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The first issue appeared on Sunday 14th July
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#48 - 27th July 2003 [
How Did It Get Where It Is ?
Kapuscinski tells us that in 1821, Robert Stockton, an agent
of the American Colonization Society, arrived in what is now Monrovia and
forced the local tribal chief, King Peter, to sell - for six muskets and a
trunk of beads - what is now Liberia. This
was to settle slaves freed from the cotton plantations of the southern
USA, as a charitable reparation for the crime of slavery.
then on, liberated slaves were shipped in until by 1847, when the Republic
of Liberia was proclaimed with a US-style constitution, there were 6,000
of them, though they amounted
to just 1% of the countrys population.
The fate and behaviour of these settlers, who called
themselves Americo-Liberians, is fascinating.
They did not know how to read or write, had no trade
or professional skills and had never had any legal rights.
Note (28th July)
Reader Donnah takes issue with
some of the above and provides this academic
cant agree with your history of Liberian settlement,
she says. They
werent all from the South, and at least half were literate. Almost half
were freeborn. Four different societies had settlements. Its just not
so simple as you have it.
But this does not materially affect the remainder of this brief history
they found themselves, bewildered and left to their own fate, in an Africa
they didnt know among indigenous blacks
they had nothing in common with but their colour.
The only non-family relationship they knew was
master-to-slave. Their first
move upon arrival, therefore, was to re-create precisely that social
structure, only now they, the slaves of yesterday, became the masters, and
they set out to enslave the locals. They
did not wish to abolish an unjust order, but wanted to preserve it and
exploit it for their own benefit. They simply could not
imagine a world in which all would be free.
A large portion of Liberia was covered in thick,
tropical, humid, malarial jungle, inhabited by small, impoverished and
weakly organized tribes. Relations
with the newcomers from across the ocean were hostile from the start. The Americo-Liberians quickly proclaimed that only they could
be citizens, not the other 99% whom they categorised as uncultured tribesmen,
The two groups lived far apart, for the new masters
stuck to coastal settlements, of which Monrovia was the largest.
It was over 100 years before the first president, William Tubman,
in 1947, ventured into the interior.
Since everyone looked ethnically similar, the
newcomers would underline their difference and superiority by promenading
in morning coats and white gloves, the ladies in heavy wigs and grand hats. They built Gone-With-the-Wind style southern mansions
to live in, worshiped in churches closed to the natives, attended
exclusive private clubs. Close
contact with the locals, particularly inter-marriage, was forbidden.
Locals were confined to tribal homelands. Dissidence was used as an excuse to punish and execute
troublemakers, destroy their villages and crops and above all capture
slaves. The slaves were put
to work on the Americo-Liberians farms and businesses and exported to
Fernando Po and Guinea. Only
in 1920 was slavery officially abolished but it nevertheless continued
with stealth, barely unabated.
The Americo-Liberians established a Leninist-style
one-party state under the True
that maintained dictatorial monopoly power for 111 years until 1980.
You could achieve something only if you were a member of the party;
opponents ended up in prison, dead or abroad.
From 1944 to 1971, William Tubman was the boss of the
True Whig Party, and thus automatically Liberias president. He
country like a manor squire, hearing petitions from his countrymen,
dispatching his secret police, knowing and deciding everything.
People believed he possessed magical powers :
handed him a poisoned drink, the glass would shatter;
an assassin’s bullet would melt in mid-air;
special herbs allowed him to win every election; and
he could see everything that was happening, anywhere - so there was
no sense in conspiracy, since it would always
be found out.
When he died, his vice-president William Tolbert took
over. Whereas Tubman loved power, for Tolbert is was money from any source
- gold, cars, passports, rackets. The entire élite, those descendants of
black American slaves, followed his example. People who begged in the
street for bread or water were shot on Tolberts orders. His police killed
Then early on 12th April 1980, seventeen lowly soldiers barged
into the presidents villa to demand unpaid wages, found Tolbert in bed
and on an impulse hacked him to pieces. They disemboweled him and threw his internal
organs out into the courtyard for the dogs and vultures.
Their leader was a 28 year-old sergeant, Samuel Doe. He was barely
literate, from the small tribe of Krahn, which lived deep in the jungle.
He was just one of thousands of people who for years had been trekking
from the interior into Monrovia, in search of work and money, though there
was very little of either. They were ready fodder for any local chieftain
or gangster or indeed the army, looking for low-cost muscle.
Doe immediately declared himself president, the first
non-Americo-Liberian, and in one sense represented a liberation of the
locals from those hated rulers descended from American slaves.
He quickly staged a public execution of thirteen
Tolbert ministers. This set
the scene for a decade of despotic rule dominated by his need to amass
money and eliminate opponents. For
both these ends, he surrounded himself with primitive fellow-Krahn
tribesmen suddenly summoned in large numbers from the jungle. They
in turn quickly learnt the art of accumulating money and consolidating
their position by killing non-Krahn. Most of the former élite, the Americo-Liberians, used their
wealth to flee the country.
But under Doe, the country progressed not an iota.
He was lazy,
spent long hours playing chequers with his
knew and cared nothing of economics and
Then along came the present-day president, Charles
Taylor, who after a period in and out of jail in the USA, launched a war
in 1989 against the by-now hugely unpopular Doe, who was once his friend.
Doe sent out an army of his Krahn, but instead of fighting Taylor,
they went on a spree of indiscriminate plunder.
This caused the terrified populace to flee to the cause of Taylor
who with a much enlarged army quickly arrived at the outskirts of
At this point, Taylors chief of staff, Prince
Johnson, another of Does ex-friends, broke away and formed his own army
so that there was now a three-way civil war going on.
In 1990, Johnson managed to ambush and capture Doe,
whom he interrogated and tortured to death, including cutting off his
ears, while filming the proceedings in loving detail. The inquisition had only one purpose : to find out the number
of his private bank account where the booty from his ten years of misrule
was stashed. Indeed such booty has long been the reward of Liberias
presidents and thus the attraction of supplanting them.
The civil war progressed, with an African, mainly
Nigerian, interventionist force, ECOMOG, becoming a fourth and dominant combatant (and
one with its own special interest in plunder, earning it the nickname Every
Car Or Moveable Object Gone).
Eventually ECOMOG seized Monrovia but the rest of the
country descended into the chaotic grip of Taylor and like-minded warlords who
carved out their own fiefs and whose principal objective was to garner
money - from natural resources, from tolls, from businesses, from state
institutions, from international aid and from the poor wretches unlucky
enough to be living within their respective purviews.
But as the pillage ran dry, a peace treaty was signed
in 1995, resulting in the election of Taylor as president, the withdrawal
of ECOMOG and a fresh influx of international aid money available for
within the country did not stop, however, but spread to international
meddling, as Taylor supported, and traded arms for diamonds with, rebels
fighting in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte dIvoire, earning him a UN
indictment for war crimes. At
the same time, rebels within Liberia, many aided by brutal Sierra Leone
and Guinea government troops, began to make territorial gains, killing and
displacing thousands of Liberians. They called
themselves Liberians United for Reconciliation and
(LURD), a typical soubriquet for an unruly bunch interested in neither
reconciliation nor democracy.
The current LURD civil war - insofar as this term implies that one Liberian
civil war has been different from another - is about nothing.
No rebel is saying the current government is corrupt or incompetent
(though it is both).
This is no conflict been leftist Marxists/Maoists and right-wing
The only ideological struggle Liberia has known has been between the
original impoverished natives and the élite Americo-Liberians but the latter have long
So the only issue at stake is who operates the levers of power and
therefore has access to the pitiful bit of wealth that still remains in Liberia.
