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TALLRITE BLOG 
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February 2010


Eastern USA


Westernmost Europe


Hong Kong

ISSUE #202 - 14th February 2010 [309+621=930]

Just for fun, the latest Rasmussen poll on President Barack Obama’s popularity will
from now on be published at the head of the Tallrite Blog. The date is on the charts.
(Click on them to get the latest version.)

Rasmussen Daily Poll - 14 Feb 2010Rasmussen Daily Poll - 14 Feb 2010

St Valentine's Day

This World Takes All Sorts

This great ad, with a very clever punchline at the end, was produced by my niece, film-maker Kate McLaughlin, for a competition being run by the UK  employment agency Reed.  Out of 250, she's been shortlisted to the final twelve.

 

I, of course, think her submission deserves first prize.  If you agree (and even if you don't!), perhaps you would be kind enough to give her your vote here.  Thanks!

Back to List of Contents

Organizational Dementia

We are all familiar with elderly people sometimes being a bit forgetful.  This is no surprise, for just as the body gets weak over time, so can the brain. 

What is surprising, however, is that organizations can likewise become forgetful and this can be very costly.  The memory of an organization is held in two ways: in its paper and electronic records and in the minds of its employees, however the latter are also relied upon to access the former. 

ShellLast week, Irish TV showed a programme about Shell's travails, over many years, to bring gas ashore from an offshore field called Corrib, to treat it and to sell it to the Irish grid, supplying 60% of the nation's industry and consumer demand. 

Shell is spending nearly €2 billion developing Corrib.  With full planning permission and legal backing for every piece of work completed, this technologically complex project entails

  • drilling several 3,000-metre wells in 350 metres of water depth,

  • laying an 83 km subsea pipeline to shore

    • plus a 9 km section onshore,

  • and building a gas treatment terminal to clean the gas ready for consumption. 

Shell's schematic of Corrib development

Ireland, with no indigenous energy resources other than a little hydro power, a puff of methane and some filthy peat, is situated at the very end of a huge 8 ,000 km long gas network stretching across Europe.  It begins in faraway Siberia within the de-facto empire that is Russia, notorious for cutting off exports in unpredictable hissy fits.  Considering this extreme vulnerability to disruption of energy supply to Ireland, you would think the strategic value of Corrib is obvious. 

Yet for over five years, Shell has been fighting a rearguard action against a small number of local residents who maintain that Corrib represents a threat to their lives because the inland gas pipeline or the gas plant - based on no scientific evidence - might explode, and to the offshore pipeline for perceived damage to fish stocks.  The locals have been skilful in mobilising professional international objectors (to Shell, to oil and gas, to capitalism, to colonialism, to racism, to whatever) who periodically descend to join protests and gain media airtime.  Somewhat menacingly, they are also supported by Sinn Fein and other ex-paramilitary groups, which have had the effect of chilling the vast majority of local people who in fact strongly support the project.  Five local protestors were jailed in 2005 (for contempt of court), another last year (for assault) and several more jail sentences are pending, but this has been no deterrent to the protestors. 

It's a kind of asymmetric warfare, where a small gang of insurgents is successfully engaging the vast might of multinational Shell and the Irish State itself, and causing huge time and cost overruns.  Police overtime alone is costing €5m per year

How ever did Shell get itself into this mess?  Through organizational dementia, that's how. 

Enterprise, an independent UK oil company, discovered Corrib in 1996, the first commercial discovery since 1973, after the exploration industry had spent over €2 billion in otherwise fruitless offshore exploration.  It launched the development project at the turn of the millennium, but had little experience in mounting such a difficult endeavour (offshore, deep water, bad weather, new country).  So it was with some relief, as far as Corrib was concerned, when Shell bought Enterprise in 2002 for Ł3˝ billion in cash.  A project such as Corrib was right up Shell's street. 

The seeds of trouble had been sewn when Enterprise, in its naďveté, had made a basic mistake when it embarked upon Corrib.  But Shell had no excuse to make the same and more. 

