business of running a business, the
businesses provide incomparably better service, and a profit to
boot. The car-test facility is but one example of this, but
the wave of privatisations begun by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s
and copied all over the world to this day, provide overwhelming
A great misunderstanding that seems to grip most
politicians, however, especially those of socialist leaning, is that
if you are going to provide a service to the population,
particularly if it's to be free of charge, you also have to
run the service. Thus when health and education, in
particular, are provided free, the state nearly always
hospitals and schools,
directly employees the doctors, nurses,
teachers and other staff, and
takes on the day-to-day management.
So of course they don't work.
Why? There is no justification for this.
If the hospitals and schools were entirely private, the state could
just as easily buy the services required and then provide them free
to the sick and young according to its political philosophy.
Such a model is, in fact, the answer to the
débâcle that passes for public services in Ireland and UK.
Think about it. You auction off all the existing hospitals and
schools in the country (in the process adding a tidy sum to the
Exchequer which might facilitate tax cuts), and the buyer takes on
the existing workforce as part of the deal. You then go to
tender to purchase the health and education services you need. Tenderers must bid their prices for, say, educating a student, for a
hip replacement, for cancer therapy, for long-term hospital care.
The government then awards contracts according to the most
Thereafter it is merely a matter of managing the
contracts, settling the invoices and enforcing quality standards,
using payments and termination for this as required, and rebidding
the contracts every few years to keep the competition sharp. This is a
far simpler job than running the businesses - professional managers
would do that.
Such restructuring could readily be
extended beyond hospitals and schools. Prisons, garbage collection,
public transport are all obvious candidates, though in fairness some of this
is already carried out by private contractors.
The inevitable result of such radical reform
and the vigorous competition it entails is
quality up, staff morale up, costs down, profit up.
It's time to sell off every hospital and school
and start providing world-class medical care and education.
It's not rocket science.
But does any politician care enough
for the wellbeing of the citizens he/she represents to do so?
November/December, I put together an eclectic selection of music I
have been collecting during the year - classical, light, amusing,
instrumental, vocal, old, new - and produce a CD with commentaries
and a nice cover, which then goes in with the Christmas cards.
The latest CD (“Selection
includes Billy Joel's fabulous hit “Piano Man” from
1972, describing life as seen by a piano player in a bar (ie
Good as it is on the CD, it is even better in
this marvellous six-minute video clip.
Two little ones this time, but neither made it on to
the hallowed printed page.
Make Those SUV Gas Guzzlers Pay
Here's a novel idea to make all those thoughtless owners
of gas-guzzling SUVs pay their proper share of the cost of the pollution
their trucks produce. Slap a hefty tax on every litre of fuel they buy,
so that the more they consume, the more they pollute, the more they pay,
while people with smaller cars pay proportionately less.
Oh wait, we already have that. So where's the problem?
You shouldn't sanitise Harry Belafonte's views. He didn't just call
Condoleeza Rice a
“house slave”. He referred to both her and Colin Powell as
because he reckoned they were too close to George Bush for his liking.
Quote: “The Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland would like to
say that it believes that the rule of civil law, the democratic system of
representation in government, the protection of the rights of women and
minorities and the freedom of thought and belief - under all of which we
live here in Ireland - are not only compatible with Islamic values but are
closer to the ethos and spirit of tolerance, pluralism and peace in Islam
and better serve the Irish Muslim community than the undemocratic regimes
and the draconian judicial systems found in some predominately Muslim
Secretary-General of the Supreme Muslim Council of Ireland
I have never seen such a pro-democracy
from a national leader of Muslims.
He was, admirably,
responding to and distancing Ireland's Muslims from
a report by the British Conservatives which
“the Muslim Council of Britain's claim
to foster good community relations and work for the good of society as a
whole is hard to reconcile with some of the positions it's taken ... [and]
"a significant number" [of Muslim groups were] keener to promote ideology
than the totality of the communities they claim to represent”
- - - - - - - - - - I
R A N - - - - - - - - - -
“We have to recognise it: negotiations have
failed. Time is not on our side ... The only response is to
isolate them [the Iranians] internationally as well as
politically and economically. In the long term, in the - I
hope not very long term - the only real solution is regime
John Bolton, the straight-talking,
hard-hitting US Ambassador to the UN,
until the new Democratic Congress and Senate got rid of him
- - - - - - - - - -
U S A - - - - - - - - - -
“I mean, you got [in Barak Obama] the the first mainstream
African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking
guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man.”
Senator Joseph Biden (64),
who is competing with Barak Obama for the Democratic nomination,
endears himself to the other mainstream African-American politicians by
letting them know he thinks they are all
“inarticulate and dim and dirty and nasty-looking guys”.
- - - - - - - - - -
I R E L A N D - - - - - - - - - -
“If anything like ... rape, attacks on the elderly, car theft,
and killings and injuries caused by so-called joyriders ... happens then
what Sinn Féin will be doing will be asking people, urging people,
encouraging people to work, to co-operate with the police in taking these
people off the streets.”
Laudably, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams
to the police in Northern Ireland following a historic vote.
However he mentions
only people-related crime. His silence on property crime (eg the IRA's
favourites of bank-robbery, diesel-laundering, disk-piracy)
Also, no mention of
co-operation with the police over past crimes such as the Northern Bank
robbery and the mob murder of Robert McCartney.
Time only will tell
what will actually be delivered.
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
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
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
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
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
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.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible 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
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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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
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.
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
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