The LURD renegades reckon Charles Taylor has had long enough at the trough and now
it is someone elses turn.
right now they are encroaching on Monrovia itself, creating the current
panic, city-centre shell-fire, street-killings
and calls for intervention by ECOMOG and the US.
Americas unpopularity, struggles and daily losses in Iraq and the
confidence-sapping history of Liberian corruption and civil war, it is
little wonder that President Bush is hesitating before sending in his army
and is at least insisting that ECOMOG does so first.
Taylor has said he will step down; Nigerias president has offered
there is little doubt he will hang on as doggedly as Saddam Hussein did,
and will leave only when someone forces him to. America understands
all about regime-change and nation-rebuilding, but whether Bush has the stomach for
a third such foray is
a different matter. Especially when the prognosis for long-term
improvement is so bleak.
the agony of ordinary Liberians continues.
brief history of Liberia to get a few additional details from
war-correspondent Richard Krantz.
Photographing Uday and Qusay
An awful lot of western liberal bluster followed the
publication of those rather gruesome post-mortem photos of Saddams odious
sons Uday and Qusay. Disgusting, unnecessary, pandering to
perversion, against the Geneva Convention etc.
I was reminded of what happened at the end of World
War 2. As the Soviets invaded Berlin, Adolf Hitler (and his new wife
Eva Braun) blew their brains out. Or so it was said, since Hitlers
corpse was apparently never found. As a result, the Nazi underground
- and not only in Germany - continued resisting for a lot longer than it
might have done, because those closet Nazis lived in hopes that the Fuhrer
would reappear and lead them back to greatness. There were many sightings
of Hitler in South America and elsewhere, almost as many as Elvis
Had photos of Hitlers corpse been distributed across
the country, or his corpse been displayed as Mussolinis
upturned body was, it would have been very different. Just as Italys fascists disappeared overnight with the indisputable elimination
of their Duce, hopelessness would have also overtaken those Nazi
dissidents, and Germanys de-Nazification process would have been faster
Ironically, it emerged after the fall of the Soviet
Union, that the Russians had in fact found Hitlers body, cut off the head
and brought it back to Moscow. But this was all kept
Learning therefore from Germany and Italy, it is
important to convince everyone in Iraq that the sons are gone, in order
bring despair to remaining Baathists and bring
home to them the hopelessness of continuing any rear-guard action,
remove or reduce fear of Saddams return for the
vast majority of Iraqis who are of good will.
The more photos and video clips of the bodies the
better. And it was right to shave them and clean them up so as to
look as much as possible like they did in
Tasteful? No. Necessary?
A niggling question however troubles me.
Instead of winning their victory with 200 men in a six-hour gunbattle, why
did the Americans not simply lay siege to that villa in Mosul ?
There were only four, lightly armed people in the house. With
patience, in maybe a week, maybe a month, surely they could have been
This would have allowed much valuable
intelligence to be gleaned, not least about Saddam himself and the WMD
Equally, the brothers could have been put on
trial for their war crimes in a public display of justice akin to the
and the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993? How in a fit
of impatience the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms went in shooting
and precipitated the deaths of 56 cult members plus 20 children?
The Americans do not seem very good in the patience department, mores the
With Tanya Streeter
Last October, I reported
on the tragic death of Audrey Mestre while attempting to break the the No
Limits world record for so-called free diving, that is, diving
without breathing apparatus. There are now five categories where
records are awarded, by either or both of two free-dive organizations, the IAFD
and the AIDA (who dont always recognize each others
- Constant Ballast or Constant Weight : Diving without
any external aids other than flippers and mask. The world record
for this is 87 metres, set in April 2002.
- Variable Weight : Dragging yourself down a rope
anchored to the bottom. Record 131 meters, November
- No Limits : Allowing yourself to be pulled down
the rope by a 200 lb weight and brought back to the surface with the
help of an inflatable balloon. The record for this is 162
metres, or 170 metres if Audreys fatal attempt is counted.
- Variable Ballast : Allowing yourself to be pulled down
the rope by a 200 lb weight but swimming back to the surface with no
external aid other than flippers. Record 95 metres (women) and
120 metres (men).
- Constant Weight / No Fins, where you dive with no
swimming aids at all - no weights, fins or mask. This strenuous
category was established only in January 2003.
Last week, in a fanfare of ballyhoo, Tanya Streeter,
in waters off the Turks and Caicos Islands, a tiny British colony in
the Caribbean -
broke the all-comers world
for category 4 with an astonishing dive to 122 metres, lasting over
And just the following day, set another
world record, in category 5, reaching 35 metres in a dive of 1¾
minutes. It was her ninth world record.
Commenting on her dives compared to
Audreys, she points
out that she did 17 training dives and had 14 safety divers. By
contrast Audrey had only three of either. She reckons that had
Audreys fatal plunge taken place in the US or UK, criminal negligence
charges would have followed. In other words, the death was
Meanwhile, the Turks & Caicos government are so
thrilled with the publicity caused by her dives, they are going to feature
her on a set of five stamps,
the first living person other than royalty to be accorded such an
at Toulouse Airport
We have to be more careful than we might think when
packing to fly off for our foreign vacations these days. We all
know were no longer supposed to pack camping gaz or barbecue lighter
fluid or chain-saws or firecrackers or countless other frivolous things
needed to lighten up our holidays.
And when our hand baggage is searched, deadly items
such as nail scissors or corkscrews will be confiscated so that all were
left with to stage our hijacking is breakable glass bottles of inflammable
vodka from the duty free shop.
But Gail Brooker, 53, who owns a guest house in
England discovered another no-no. Last week, she accidentally left
her blue rucksack at Toulouse airport but when she tried to phone the
airport she found it was closed. So her boyfriend drove back to the
airport next day to look for it, only to be told it had ... exploded.
Thats why the airport had been closed. No-one was
It seems the abandoned bag was put through an X-Ray
machine which revealed that as well as ordinary things like socks, underwear
a camera, it contained a quantity of Semtex,
the terrorists favourite plastic explosive. So the authorities
quite properly took the bag to a safe place and blew it up.
Only the Semtex wasnt Semtex. It was puff
pastry. They look exactly the same. Gail had packed some
in her bag because she could never find decent pastry in French
supermarkets. There were four people in her group and she wanted to
cook them her speciality - chicken
Some time ago, I described
some of the latest developments in airport scanning technology - the mind-reader,
the blush-detector and the
body revealer. But Gail has shown the need for someone to invent
So until then be warned. No nail clippers, no
corkscrews, and definitely no puff pastry.
Streak Causes Royal Flush
Britains royal occasions have a well deserved reputation for
being turgid affairs; it is rare that anything happens that might redden
For example, every July Queen Elizabeth throws a
garden party at Buckingham Palace where about 8,000 of the great and good
stand around and wonder what to say to each other.
But this year was different. First there was
the frisson that Mary Archer attended, but thought it wise to leave behind her celebrity
husband Lord Jeffrey, released just that morning from two years jail for
But greater excitement followed when a 17-year-old
guest suddenly became a royal streaker,
streaking across the hallowed lawns with his trousers around his ankles,
slapping his rear and shouting wahey.
Two ceremonial beefeaters, in full regalia, took off after him as he
dodged and swerved, but eventually one of them brought him down with a
valiant rugby tackle, as the other guests cheered. Formed in
are a pale equivalent of Saddams Special Republican Guard who exist
solely to protect the monarch and her palaces, hence the flying
tackle. But they are all retired military men, few under 60, and
action other than slow marching and regaling tourists is not really in
their job description.
And just last month, royalty were entertained by
Aaron Barschak, the comedy-terrorist, who gate-crashed
Prince Williams 21st birthday party dressed as a faux Osama bin Laden,
sang a song for him and generally livened up the proceedings.
Oh yes. These royal occasions are hotting
Quote of the Week
are certain that Uday and Qusay were killed today.
Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez,
commander of the US forces in
on Tuesday 22nd July 2003
THE ARCHIVE BAR AT THE TOP LEFT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
#47 - 20th July 2003
Finally someone has stopped making unsubstantiated
statements of what the Iraqis want or dont want. Britains Channel 4 has just
conducted the first-ever opinion poll of Iraqis themselves, based on interviews, in
Arabic by specially trained Iraqis, of almost 800 people
across Baghdad, a city of 5
million. To ensure they are reasonably representative, they have
been selected from a range of age groups, occupations, sex, and
Since you can click for yourself on the detailed results and
Channel 4s official
summary, I have taken a slightly different
To the thirteen questions, a surprising percentage of responses (up to 31%) were
variants of dont
know or not sure.
Certainly some really didnt know. But I would speculate that after
30 years of Saddam and ongoing rumours
that he hasnt gone away you know,
quite a proportion Iraqis are still not comfortable with speaking their
minds to strangers,
particularly if their views are broadly anti-Saddam.
My analysis below
therefore strips out the dont-knows
to give what I believe is a more understandable and no less accurate
picture. Indeed, continuing fear of Saddam (rather than of
Americans) means that the green Yesses
are probably understated.
Opinions of 798 Representative Baghdadis
no opinion, not stated, dont
know, not sure, none
What do these
answers tell us ?
That while there are still a large number of
objectors, there is nonetheless a very clear majority who
favour the war,
of the foreign presence, but
want to be
governing themselves within the year.
This is despite the
substantial majority who reckon life in Iraq has become more dangerous and
generally worse than before the war.
contradictory findings are explained by their optimistic view of the future, ie
that life will get steadily better in the years ahead.
The poll includes a further five multiple-choice questions
that do not lend themselves to yes/no answers. Broadly, they
cynicism about the purpose of the war (oil and
Israel rather than WMD and liberation);
a preference and expectation for democracy or
modernised Islamic rule over dictatorship or Islamic theocracy;
that shortages of power, security, water and medical facilities
are their worst problems.
This all re-emphasises that the battle to make Baghdad a less fearful city where
normal life can resume is vital not just for the immediate future but for
the longer-term task of rebuilding civil society. The appointment
last week of an interim
government to write a new constitution and to hold the first
democratic elections is a step of major significance. It comprises
25 Iraqis (three of them women) doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers,
clerics, diplomats, political activists, businessmen and a judge, in rough
proportion to the countrys spectrum of ethnic and religious differences.
Encouragingly, it is
clear that for the first
time in many decades, the majority have hope for themselves, their
families, their nation. And for this they are prepared to endure the
temporary hardships and foreign occupation of today.
I find this a very
uplifting message and am surprised the survey has not been picked up by
many other broadcasters and publications. Perhaps theyre jealous of
Channel 4s pre-emptive scoop.
The poll will, of
course, disappoint the Western army of anti-warriors who rejoice at every
American setback or death, saying it proves the Iraqis dont want them, and would probably
prefer (as they do) Saddam.
But as Frank
McGahon quotes a Baghdadi on 18th July, a
visitor to Iraq these days never finds anyone who wants Saddam back ....
It will be interesting, meanwhile, to watch for
statistics of Iraqi expatriates and refugees returning to their
homeland. For this will constitute an irrefutable vote of confidence
(or otherwise) in the
future. By comparison, within a year of
the war that liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban and Al Qaeda, over two
million refugees had returned home to remake their lives.
Public Bullying of David Kelly
David Kelly was a British chemical and biological weapons expert,
especially in relation to Iraq. He suddenly popped into the limelight just a couple of weeks ago when he
admitted to his bosses in the Ministry of Defence that he had met with the
BBCs reporter Andrew Gilligan in a London hotel and discussed Tony
Blairs now-famous dodgy
dossier. As such, he appeared to be the
source of Mr Gilligans story that Alistair Campbell had pressurised the
intelligence services, against their will, into inserting into the dossier
the claim that
Saddam could launch biological or chemical weapons within 45
minutes. The BBC strenuously denied that Mr Kelly was their source
(until today - 20th July - when they admitted it).
On 15th July, Dr Kelly was dragged before a televised parliamentary committee
investigating the claim. The committee treated him very
aggressively, particularly Andrew McKinlay a Labour MP. We can only speculate that the Ministry would not have
been gentle with him either. He had become the eye of the storm that
has been raging for six weeks between the BBC and Downing Street over the
45 minute claim. The pressure cracked him and poor man killed
himself on 18th July.
The same committee had a week or so earlier
interrogated Alistair Campbell. But he was
not to be intimidated,
had his facts and figures immediately to hand,
responded robustly to every
in fact made every questioner look foolish.
Committee were unable to catch him out and clearly did not enjoy the
A similar Committee had a go at Tony Blair accusing
him of sending the country to war on false pretenses and likewise made no headway
in trying to get him to incriminate himself.
But Dr Kelly was a different kettle of fish.
There is no doubting his technical expertise;
and he apparently was an effective communicator in small groups, even in
the Saddamite regime. But he was out of his league when it came to
thinking on his feet in a public forum before a large group that was out to get him.
The parliamentary committee quickly sensed this.
Here was a civil servant who had already admitted
wrongdoing (talking to a journalist without permission). He was
clearly a rather timid, introverted, self-effacing man, overawed by the
proceedings. The Committee members pounced on him, like a schoolyard
publicly humiliating Dr Kelly, they wrought revenge for having themselves been publicly humiliated by Mr Campbell
This was the last straw for the unfortunate Mr
Kelly. The Committees behaviour had been despicable.
Yet we should not forget that Dr Kelly himself set in
motion the train of events that resulted in tragedy. For he it was
who had chosen to speak to the press, as apparently he was rather wont to
do. Indeed his last e-mail was to a journalist with the New York
Nobody will come away from these events
To remind you, the British Government issued three
dossiers on Iraq, downloadable as PDF files :
Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction
- The Assessment of the British Government, September
2002 (427 kb)
first so-called dodgy dossier
to 60% of the document was allegedly
written by Dr Kelly
the now (in)famous claim that
Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes
Saddam Hussein - Crimes and Human Rights Abuses,
December 2002 (197 kb)
Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation,
January 2003 (205 kb)
other so-called dodgy dossier
those extracts (in)famously plagiarised
PhD students out-of-date thesis
Marcus writes to the effect that it is premature to
conclude that David Kellys death was suicide rather than murder.
Who Was the Man
Who Never Was ?
Gerry ONeill is an elderly Irishman, now sadly gone blind, who joined the Merchant Marine and had a very colourful World War
2. He saw action in the trans-Atlantic convoys, in Russian convoys
to Murmansk, in North Africa, in the Pacific. He suffered a shipwreck,
escaped from the Japanese, and was badly wounded.
memoirs which due to his blindness I edited and am currently publishing on my website (tallrite.com/oneill.htm), he tells
in chapter 7 the story of his assignment in
1943 to the SS
Lornaston. This was ostensibly a typical tramp steamer which plied up and down the south west coast of Spain between Gibraltar and Huelva bringing coal northward and iron ore south, one
days sailing each way.
But the shuttle was in fact a cover for
delivering Allied spies to Huelva whence they made their way to France and elsewhere, and
repatriating via Gibraltar returning agents and escaped prisoners of war.
For some reason, neutral Spain turned a blind eye to these proceedings despite the
Francoist pro-fascist pro-Nazi sentiments of the Huelva region.