Nigeria

I worked for Shell in Nigeria, for a total of seven years in two different postings, the second as a senior manager, until just before the PR disaster that erupted in 1995 with execution of Ken Saro Wiwa.  I can state categorically that Shell as a corporation - both its Nigerian arm and its twin head offices in The Hague and London - never entertained any kind of conspiracy whatsoever to engineer the harassment, imprisonment or execution of Mr Saro Wiwa and his eight colleagues.  As the record shows, they were convicted and executed for murdering four Nigerian chiefs, not for anything connected to or demanded by Shell.  The Nigerian judicial process may have been flawed, but Shell had not hand or part in it. 

It is of course true that over the years Shell, the country's biggest company, made lots of mistakes which occasionally resulted in accidentals oil spills, injuries and even deaths.  But accidents they were, fully investigated and promptly rectified (and compensated) to the extent possible.  In the early days of attacks from enraged locals, Shell would sometimes call the Nigerian police for protection.  However when it became clear that this might result in disproportionate violence by the police (and/or army) it discontinued the practice, and merely closed down operations instead, at great cost in forgone oil.  On not a single occasion did Shell call in Nigeria's security apparatus with the intention (much less instruction) of having demonstrators attacked. 

Nevertheless, protestors - with a legitimate complaint that almost none of the vast tax money from Shell's production (some 90% went in tax) was used to improve the lot of the local people - chose to vent their anger at Shell (safe) rather than the true culprits, the State and Federal Governments (deadly). 

From this simple scenario, the PR disaster unfolded that engulfed Shell around the world, with the gross calumnies that Shell was causing wanton pollution and death in pursuit of profits, culminating in the execution of Mr Saro Wiwa and his colleagues. 

On the day they were killed, I was a guest at a long-service dinner in the Hague hosted by Shell's then Chairman, Cor Herkströter.  I vividly remember the extreme emotion of this otherwise expressionless Dutchman, and the deathly silence that befell the room, as he announced the horror that had happened a few hours earlier.  The earlier gaiety of the evening did not return. 

Brent Spar

This PR disaster coincided with the other one in the North Sea when Shell announced it planned to sink an obsolete cylindrical floating platform, the Brent Spar, in the Atlantic Ocean.  Environmentalists and other angry people concluded that Brent Spar was a toxic, oil-laded monstrosity whose disposal in the North Sea (sic) would cause untold damage to marine life.  Clever media campaigns and distortions by Greenpeace and others captured the world's TV screens and imagination.  Growing its own international legs, amplified by the Nigeria accusations, the story caused enormous damage to the Shell brand, eventually forcing a U-turn.  Yet the accusations were totally untrue, and even Greenpeace eventually acknowledged that the planned dumping posed no hazard to the environment.  Brent Spar had been meticulously cleansed of all oil and other pollutants, and was planned to be sunk in the Atlantic far beyond territorial waters and at 2,500 metres, a depth so enormous that virtually no marine life existed anyway. 

In the end, Shell ran a public competition which resulted in disposal by slicing up the Spar to make a quay for a roll-on-roll-off ferry in Norway.  Due to the complete openness of this approach, there were no further demos.

The common lesson from both these catastrophes was that it is insufficient to be right - whether factually right, scientifically right, technologically right, environmentally right, logically right, legally right, morally right.  In fact rightness might as well have no meaning unless and until it is successfully communicated to the people who need, or want, to know about it. 

  • Shell worked hard to improve the lot of Nigerians (certainly during all the twenty year span during which I worked there).

  • Shell came up with an elegant, environmentally-friendly and cost-effective solution for safely disposing of Brent Spar. 

  • Yet a great many people didn't know any of this, didn't believe it when/if they were told, and in the resulting knowledge-vacuum drew precisely the opposite, most malign conclusions.

  • If you fail to convince people, especially the neighbours among whom you are working, of your bona-fides, they can cause all kinds of grief to your enterprise.  

A further difficult lesson was that, for multinational giants like Shell, the world had - perfectly reasonably - moved on from Trust me” to “Show me”. 

Within Shell, this message was drummed relentlessly into everyone throughout the second half of the 1990s, especially among managers (such as I was) and other senior employees.  Every effort was made to put the new philosophy into practice.  Never again would Shell propose big projects without clearing the way first with the locals.

Just one example was the accolades Shell won from all bodies of all persuasions for their sensitive development in 2001 of Malampaya gas field in very deep waters offshore Philippines, a $4˝ billion project even more demanding than Corrib in almost every respect.  One such was the International Chamber of Commerce and the United Nations Environment Program naming Malampaya, at a World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, as one of its Ten Best Examples of Sustainable Development Partnerships in Action.

Yet ignoring this philosophy has been the root of the problem with Corrib. 

I believe that Enterprise started the rot by ignoring and not respecting the locals.  But for the above reasons, Shell had no excuse, when Shell bought their way in, for forgetting the horror stories of Brent Spar and Nigeria.  Shell simply didn't bother to get the locals on board at a very early stage and to secure their support.

Why did the corporate memory apparently hit the Delete button?  It's a good question.  It is doubtless associated with the large numbers of senior people who left the company (with juicy packages) at the beginning of the millennium as part of corporate restructuring, and took their expertise and experience with them. 

For that elementary, inexcusable mistake made in Corrib, Shell shareholders are paying a ridiculous premium in terms of Corrib's hugely increased cost and delayed revenue, not to mention badly damaged international credentials. 

Rugby

There is an interesting parallel in recent Irish rugby, no less. 

In 1872 Dublin built the world's first international rugby venue in Lansdowne Road on which a stadium for 49,000 in due course emerged.  Largely for reasons of comfort and safety, the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) launched a project in 2004 to tear it down and replace it with a much larger, modern stadium.

A landmark deal was reached, for the duration of the construction, to play big rugby and soccer matches at the huge, 88,000 person Gaelic Games stadium across the river.  (This stadium was heretofore closed to non-Irish games ever since police militaries, protected by the British Army, invaded the pitch during a match in 1920 and mowed down fourteen people including a team captain.  This was in retaliation for the earlier killing of fourteen British Agents by the IRA.) 

Croke Park, the fourth largest stadium in Europe, has been filled to capacity for nearly every rugby and soccer match played there since 2007. 

But, like Corrib, the Lansdowne Road redevelopment quickly ran into massive resistance from local residents who didn't want the extra crowds, the loss of their views, the noise, the floodlights etc etc.  A compromise was eventually reached which entailed reducing the seating capacity to 50,000 and also the size of the pitch. 

This compromise has ensured that the new stadium - elegant as it has undoubtedly been planned - will be a €365 million white elephant, not to mention the delays and overruns entailed. 

Planned new Lansdowne Road Stadium

Thanks to Croke Park, we now know that, due to the downsizing, every single match will create at least 35,000 enraged and frustrated fans unable to get tickets.  How long will such anger be sustainable before something gives? Will they one day storm the bastions of the IRFU like some latter-day sans-culottes? Who knows. 

Alternatively, the new stadium will stand empty while matches are switched to Croke Park.  Conversely, moreover, the less popular Gaelic games, which often fail to fill Croke Park, will be unable to use Lansdowne Road because the pitch is too small. 

As I said, a white elephant.  And all because the IRFU failed - like Shell - to consult the local residents early enough, to respect their views, to explain the project, to cut lucrative deals with them, to do whatever was necessary to secure their support.

(It is said that the GAA - which had skilfully expanded Croke Park over many years - is a game for amateurs run by professionals, whereas rugby is a game for professionals run by the amateurs of the IRFU.)

By contrast, the management of rugby in the province of Munster also needed to upgrade and expand its Thomond Park stadium in Limerick, from 12,500 to 26,500.  But Munster Rugby first went to all the neighbours and flattered them to the high heavens. It then bought out a pile of nearby houses at inflated prices. Only when everyone was onboard and happy, did they give the go-ahead to build the new Thomond Park, the first step of which was to demolish all those houses to make room for a big enough stadium. It was delivered on time and within its paltry €40m budget.

The new Thomond Park Stadium

Shell should get over its organizational dementia and learn (ie re-learn) from Munster Rugby. So should the IRFU. 