This sympathy for the Axis powers was the main reason
that the British chose a beach near Huelva to float ashore, from a
clandestine submarine HMS Seraph, the dead body of a 34-year-old tramp who had killed himself with rat poison. The body was outfitted in the uniform of a
fictitious Major William Martin of the Royal Marines,
and chained to his hand was a briefcase containing documents titled Highly Secret and
Among them was a letter, allegedly from Churchill, advising one of his
commanders that the forthcoming invasion of Europe would be staged in Greece.
The body, with the briefcase attached, was picked up, as intended, by Spanish fishermen who alerted the Germans in Huelva. The Germans copied all the documents and replaced them in the briefcase before the local Spanish authorities were made aware of the discovery of the body.
In due course it was given to the British Consulate in the
After checking the authenticity of the dead man and
of the documents (the matter was referred to Hitler himself), the Germans transferred several divisions from the Italy/Sicily area to Greece, so that when the first mainland invasion of Europe took place in Sicily, German resistance was vastly depleted and unprepared. The stratagem described here, which was codenamed Operation Mincemeat, received great publicity after the war by the book,
The Man Who Never Was, and in 1956 the movie.
Gerrys ship happened to be in Huelva when the body was discovered on the beach. A promise had apparently been made to the
mans parents, in London, before they
handed over the body for an unknown purpose, that the remains would receive a Christian burial. Accordingly, the British Vice-Consul in Huelva arranged to have this promise fulfilled,
and summoned the ships crew to attend the last rites at the Cemetery of Solitude outside Huelva. Later Gerry was charged with erecting a gravestone inscribed to Major Martin Williams.
But in 1996, the man was re-identified as Glyndwr Michael, the illegitimate son of illiterate Welsh parents and it is now doubtful that their permission was ever in fact sought. His true name was added to the gravestone.
On a purely personal and voluntary basis, the de Mendez family, living nearby, has tended the grave ever since burial in grateful recognition of the many Allied lives Glyndwr Michael saved.
Mrs Naylor de Mendez was deservedly awarded the MBE in 2002 for these efforts.
But the story still hasnt
ended. John and Noreen
Steele have written a book, The
Secrets of HMS Dasher, about a British aircraft carrier of this
mysteriously sank off the west coast of Scotland in 1943. 379 sailors
died but the authors found a shortfall of one in their tally of
graves. This, combined with circumstantial evidence of dates, a
nighttime drive from London to Scotland, movements of the submarine HMS
Seraph and other research, led them to conclude that the body used in Mincemeat was
most likely to have been the missing sailor.
So take your choice. Was Major Martin really
an unnamed tramp who killed himself with rat
the Welshman Glyndwr Michael, or
a drowned Royal Navy sailor from the aircraft carrier
Well never know. But he lies in peace in
Huelva, 60 years after his posthumous heroic adventure. And my
friend Gerry ONeill is proud of his part in laying him to
Dick and the Blob
Forehead to forehead, I meet thee this third time, cried Ahab,
captain of the whaleship Pequod, as the sperm whale Moby Dick moved
in to batter and
That was fiction, but the sinking of two 200-ton whalers, the Essex
in 1821 and the Ann Alexander in 1851, by an enraged sperm whale
was not. Indeed it was these two incidents that inspired Herman
Melville to write his epic novel Moby Dick in 1851.
The sperm whale is the
largest of the toothed whales and dives deeper than any other. The
males measure up to 65 feet in length and weigh about 50 tonnes.
gets its name from a huge bulbous organ, a kind of forehead,
called the spermaceti that sits above and protrudes beyond its upper jaw (click
on the thumbnail to view the image full size). It contains an insoluble, non-putrefying, milky wax which early whalers likened to sperm
fluid. Today, it is employed mostly in ointments, cosmetics and fine candles,
but used to be the waterproofing medium for oilskins.
Biologists in the University of Utah recently concluded
that the spermaceti actually evolved to be a weapon, a battering ram, in
male-male aggression over access to females. It was this aggression combined with this tool
that sank the three ships, and caused damage to many others.
is also the cause of its near-extinction by whalers in the 19th century
who highly prized the milky wax and blubber it contained, and hunted it
without mercy until anti-whaling covenants were first signed in 1935.
Even so, low-level whaling continued until a general moratorium took effect in
1986, which Norway
and Japan continue however to flout.
Which brings me to the blob. Remember that huge,
of slimy, gelatinous, hard-to-cut tissue 40 feet long and resembling a squashed
elephant, found on a beach in Chile, 680 miles south of Santiago ?
on the thumbnail)
had either dropped from the sky (Martians ?) or come out of the Pacific
Ocean. Many thought it might be an Octopus
Giganteus, or Globster, which was recorded for the first and only time
on a Florida beach in 1896,
and which has confounded experts ever since.
Well, chunks of the blob were sent for identification to specialists in France, the
United States and Santiago.
And its the Chilean researchers, at Santiagos Museum of Natural History,
that have solved the mystery. They have concluded
that it is, in fact, part of the carcass of a sperm whale, specifically
When a sperm whale dies at sea, it rots until it becomes a skeleton suspended in a semi-liquid mass within a bag of skin and
the scientists said, holding their noses. Eventually, the skin tears and the
bones sink while the skin and blubber float. Washed up on shore,
the stuff has the appearance of an octopus (or elephant) because the
spermaceti organ keeps its bulky shape and does not rot.
So there you have it. Literature, history, science, current affairs and
a mystery solved, all in one short article.
Bigshots Try to Hide
Letters to the press, be it in Ireland, UK or
elsewhere, periodically recount frustration on the part of ordinary
citizens when they try to ask questions of bashful civil servants or shop
managers or other such service-provider bosses. Weve all
experienced something similar. Most recently,
Audrey Dillon in the (subscription-only) Irish Times relates
her repeated and fruitless phone calls and letters to the civil service
seeking some simple information.
Here is my sister Frances proven method to get
Pack into a small bag a newspaper, a thick novel,
a pack of sandwiches and a thermos flask of coffee.
Arrive at the office of the person you wish to
see at 9 am sharp.
When told he/she is busy or not arrived yet,
smile sweetly, say youre happy to wait and take a seat.
Get out your newspaper, pour yourself a cup of
coffee and wait patiently and politely.
Have a sandwich if youre hungry.
Read the book when youve finished the paper.
Stand up expectantly and cheerily every time
someone enters or leaves your quarrys office.
I guarantee that before 5 pm the person you are
have cracked. He/she will see you. It always works.
And if it doesnt, simply repeat the procedure the
Sex and the
I happened to hear an interview on
Irelands Today FM radio
station last week (18th July) with a Californian entrepreneur called Gary Kremen.
great foresight, he had acquired the domain-name sex.com back in
But he didnt make immediate use of it because at the same
time he also acquired match.com and used it set up an online
dating agency which turned out to be highly successful, having
marriages up to now. (Thats why he calls himself historys greatest
Now there are lots of nasty and nefarious
things you can do to a website - crack it, hijack it, black it out - but
one thing you cant do, no matter how evil your intention, is steal its
domain name. Except you can.
For in 1995, convicted fraudster Stephen Michael
Cohen managed to steal sex.com using forged documents, and wasted no time
in using it to set up his own website.
His business idea was that
most people looking for sex on the internet will type in the word sex
which will more than likely bring them to sex.com. The site then provided links to
various pornographic sites which paid Mr Cohen handsomely - up to $1m per
month - for the referrals. The payment method is per click,
usually between 5 and 15 cents, so he must have been generating around
5,000 clicks an hour, round the clock.
When Mr Kremen found out about this cyber-squatting,
he set about chasing Mr Cohen through the California courts. He eventually won,
but it cost him six long years and $4.4 million in legal fees before the appeals
process was finally exhausted last month.
was awarded a massive $65
million in lost revenue and damages, whereupon Mr Cohen understandably
disappeared, apparently to Tijuana in Mexico, with his ill-gotten loot safely stashed
in Jersey, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein and such like banking havens. Mr
Kremen, who wants his $65m, is offering a reward of $50,000,
which he said is readily negotiable upwards, to anyone who can find the
fugitive and get him arrested.
he went on to an obscure Irish radio station with all this I have no idea,
unless he has a hunch that Mr Cohen is roaming around Ireland.
be keeping my eyes open.