Back to List of Contents

Women's Disdain for Womanhood

I failed to have a letter published in the Sunday Times last month addressing a pet grievance of mine.  I find it most odd, and intensely irritating, that the cult of political correctness has infected women, and men who think they are being nice to women, in a most unwomanly manner.  

There follow four examples: female nouns, unladylike phraseology (the subject of my Sunday Times letter), ungrammatical feminism, and jobs for the girls.

  1. Female Nouns

    Why are there no more actresses and stewardesses, but only actors and stewards?  Why do movie superstars like Meryl Streep or Angelina Jolie, who are very obviously female, nowadays call themselves actors, as do their Hollywood employers?  (The only exception is for the Oscars as otherwise there would be only one best actor instead of two.) 

    Women seem to think that by admitting that they are different from men (D'oh!) they are therefore inferior to men (Huh?), while men - not wanting to offend the sisters - go along with it.  This is utterly bizarre - women wanting to publicly proclaim a belief that men are superior by demanding they be described using male identifiers in order to deny their inferiority (unless, of course, it means competing with men for an Oscar, in which case it's OK to admit you're a woman). 

    Let's be clear.  The only way an actress can be inferior to an actor is if her acting is less accomplished than his.  Similarly, she can be superior to him.  The two nouns convey neither inferiority nor superiority. 

    So can we please go back to using the female form of nouns when referring to females.  A woman who acts, stewards, hosts or whatever is an actress, stewardess, hostess (with the mostest).  It is ridiculous to pretend otherwise. 
     

  2. Unladylike Phraseology

    There is an increasing tendency of women to use words and expressions that for good reasons have been the exclusive preserve of men, but only in all-male company and often only in the locker-room.  This was the subject of my (rejected) Sunday Times letter (see below). 

    The paper's regular columnist India Knight is a particular exponent.  One of her favourite moans is about women being knackered” - she has glibly thrown this around the newspaper no fewer than fourteen times since 2004. 

    But "knackered" doesn't simply mean tired, it means your knackers have been removed.  Therefore a woman, such as Ms Knight, can never be "knackered", or alternatively is born that way. 

    "Getting your finger out" is another of her expressions.  But this doesn't simply mean getting down to work, it means removing your finger from your anus in order to do so, a rather unsavoury image. 

    I single out Ms Knight, but on TV and radio as well as in print you increasingly encounter women who use these and similar male-only expressions as if they are some cool way of talking, of showing they are the same as (subtext: not inferior to) men.  But they are not being cool.  Such words have no place in the mouths of women, and their use merely confirms women's own curious view of their own inferiority.  Bizarre. 

    What exactly is wrong with a woman being a woman?  Outside the wilder reaches of Islam and other isolated pockets, no Western men believe females are inferior to males, just that they are different. 
     

  3. Ungrammatical Feminism

    This is an intractable area and one that I have a great deal of sympathy for. 

    The English language uses three genders - masculine (he), feminine (she) and neutral (it).  But it has no singular pronoun that is inclusive of both male and female. 

    For centuries until the last couple of decades, this conundrum was solved by saying that use of the masculine gender includes, where the context so requires, the feminine gender.  So everything singular is he”, “him”, “his”.  But women ask, fairly, why should theirs be the gender that is subsumed within the male, rather than, say, the other way round? 

    However the problem goes away in the plural, since
    they”, “them” and “their” embraces both genders.  So the modern fashion is to use the plural, together with plural verb if necessary, as if it is a singular.  But this is to butcher the English language with ghastly phrases like these, even from eminent writers -

    • One in three Americans now calling themselves evangelical
      (
      Andrew Sullivan)

    • One of them headed off to the nearest sports shop where
      they
      secured a tennis ball
      (Liam Toland)

    • You can wave cheerily at somebody every day for 20-odd years
      without knowing their name
      (Roland White). 

    In most cases you can solve the problem, while respecting the grammar, in a very simple way.  For instance the last phrase can be re-stated as: without knowing his/her name”.  Of course this gets awkward if you have lots of pronouns in the same sentence.  However, it is surprising how often you can simply pluralise the problem away, which protects both the ladies and grammatical purity.  For example, “a third of Americans call themselves evangelical”. 

    When all else fails, however, I believe we just have to go back to the original way of using English - select one gender (feminine if you prefer) and if necessary explain that it should be read to include the other.  There is simply no excuse for atrocious grammar, as inEach person for themself!

    What serious woman could disagree?
     

  4. Jobs for the Girls

    Finally, there is the case of jobs for the girls.  These are jobs that are given to women not because they have any merit or proven ability, but just because they are women. 
    In December I commented on t
    wo recent EU examples that illustrate this perfectly. 

  • Following a typical EU insiders' closed-shop convocation, the
    never-elected-to-anything Baroness Catherine Ashton ended
    up as the new Lisbon-enabled “
    High Representative of the
    European Union
    (translation: Foreign Minister) and later
    First-Vice-President of the European Commission
    ”. 

    President Sarkozy admitted that she got the first (and no
    doubt second) job because she’s a female centre-left Brit,
    certainly not because she has superior ability, much less
    any expertise in foreign affairs where her experience is
    zilch.   Equally, Labour awarded her a baronetcy in 1999 after
    an undistinguished but Labour-supporting career first with
    the left-wing and totally ineffectual CND, then various
    do-gooder quangos.   But hey she's a woman, so of course accomplishment is superfluous to advancement.
     

  • Then Ireland's Taoiseach Brian Cowen appointed as his
    current EU Commissioner the political has-been
    Máire
    Geoghegan-Quinn ahead of other well-qualified
    candidates
    ” just because she’s a woman, in other
    words not on her own merits (though unlike Baronness
    Ashton, she at least has some). 

    This was in obeisance to the instruction of
    European
    Commission president José Manuel Barroso: “I would ...
    urge you to pay particular attention to the presence
    of women in the college
    [of Commissioners]”

     

  • A third example: in the UK, David Cameron has floated
    the idea of all-women selection lists as a means to
    increase their parliamentary representation.  This too
    would mean that any woman so elected would attract
    sneers, as her success would - rightly or wrongly - be
    dismissed as due solely to her sex not her expertise.

    Tory MP Ann Widdecombe had the correct response when
    she said the idea was appallingand would make women
    MPs second class citizens
    ”. 
     

  • In America, the feminism-driven Obama administration
    is
    promising to litigate, regulate, and legislate the
    nation’s universities until women obtain half of all
    academic degrees in science and technology and hold
    half of the faculty positions in those areas


    Nothing there about improving women's actual, you know,
    expertise to win those juicy degrees and jobs in fair and
    open competition.  It's seems a given that he thinks they're
    too stupid. 

How humiliated must such women rightly feel as they take up their new roles secure in the knowledge that they owe them solely to their sex, or at least that everyone is thinking this even if it's not so.  And how their male colleagues (and countless other men and women - including me) must snort in derision, whether behind the ladies' backs or to their faces. 

Feminists are in the vanguard of pushing the kind of special treatment for women described in the four illustrations above.  As such, they are womanhood's own worst enemies, both in terms of attracting scorn and eroding, for their sex, incentives to hard work and achievement.  Even women who have attained their position entirely through merit become tainted - because others look at them and wonder whether they too have had special treatment. 

Indeed it seems to me feminists are guilty of the very disdain for women of which they would accuse some men.

Back to List of Contents

Greenery Gone Mad

This ad, for some ugly vehicle called an Audi A3 TDI, designated as environmentally friendly, must be giving Greens all over the world wet dreams, as they salivate over how a true Green Police Force would behave.  Shown at this year's Super Bowl, it seems to me a mad premise to try to sell a car - buy it and you won't be harassed by the Green Gestapo? 

At the other end of the scale, the same event also aired an anti-abortion ad where a mother describes how her failure to abort resulted in the creation of Tim Tebow, a college football superstar.  Feminists were enraged by this crass infringement on their sacred right to kill unborn people. 

Maybe the Super Bowl isn't so bad after all.  (The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17.)