Mr Kremen says he has revamped
sex.com into a more moral service providing links
only to more wholesome pornographic sites than those
featuring the sadists, children and
animals apparently favoured by Mr Cohen. Hmmm.
apart, it is a landmark case. For it has established that a
domain-name is in law a piece
of property, whose owner has similar rights to a bricks-and-mortar
hands off tallrite.com please.
Quote of the Week
theory ... that we need to balance the power of America with other
competitive powers ... is an anachronism to be discarded ... If Europe and
America split ... nothing but mischief will be the result ... To be a
serious partner Europe must defeat the anti-Americanism that sometimes
passes for its political discourse ... [But] dont give up on Europe.
any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the
freedom, not tyranny;
democracy, not dictatorship;
the rule of law,
not the rule of the secret police.
Tony Blair addressing both houses of the US
on Thursday 17th July 2003
THE ARCHIVE BAR AT THE TOP LEFT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
#46 - 13th July 2003
Fuel Shortage in a Land of
Before civil war broke out in
Nigeria in 1967, it was producing about one million barrels a day of
oil. Wars end in 1970 was followed by a frenetic round of oilfield
activity - running seismic, drilling wells, building roads, constructing
pumping stations, laying pipelines. In about three short years this
only re-established the pre-war production rate but doubled
it. I know; I was there for all of it.
Though production has remained at around 2
mb/d ever since, subsequent new discoveries have long meant that with
sufficient investment it could double again to 4
mb/d. But this has not happened because the Nigerian Government,
which is a partner with oil companies in all production ventures, has been perennially
unable or unwilling to pay its share of the necessary investment. But
Nigerias own oil consumption is 240,000 b/d; the
capacity of its refineries twice that.
Oh, and apart from oil, it exports 252.4
billion cubic feet a year of liquefied natural gas, which in energy terms is equivalent to
another 120,000 b/d of oil.
So, by any measure, there is
no shortage of energy production,
no shortage of refinery capability and
no shortage of foreign earnings from hydrocarbon exports.
So what can explain the incessant fuel shortages that
plague not only Nigeria, but the very areas - for example Warri (my
onetime home) and
towards the east Port
Harcourt - where the nations oil is produced and refined ?
In one of his whimsical Tales
from Warri, Michael
Hey, who currently lives there, explains that the fuel shortages are wholly
There are, he says, three refineries in Nigeria, one at Warri, one at
Port Harcourt and one in the North in Kaduna. Any one of these refineries, if working
at the design production rate, could supply a significant percentage of the
countrys fuel requirements. The Warri refinery is a local landmark and
its stack, which regularly belches out the black smoke of incinerating
heavy-end hydrocarbons can be seen from anywhere in the town.
Fuel tankers will queue up to drive to the refinery, where they load up with petrol
or diesel for distribution around the country. But do not imagine these
vehicles resemble the sparkling road tankers we see in Europes
exquisite surrounds. These are rejects from the most venal scrap merchants.
Hulking tubs of rust,
tyres worn to the canvas,
cab doors dented or
replaced with wooden gates,
grease-stained chasses, and
the whole assembly
bereft of lights, warning signs or even the most primitive safety
To own a tanker, it is necessary
to obtain a license from the Ministry of Petroleum and the Directorate of
Petroleum Resources. And the pre-requisite to applying for such a license
is to prove ownership of a filling station. This is why all around Warri
one can see new filling stations springing up. Many are blessed with
bizarre names such as Elephant Fuel, Vulture Petroleum, Wahalla
Oil. But in four years, Michael has never once seen anyone obtaining
fuel from these stations. They remain in pristine and unused condition.
This is because there is more profit to be made from a tanker of fuel than
a filling station.
The price of fuel at the pumps
is fixed by the Federal Government at an absurdly low price, currently
about 22 Naira per litre, which in todays (2003) exchange rate, is around
16 uro-cents. This rate is at or below the cost of production and
thus the refineries run at a loss and so they are for ever turning to their
owners, The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, for funds to maintain
and operate. In turn NNPC is notoriously slow at releasing money, even
when budgets have been agreed and planned shutdown schedules approved.
Additionally, NNPC under Government guidelines restricts the supply of
crude oil to the refineries to well below the amount required to allow
them to run at full capacity.
So the refineries struggle on
and Nigeria has become a net importer of refined oil products,
particularly fuel, which is odd for a country producing, as noted, such an
enormous excess over domestic requirement.
confronted with this absurdity many Nigerians will mutter darkly that very
senior Federal Government Ministers hold the import license for fuel and
thus it is in their interests that the current situation continues. The
Federal Government argues that it regularly tries to increase the price of
fuel at the pump but on at least two occasions has had to back down in the
face of vicious nation-wide strikes by transport workers and allied trade
So, you may well ask, what is
the interest in distributing fuel?
Simple. The refinery has to sell to the
tanker owners at a rate that allows them to cover their costs when selling
on to the filling station owners. This rate is thus even lower than the
pump price. And a tanker owner with a tanker full of subsidised fuel faces
many temptations. Some tanker owners drive with their cheap fuel East,
North and West to the
borders with Cameroon, Niger and Benin and sell into those countries at
prices 50-100% higher than the state-controlled price
in Nigeria (having looked after all the officials on the way to ensure
they have the necessary paperwork in place). Others find ways to sell part
loads at black market rates.
Thus sclerotic refineries,
combined with unofficial exports and the murky hand of Ministerial self
interest yields unpredictable periods of fuel shortages at the pumps and
misery in the daily lives of Nigerian citizens.
And in Warri, fuel queues
several kilometres long choking the narrow roads become a regular feature.
To fill your car can take you the entire day.
During his visit to Nigeria, President Bushs
limousines will have been imported fully tanked up.
Bob Geldof on Africa
George W Bushs visit to Africa, the first ever by a Republican
president, knighted pop-singer and Live-Aid organiser Bob Geldof wrote a
magnificent, passionate piece for the Irish Times, entitled, Why
I am no longer prepared to witness the crucifixion of Africa.
In the best Bob style it is liberally sprinkled with fs, bs and no
You can find the subscription-only original
here, or a non-subscription copy
Mr Geldof is one of the few show-biz luvvies
to have noticed that perhaps Mr Bush is doing a few things right, like
allocating a massive $15 bn to fight AIDS, like visiting Africa
But he is not slow to berate him for his farm
policies, specifically the obscene trade protection plus $80 billion
of subsidies granted to US farmers. This is exceeded only by the EUs
own agricultural regime which pays farmers, inter alia, over
$2/day in subsidy for every European cow, which compares with the 290 million Africans who live on less than $1/day.
the success of individual piecemeal programmes on AIDS, debt etc, he
the lack of a coherent continent-wide strategy to deal with the problems
He therefore calls for a new Marshall Plan for
Africa, with its conditions of accountability, transparency and elective
representative governance. Such a plan costing just 0.16% of GNP
will not simply foster the transformation of Africa into a vast, vibrant,
viable continent and a huge new market for capitalisms goods and
services, as the original Marshall Plan did for Europe after WW2.