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FIAT to STUPID to LOVE

I love some of the acronyms doing the rounds

Of course acronyming is an old sport dating back at least a century.  

  • Founded in 1899, the carmaker FIAT dreamed up one of the cleverest acronyms ever.  Not only does this simple word stand for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Turin's Italian car factory, but it also means, in Latin, Let it be made

  • Radar is another clever, early one - Radio Detection And Ranging

  • Laser followed a few decades later - Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation - and indeed is also pretty old by now, as is 

  • Sonar - Sound Navigation And Ranging. 

  • Nimby - Not In My Back Yard, has also been around a long time.

Cars attract their fair share of acronymic abuse, for example

  • Dodge (Drips Oil & Drops Grease Everywhere),

  • Volvo - Very Odd Looking Vehicular Object,

  • Buick - Big Ugly Indestructible Car Killer,

  • VW - Virtually Worthless, or Very Worrying;

and airlines:

  • PIA - Perhaps It'll Arrive,

  • Sabena - Such A Bloody Experience Never Again (no wonder it's now defunct),

  • BOAC - Better On A Camel (or by now on BA - Bloody Awful).

During the Cold War how we chuckled at

  • MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), to counter which we had

  • SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks),

  • START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and indeed

  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

  • However GULAG, an acronym albeit a Russian one grimly meaning Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps, was no laughing matter.  

For politicians, Ireland's beleaguered and bumbling Taoiseach (prime minister) gets first prize:

  • Biffo - Big Ignorant F***er From Offaly (his home county). 

Among those that reflect different life-styles, we have

  • Dinks - Dual Income No Kids

  • Sitcoms - Single Income Two Children Overextended Mortgage

  • Henrys - High Earner Not Rich Yet

  • Thinkers - Two Healthy Incomes, No Kids, Early Retirement

  • Dimwits - Dual Income, Married, With Teens

  • Kippers - Kids in Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings

The credit crunch has spawned a few more:

First there were the

  • BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), singled out as fast-growing developing economies that are bucking the recessionary trend. 

    At the other end of the economic scale are the

  • PIGIS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Ireland and Spain), derided for coming close to defaulting on their sovereign debt and jeopardising the €uro, and a whole pile of other problems.

    However, now that Ireland has taken budgetary action by swingeing public sector cuts, the PIGIS have become mere

  • PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain), whose star member is Greece with its ingrained budgetary cheating, financial mistatements, over-borrowing, tax-evasion and inability to cut spending. The PIGS are keeping the €uro under threat. 

    But when the bad-boy net is spread beyond €uroland and beyond Europe, you get the best credit-crunch acronym of all, the ...

  • STUPID countries: Spain, Turkey, UK, Portugal, Italy and Dubai. 

    • The UK is there for destroying the Ł with its Mugabeconomics quantitative easing and its refusal to cut spending,

    • Turkey for the Greece disease but worse and

    • Dubai for its spectacular property bust despite temporary relief through its $5-10 billion bail-out from Abu Dhabi.

But the overall acronymic winner comes (almost) last, the Quintuple A -

  • AAAAA - Amateur Association Against the Abuse of Acronyms

 
Meanwhile, on today, Saint Valentine's Day, our thoughts turn to
 

  • LOVE - Look, Observe, Verify, Enjoy. 

http://t1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:58rZamBmRaUaYM:http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_f7nRPJYTe6w/SXlhpwf0JOI/AAAAAAAAEko/LuCEn0r1jHY/s320/ist2_1349067-tatto-heart-love.jpg

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Issue 202’s Comments to Cyberspace

Three comments this time.   

  • Do you agree with George Lee's decision to resign his Dáil seat?
    Comment on an article in the Irish Times
    Through the spurious and premature abandonment of the mandate graciously bestowed upon Mr Lee by 27,000 well-meaning voters, Mr Lee by his abrupt resignation has grossly insulted his electorate. He reminds me of a certain feckless president who ...