The alternative will be widespread misery and death, accompanied by
emigration on a monumental scale to Western countries.
concludes that such a Plan therefore is in the self-interest of not just
Africans, but Europeans and Americans as well.
reading the full article.
in Iraq vs Industry
Since President Bush declared the end of major combat
on 1st May, its reported
that 74 American soldiers have been killed plus 382 wounded, out its force
of 145,000 troops. Less than half of the deaths were caused by
hostile fire, the others being due to accidents, friendly
Of course every death and injury is a major trauma
for the individual and his/her family, but to get a sense of the
seriousness of the casualty figures they should be compared with something
relevant, such as the safety record of heavy/hazardous industry.
Industry typically measures safety performance in
incidents per so-many man-hours worked. Incidents
can be anything unplanned and untoward, from
a fatality to
an injury needing hospitalization to
a minor scratch to
a near-miss or
even just an unsafe act or condition.
As you can imagine, counting gets less accurate as
you work down this list.
If the American troops were factory workers, it would
be assumed that each worked 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, ie 2,000
hours per year. Thus 145,000 soldiers would equate to an exposure of
900 million man-hours per year.
On this basis,
the Fatal Accident Rate (FAR) for the 2½ months
since 1st May equals 39.5 per 100 million man-hours.
And if we count wounds as equivalent to accidents
causing at least one days lost work, the so-called Lost Time Accident
Frequency (LTAF) works out at 2.43 per million man-hours.
Heres how they then compare.
(per 100m m-hrs)
US army in Iraq
in UK, 2001/2
Construction in Ireland, 2002
Shell worldwide, 2002
CAUSING AT LEAST
ONE DAYS LOST TIME
(per 1m m-hrs)
US army in Iraq
Canadas target for 2003
Cameco Canada, uranium production
Oil & Gas Cos & Contractors
UK Atomic Energy Authority,
Outokump Finland, mining and metals
While the US armys fatality rate is indubitably high, it
is not, given its difficult circumstances Iraq, in a totally different
league from the industrial examples quoted.
Moreover, it is only those industries and companies
who make genuine efforts to protect their workers who publish data, so it
is likely that the unpublished accident rates of many industries are quite
a bit higher than those above. The death rate of coal-mining in
China or construction
in India may well be in a similar ballpark as that of US forces in
What I find extraordinary in the tabulation is the relatively low level
of wounding the Americans are suffering - it seems there is almost nothing
between getting killed and escaping unscathed. At the least, the low
injury rate suggests that the army is
managing its activities in a very professional manner, despite the
contrary impression you can get from the media.
representative Iraqis begin to be brought into the governance
American soldiers learn to operate with a lighter touch,
its not unreasonable to expect the FAR to be much reduced in,
say, a years time.
Ill be keeping a watch.
Saddam Invites Hypocrisy
A couple of unrelated items caught my eye
and illustrate how Saddam Hussein seems to bring out extraordinary hypocrisy
in certain people.
|According to a recent article
in the Arabic-language Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, no Arab
parliamentarians or leaders have been able to bring themselves to condemn
Saddams massacres, evidence of which is uncovered daily. They
have limited their condemnation to the Zionists
and the foreign invasion and have purposefully forgotten the crimes
committed under their noses. |
|It asks would they dare to hold
the gaze of an Iraqi woman sitting at the grave of her murdered children
|It notes that thousands of Iraqis have been seen at mass graves gathering the remains of their relatives
into plastic bags. |
In other words, these parliamentarians would rather see their brothers and sisters massacred
than have the Americans put a stop to it.
|In a different continent, African countries and many European ones,
notably those that condemn America for invading Iraq, are
clamouring for America to send troops to Liberia to enforce peace in
that unhappy land. |
|Its not OK for the US to use military force to remove a tyrant
who routinely murders his own people, if hes an Arab called
Saddam Hussein ? |
|But its imperative for the US to use military force to remove a
tyrant who routinely murders his own people if hes an African
called Charles Taylor.
people, a tenth of Liberias population, have been
killed since Mr Taylor launched a rebellion against his almost as
vicious predecessor Samuel Doe in 1989. |
You can read a brief history of Liberia in my blog
US Democrats and Atheism
Hillary Clinton was recently out campaigning for tough legislation against
so-called Hate crimes. If I murder you, my punishment under such
legislation is apparently worse if I hate you,
eg because youre black or gay, than if I dont hate you at all (though if I like you I
wonder why I have killed you).
Either way youre just as dead, so it
seems curious to have different penalties.
Anyway, Mrs Clinton was so pleased about this event that she published
this photograph on the home
page of her website.
Right behind the heads of her and
of Senator Edward Kennedy, both leading lights in their respective
Christian religions, someone is displaying a bright-green banner
But she removed the picture in
embarrassment just 24 hours after it was spotted
by the Opinion Journal (an online offshoot of the Wall Street
Journal). What game were she and Mr Kennedy trying to play ?
Is the Democratic Party now advocating atheism ? It is
inconceivable that when she published the photo, she did not approve of the
to Reinvest in the Stockmarket
A year ago, I wrote an article titled Stock
Jitters, Booms & Busts
which noted that the 20th centurys major stockmarket crashes seemed to
follow a similar pattern of four phases :
- after a period of steady growth, a boom appears;
- this boom eventually crashes, creating a bust;
- the bust is followed by a steady recovery;
- eventually the steady recovery brings the market back
onto the original growth path that was being followed prior to the
year ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average
was clearly in phase 2, standing at 8,200, down from its
peak of 11,800 in early 2000. I predicted that
the crash would bottom out with a bust at either 6,500 or 7,000 and not
get back to its original pre-boom growth line until 2004 or 2009
respectively. From history, the deeper the crash the faster the
its dropped no further. Since then, apart from a couple of brief
dips into 7,000 territory, its been oscillating between 8,000 and 9,000
and today its at 9,220. Barring some fresh global catastrophe, a
sustained immersion in the nether region of 7,000 no longer looks
probable, so there is a good chance the bust is now behind us. In
other words we are well into phase 3.
years prediction, therefore, is that within phase 3 the Dow Jones will
hover between 8,500 and 9,000, neither climbing nor falling significantly,
until the end of the decade. It will then enter phase 4 by merging
into its pre-boom trend from which it departed in 1995.
After the past three turbulent years with rock-bottom
interest rates, when simply
hiding your cash under your bed would have been better than investing it
in the stockmarket, shares are once again becoming safe havens for your
But there still wont be many get-rich-quick
opportunities for some time to come.
to Weapons of Mass Destruction
Try this soon, before Google fixes its site:
Go to www.google.com;
Type in (but dont hit Return) : weapons
of mass destruction
Hit the Im
button, instead of the normal Google
Read what appears to be a normal error message carefully.
Thanks Zeynap for spotting it !
Quote of the Week
: The people of Iraq who worry about having foreigners in their
country should understand that as long as those people are there to
benefit that country, they should stay. Im optimistic about
the future of Afghanistan. Before, Afghanistan was gone. Now it is back.
Abdul Qadeer, 50 and
his son Muhammad Naseem Qadeer Zada, 19,
who run a small shop selling blue-and-green pottery
in Kabul, Afghanistan
#45 - 6th July 2003 
Approaches Its Velvet Revolution
I lived in Doha, Qatar in the late 1970s when resentment and unrest in nearby
Iran were brewing against the anti-Communist Shah. Strikes and
protests by students and workers alike were fuelled by samizdat literature
and audiotapes from the dissident and exiled Ayatollah Kohmenei, which
were circulating in Teheran and other major cities. Even in sleepy,
controlled Doha, there were stirrings of support for the would-be revolutionaries and
their charismatic leader.
mobilised his Savak
secret police to crack down on the Iranian trouble-makers, but they were neither
determined nor ruthless enough (and that's saying something) to engage in
the systematic massacres that would have been necessary to reimpose
Eventually the Shah saw the writing on the wall and in February 1979 he
fled, dying shortly afterwards of cancer.
I would speculate that the Chinese authorities watched the
disintegration of the Shah's authoritarian regime
very carefully. For, when a decade later public protests in favour of democracy
erupted in Tiananmen Square, Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng
knew they had to massacre or lose power. So massacre
is what they did, in the thousands. This generated universal
opprobrium, but in ten years or so it all died down and China - under the
same Communist dictatorship - is now the darling of democracies and
The message that history sadly teaches us is that if you want to remain
in power, massacres usually
work, at least in the short term. Ask Stalin (Ukranian famine), Mao
Tse Tung (Great Leap Forward), Hitler (Holocaust), Mugabe (Matabeleland),
Pol Pot (Kampuchea), Saddam (Halabja), each of whom incidentally had no time for
God, though Saddam pretended to.
Meanwhile, the Shah's departure had left the way clear for the Ayatollah to return home and launch his
theocratic revolution to the delirious delight of the
populace. The Savak was quickly dissolved, political prisoners were
released, the hitherto banned newspapers,
magazines and books started republishing, and for a few months Iranians tasted the blossoms of freedom.
But then, the current religious dictatorship began to take shape as a new
secret police force, the Savama, was created that bore uncanny resemblance
to the hated Savak. Its brief included religious control of the population,
including purges of anyone
associated with the
I remember the charming, very dapper Iranian ambassador
to Qatar being recalled in early 1980, and hearing that he had been
summarily executed on arrival home.
Nevertheless most Iranians utterly utterly
supported the Ayatollah and his revolution, largely because it made such a
stark contrast to the Shah's pro-Western corrupt ugly regime, and this
support continued through the eight-year war launched by Saddam Hussein
which killed 600,000 young Iranian men.
In fact, everything
seemed to be a turn-on, because a baby boom was triggered which doubled
the population to 69 million. That is why 55% all Iranians today are under 25 and don't remember the
|They know only Ayatollah Khomenei's successor as Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei and his theocratic dictatorship, itself now as
corrupt and ugly as had been the Shah's. |
|They know that its incompetence and the intransigence of its mullahs have
led to economic failure, dangerous nuclear ambitions and semi-pariah
status in the world. |
|They also know its hypocrisy : its lip-service to democracy by
allowing fairly free presidential elections - that twice
overwhelmingly returned the moderate Mohammed Khatami - yet stymied
his every effort, however modest, to deliver on his mandate to
liberalise society. |
No wonder this youth - if not their disillusioned parents and
grandparents - are demanding change. No wonder they took to the
streets for two weeks last month in demonstrations
that swept across the country - including even Khomenei's spiritual
homeland the holy city of Qom. No wonder the students were joined by
three times as many demonstrators from other walks of life. No
wonder the demonstrations are continuing.
And no wonder the mullahs have unleashed vigilante-style thugs with clubs
and chains to round up the ringleaders and others - 4,000 or 8,000
depending on whether you believe the government or the students - an
unknown number of whom have been killed or tortured. These are the
actions of a regime seriously worried about its future; as worried as the
Shah was back in 1979.
And yet I would like to suggest there is reason for hope, that the
actions of the brave demonstrators in the face of an implacable foe and
overwhelming odds, will not be in vain.
As indicated earlier, massacring people in their thousands is probably
the most reliable way - if not the only way - for the mullahs to maintain
|But do they really have the stomach, that not even the Shah had, for
such a fateful step ?
|My belief is that they don't; that their belief in Allah will
not allow them to take such an appalling measure. |
|And can the armed forces be relied upon to carry out a massacre or look on
passively if others do
|I believe they can't. This is the force that fought that
dreadful eight-year war to defend the motherland, and took such terrible losses. Unlike many armies who exist solely to
protect the tyrant of the day, Iran's is an army that knows
defending the motherland from invaders is its purpose, not
massacring its own people. |
A general strike and intensified protests have been called for 9th
July, being the anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that have been
going on for years. It may well prove to be a tipping
point. Together with student demonstrations that have been
planned (and banned),
many hope it will develop into an all-out
push to remove from power the conservative clerics who dominate Iran's
government and veto every semblance of democratic reform.
movement enjoys enormous support not only within the country but in the
wide Iranian diaspora and in the West generally. This is one policy
area, unlike Iraq, where Western governments and their citizens are very much aligned,
as are very many people outside the West.
But this support needs to be - and is being - translated into something
tangible, in steps large and small.
|Many of the Iranian expatriates and émigrés are visiting their homeland to
participate and lend direct encouragement to the movement. |
|Others, as well as non-Iranians, are simply sending money. |
|Solidarity protests for a free Iran are taking
place in many Western cities, such as New York, Washington, Los
Angeles, Austin, Dallas, Houston, London, Bern, Brussels, Paris, Oslo,
Rome, the Hague. |
|The print, radio and TV media are broadcasting -
| programmes of support; |
| reports of speeches and activities
|either that form part of the protest within Iran, |
|or that are expressed by political leaders and |
others outside the country;
|or indeed overt propaganda. |
|Bloggers and e-mailers are using cyberspace to let dissident
Iranians know they have the support of vast numbers of ordinary people
as well as influential ones.
|Indeed this post you are reading forms part of a |
being issued by hundreds of bloggers on
Extraordinarily, Iran seems to be one issue that is drawing
not one iota of support for the mullahs; they are truly alone in their
It is time for them to go peaceably and to give democratic liberalism a
chance to shine on that delightful country.
It can be done. Czechoslovakia showed the world how, when its own
communists stepped aside in the face of country-wide
demonstrations and a general strike during the velvet
of 1989. Not a life was lost. The country has prospered ever
since within the familial embrace of Europe.
Iran has every capability of matching Czechoslovakia, if its mullahs
will only free its people from their yoke.
Meanwhile, cry Azadi,
Arak, Eshgh !.
to find out what this slogan for Iranian reformists means.
of Withdrawal from Iraq
In Iraq, six British soldiers were killed in one incident
The Americans have so far lost at
least 26 to hostile fire since the end of the war, compared to 140 killed during the war itself. This is beginning to make things
wobbly for George Bush and Tony Blair, with mutterings at home about withdrawal
(quite apart from their troubles over dodgy dossiers etc).
Many Iraqis are clearly sick of having the foreign
invaders running their country (and cackhandedly at that) and are
demanding that they leave. Whether they are in the majority I very
much doubt, but you don't need many dissidents to cause a lot of
bloodshed. Witness Spain's Basque country or Northern Ireland, but
two examples of many.
In addition to those Iraqis actively opposing the
coalition forces, there are also many who are silently resentful and
likewise wish they would leave and leave Iraq to be run by
So there is no doubt that George Bush and Tony Blair would
welcome an elegant way to remove their troops (one reason Mr Bush has been trying
to cajole South American countries to send forces on a mercenary
What would actually happen if the foreign armies did decide to go
In two words - civil war.
With around seven ethno-religious
groups, and the lure of immense oil riches, it is not hard to imagine
a Yugoslavia type conflict and break-up :
Shi'ites in the south (60% of the
population) where most of the oil is; same religion as (nuclear) Iran,
which would provide strong support in any civil strife and would want
a say in the outcome;
Sunnis in the centre and west (20%),
traditionally dominant, same religion as and supported by Saudi
Arabia, the only country with more oil;
Kurds in the north (17%) where the rest
of Iraq's oil lies, and hated by the petroleum-hungry Turks next door who would
love an excuse to invade and grab the oil fields;
150 km northwest of Baghdad; though they form only a tiny proportion (<1%), Tikrit
is nevertheless Saddam's home and powerbase, and he may still be active
and have a lot of wild loyalists dreaming of returning to power;
Turkomen, Yazidis, Assyrians and others,
mainly in the north, accustomed to their rôle of oppressed
minorities; but though
disgruntled they are too small (2% altogether) to have much influence,
yet are capable of isolated acts of violence.