  • Unsavoury Expressions
    Letter to the Sunday Times (unpublished)
    I hope you will publish this letter because I would like female journalists such as India Knight to understand the true meanings of a couple of male locker-room expressions they glibly throw around as if they are some cool way of talking. 
    Getting your finger out doesn't simply mean ...  [See also Women's Disdain for Womanhood” above]

  • Intergovernmental Perjury over Climate Catastrophe (ctd)
    Comment in the Spectator-hosted Melanie Philips Blog
    For the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the AGW scam, all in one place, there is no better source than  the public lecture given last October by Lord Monckton ...

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Quotes for Issue 202 

- - - - - U K - - - - -

Quote: Itbah Al-Yahud!” [Slaughter the Jews]

Ho-hum, just part of the typical rough-and-tumble
of a meeting of the Oxford Union

A heckler shouts, with impunity, at Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon,
who was invited to speak on the history of Israel.

Quote: Iraq was rubbish, we did nothing but look at kids. Northern Ireland was boring. Afghan, however, was brilliant: we were fighting every day.

The British Army's Corporal Tel Byrne,
whose leg and a finger were blown off by an IED in Afghanistan,
expresses the soldiers' unself-pitying attitude,
while being fitted for a well-deserved Saville Row suit

- - - - - - O B A M A - - - - -

Quote: I’m very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s going to be one of the great achievements of this administration ... You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.

Vice President Joe Biden, bragging - incredibly -
that the Democrats have re-made Iraq.

And for once, the Obama administration is not whining that Bush did it”.

Of course they've quietly forgotten that Democrats

Quote: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice and he's going to meet his maker.  He will be brought to justice and he's likely to be executed for the heinous crimes that he committed in killing and masterminding the killing of 3,000 Americans. That you can be sure of that.

Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary,
provides the perfect defense for KSM,
the alleged mastermind of 9-11,
at his forthcoming civil trial in New York. 

The feckless Mr Gibbs has pre-judged KSM,
found him guilty and sentenced him to death. 
This totally compromises the essence of a fair trial
and the ancient concept of being innocent until found guilty.

There seems no end to the incompetence
with which the incompetent president surrounds himself. 

Quote (Youtube below): “Navy Corpse-man Christian Boussard ... Corpse-man Brossard responded ...”

President Obama seems to think that
the US Navy nurse is the corpse, not the patient on the gurney. 

In case you're reading this, Mr Obama the great orator,
Corpsman is pronounced Cor-man”, or alternatively Cors-man”,
and it's nothing to do with dead humans. 

It derives “corps”, which is a French word
(hence the non-pronunciation of the p),
which in turn gets it from the Latin “corpus”.

Both these words meanbody” as in body of men, not as in dead body.
Ever heard of “esprit de corps”?

Who writes your speeches? 
Don't you check them and rehearse them?
 
Didn't you study Latin and French at school?

Quote: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.

President Obama, in a softball one-on-one interview with ABC News. 

Charles Krauthammer points out that
he failed to consider the [most likely] third option -

a mediocre one-term president
.”

D'ya miss me yet, folks?

- - - - - C L I M A T E G A T E - - - - -

Quote: “Every day, new scandals emerge about the so called ‘facts’ in the UN reports. The integrity of the data and the integrity of the science have been compromised... The UN’s general assembly and UN Secretary Moon must pressure Dr. Rajendra Pachauri to step down as head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”  

Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming calls out the IPCC. 

Pity his EU near-namesake José Manuel Barroso doesn't do the same.

More here.

Quote: Ancient Chinese considered three a breaking point. They could forgive two errors, but not a third. Now that the IPCC has admitted three ‘human’ errors, isn't it time scientists gave its work a serious review?

Journalist Li Xing writing in the China Daily.

I had always thought that three strikes and you're out
was an American not Chinese invention.

However the existing Climategate strikes by now well exceed three.

Quote: We really do love our trees.  I named my daughter Willow. Isn't that granola enough for them?

Sarah Palin polishes her environmental credentials

- - - - - B A N K E R S - - - - -

From Australia's Ginger Meggs cartoon strip: “99 percent of bankers give the rest a bad name.” 

Hat tip: Thanks Graham in Perth, Oz

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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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