And this is just to talk as if the groupings were
themselves homogeneous, with common needs, aspirations and resentments. They are not.
So potentially it is a poisonous brew indeed which,
without the foreign troops and without Saddam's brutal control, would quickly erupt into a plethora of civil
wars both within and between the groupings. There is no knowing
where, when or how it would end. But it would have the potential
go on for years,
to exact enormous casualties, and
to destabilise the
whole area by sucking in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Ba'athist Syria.
Messrs Bush and Blair know this. That's why they
dare not turn their backs on Iraq. But, equally, that's why it is
essential they start making rapid progress in restoring
services and law-and-order, and in establishing a framework for handing
over to a competent administration of elected Iraqis who can adequately
reflect the complex mosaic that is Iraq. Building the Arab
world's first-ever democracy is not a job for the
Nevertheless, they've been fluffing around too long. Things are
Home-made Cruise Missile
Bruce Simpson is an elderly, innocuous-looking gentleman in New Zealand
whose hobby is tinkering with jet engines and building model
aircraft. But he has decided to construct a home-made cruise missile that can deliver a
lethal 10 kg warhead containing biological, chemical or dirty-nuclear
material into a heavily populated area.
Launched from a pick-up driving at 70 mph, it would travel
to its target at nearly 500 mph.
He wants to show that such a device can be built
by one man with sufficient skill and experience
for $5,000 (yes, a mere five thousand)
using data, information and plans already in the
procuring the sophisticated components, electronics
and materials openly and legally,
yet without alerting the authorities.
He calls it his Low Cost Cruise Missile, or LCCM and tells
us that :
it will be guided using GPS satellite technology
augmented by modern radar to facilitate ground-hugging, with flight
control and guidance handled by a single-board microcomputer;
its outer body will be made of kevlar and fibreglass,
which are strong, light and have a low radar signature;
it will be powered by a turbojet engine that Mr
Simpson will himself build from commercially available
He began his project in June 2003 and is maintaining an online diary and website, where he is making available not only his
day-to-day progress but all the documentation involved in the project, such
as drawings, plans, costs, video-clips etc.
So far he has procured, mainly over the internet using
e-bay with delivery by ordinary airmail, his GPS system, flight attitude control
system, radio control flight pack and an array of materials. He is
running about two weeks behind schedule, which he blames on having to
respond to sudden media interest.
Word is, indeed, getting around. There are already
reports that the Bush administration wants
to ban the export of some of the technologies having potential use in
But why is doing this ? He is not planning any
He simply wants to demonstrate that if he can build
then you better assume that terrorists and other bad guys also can.
Moreover, if they can fly planes into buildings, they won't hesitate to launch
cruise missiles if they can into targets such as the White House or
downtown Los Angeles.
But, worryingly, Mr Simpson offers no ideas in the way of
countermeasures, other than vigilance.
Put aside 30 minutes. It is well worth exploring his
site, though it will make you distinctly uncomfortable. To start,
Insurance and Drugs
Cartels in Ireland
Motor insurance is abominably high in Ireland; higher than neighbour
UK, higher than the rest of the EU and way higher than the USA. For
example, with a full no-claim bonus I pay
1,700 a year - in Britain this would be around £500. My 18-year
old nephew is being charged 3,000 for a one-litre car worth
The insurance industry are under considerable official pressure to
reduce premiums but so far have, understandably, managed to dodge doing
so. The Government has a plan (speeding up claims procedures,
enforcing penalty points for bad driving etc) to effect reductions of 30%
but is getting nowhere.
There is a much simpler solution that would produce the desired effect
In 1999, when living abroad, my car was comprehensively insured in Holland
for an annual premium of 2,688 guilders (1,220) valid all over Europe
including Ireland. But when I moved back to Ireland that year, my Dutch insurance company informed me that Irish law forbade them to insure a
resident of Ireland. As a result, I had to change to an Irish
company, for which the best offer was 1,600.
It is Irish protectionism alone that allows Irish insurance companies to
gouge their customers. If the EU's single market were allowed to operate
in the insurance market, premia would drop overnight, and not just for cars.
For instance, health insurance is available only through the protected
duopoly of state-owned VHI and privately-owned BUPA, who raised their prices 18% last year, and will
now jack them up a further 8% which the Government has (extraordinarily)
agreed. Lacking any competition, the pair clearly make no effort to drive down their costs by, for
example, tackling the drugs cartel of the protected pharmacies.
Drugs cost at least double here. I pay 52 for my eyedrops, but
they are 25 in Spain, Italy and France. My wife's medicines cost
14 for a month's supply in Ireland and 7 for two-months supply in
Simply removing insurance and pharmacy protection from EU-wide competition would
relentlessly lower prices and push up quality as it always does.
But will politicians be brave enough to tackle these nasty little gangs
? Don't count on it !
No Americans in
Normandy in 1944
Fellow-blogger the Dissident Frogman,
based I think in France, recently visited the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de
Normandie, commemorating the liberation of Normandy and eventually all of
France by America and its allies. He noticed that inside and out are
the flags of France, Britain and Canada, but that the US flag is missing.
Unless someone has rewritten history, it was the Americans who liberated Normandy and the rest of France. The armies from Britain, Canada and indeed the non-Vichy French
certainly assisted, but the liberation would not have been possible without
America. And as in Iraq, they didn't really need the others though
were glad they joined in.
The Dissident Frogman provides the e-mail addresses of the
Director of the Museum and the Mayor of Bayeux
so people can seek an
explanation for airbrushing America from their museum. I have done so and await a
reply and suggest you might like to also.
Have a look at the item in his blog; it's worth it. Click
Note of 13th
July : The Mayor of Bayeux
has just replied to me and others, enclosing no fewer than 17
photographs showing Old Glory fluttering ...
parts of the museum,
memorials in the town of Beyeux and
plausibly explains why the US flag is missing in certain areas. I
have therefore apologised to him for my spate of unjustified
paranoia. You can read the Mayor's letter here.
The Dissident Frogman
is also embarrassed
by the international furore he initiated.
The Hunt for Authentic
Ever since 1945 people have been searching for escaped WW2
Nazis. They have turned up all over the place. In various European
America, the Far East, the United
Some ended up as ministers in the French
believe François Mitterand during the war was at least a sympathiser if not
a Vichyist; and
Kurt Waldheim even served as Secretary General of the United
Nations before his wartime Nazi past was uncovered - and then he was
elected president of Austria.
So they are to be found in all places and all walks of
What to make, then, of what happened last week ?
Michigan a US federal judge found himself peering into a stair cupboard in
someone's house only to find a rather argumentative unpleasant bearded
German peering back at him, using the name Johann
a Nazi concentration camp commandant,
declared the judge, throw
So he was dispatched back to Europe.
Not long after, on the other side of the Atlantic, the
Nazi hunt continued in a rather large building in Brussels. A newly
president was telling everybody what a great guy he was when a rather
argumentative unpleasant bearded German unsportingly berated him for
crooked practices, using the name Martin
a Nazi concentration camp commandant
declared the president, throw
The timing is apt. The Italians are making a new
film about concentration camps and they are desperately short of rather
argumentative unpleasant bearded Germans to play Nazi commandants. So the
movie-makers will be delighted with these two authentic
Or are Johann and Martin really two different people ?
Quote of the Week
Quote : Mr
Schulz, there is in Italy a producer working on a film on Nazi
concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the rôle of
commandant. You'd be perfect !
Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, and
since 1st July President of the European Union,
reacting to heckling about his criminal trials
from German MEP Martin Schulz in the European Parliament
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Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
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ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“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.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
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
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
Won by New Zealand
Won by New Zealand
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of March 2009
Won by Wales
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crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
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