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

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July 2003
bulletISSUE #45 - 6th July 2003
bulletISSUE #46 - 13th July 2003 
bulletISSUE #47 - 20th July 2003
bulletISSUE #48 - 27th July 2003

ISSUE #48 - 27th July 2003 [ 226]

bulletLiberia - How Did It Get Where It Is ?
bulletPhotographing Uday and Qusay
bulletDown With Tanya Streeter
bullet Bombe Surprise at Toulouse Airport2
bulletWinning Streak Causes Royal Flush
bulletQuote of the Week

Liberia - How Did It Get Where It Is ?

Ryszard 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. 

From 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 country’s 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. 

Post-publication Note (28th July)
Reader Donnah takes issue with some of the above and provides this academic link.   I can’t agree with your history of Liberian settlement, she says. They weren’t all from the South, and at least half were literate. Almost half were freeborn. Four different societies had settlements. It’s just not so simple as you have it.”  But this does not materially affect the remainder of this brief history of Liberia.  

Nevertheless, suddenly they found themselves, bewildered and left to their own fate, in an Africa they didn’t 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, savage, heathen.

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 Whig Party 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 Liberia’s president.  He ruled the country like a manor squire, hearing petitions from his countrymen, dispatching his secret police, knowing and deciding everything. 

People believed he possessed magical powers : 


If someone 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 Tolbert’s orders. His police killed hundreds.

Then early on 12th April 1980, seventeen lowly soldiers barged into the president’s 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 subordinates, 


knew and cared nothing of economics and politics.  

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 Monrovia. 

At this point, Taylor’s chief of staff, Prince Johnson, another of Doe’s 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 Liberia’s 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 looting. 

Fighting 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 d’Ivoire, 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 Democracy (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 capitalists.  


The only ideological struggle Liberia has known has been between the original impoverished natives and the élite Americo-Liberians but the latter have long since decamped.

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 else’s turn.  

And 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. 

With America’s 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.  

Charles Taylor has said he will step down; Nigeria’s president has offered him asylum.   

But 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.  

So the agony of ordinary Liberians continues.  

Read this alternative brief history of Liberia to get a few additional details from war-correspondent Richard Krantz.  

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Photographing Uday and Qusay

An awful lot of western liberal bluster followed the publication of those rather gruesome post-mortem photos of Saddam’s 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 Hitler’s 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 sightings.  

Had photos of Hitler’s corpse been distributed across the country, or his corpse been displayed as Mussolini’s upturned body was, it would have been very different.  Just as Italy’s fascists disappeared overnight with the indisputable elimination of their Duce, hopelessness would have also overtaken those Nazi dissidents, and Germany’s de-Nazification process would have been faster and smoother.  

Ironically, it emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, that the Russians had in fact found Hitler’s body, cut off the head and brought it back to Moscow.  But this was all kept secret.  

Learning therefore from Germany and Italy, it is important to convince everyone in Iraq that the sons are gone, in order both to


bring despair to remaining Ba’athists and bring home to them the hopelessness of continuing any rear-guard action, and 


remove or reduce fear of Saddam’s 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 life.  

Tasteful?  No.  Necessary?  Yes. 

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 taken alive.  


This would have allowed much valuable intelligence to be gleaned, not least about Saddam himself and the WMD programme.  


Equally, the brothers could have been put on trial for their war crimes in a public display of justice akin to the Nuremburg trials.  

Remember Waco 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, more’s the pity.  

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Down 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 don’t always recognize each other’s records).   

  1. 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.  
  2. Variable Weight : Dragging yourself down a rope anchored to the bottom.  Record 131 meters, November 2001.  
  3. 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 Audrey’s fatal attempt is counted. 
  4. 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).  
  5. 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 record for category 4 with an astonishing dive to 122 metres, lasting over 3½ minutes. 


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 Audrey’s, 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 Audrey’s fatal plunge taken place in the US or UK, criminal negligence charges would have followed.  In other words, the death was avoidable.  

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 honour. 

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Bombe Surprise 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 we’re 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 we’re 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.  That’s why the airport had been closed.  No-one was laughing.  

It seems the abandoned bag was put through an X-Ray machine which revealed that as well as ordinary things like socks, underwear and 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 wasn’t 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 pie.  

Some time ago, I described some of the latest developments in airport scanning technology - the mind-reader, the blush-detector and the naked body revealer.  But Gail has shown the need for someone to invent a puff-pastry-sniffer.  

So until then be warned.  No nail clippers, no corkscrews, and definitely no puff pastry.  

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Winning Streak Causes Royal Flush

Britain’s royal occasions have a well deserved reputation for being turgid affairs; it is rare that anything happens that might redden royal cheeks.  

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 perjury.  

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 1485, Beefeaters are a pale equivalent of Saddam’s 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 William’s 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 up.  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : We are certain that Uday and Qusay were killed today.

Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, 
commander of the US forces in Iraq, 
on Tuesday 22nd July 2003

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ISSUE #47 - 20th July 2003 [124]

bulletWhat Baghdadis Really Think
bulletThe Public Bullying of David Kelly
bulletWho Was the Man Who Never Was ?
bulletMoby Dick and the Blob
bulletWhen Bigshots Try to Hide
bulletSex and the Cybersquatter
bulletQuote of the Week

What Baghdadis Really Think

Finally someone has stopped making unsubstantiated statements of what the Iraqis want or don’t want.  Britain’s 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 neighbourhoods of Baghdad.  

Since you can click for yourself on the detailed results and Channel 4’s official summary, I have taken a slightly different approach.  

To the thirteen questions, a surprising percentage of responses (up to 31%) were variants of don’t know” or “not sure”.  Certainly some really didn’t know.  But I would speculate that after 30 years of Saddam and ongoing rumours that he hasn’t 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 don’t-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
Excludes answers of 
“no opinion”, “not stated”, don’t know”, “not sure”, “none of these”

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, 


are glad 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.  


These 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 indicate 


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 country’s 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 they’re jealous of Channel 4’s 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 don’t 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.  

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The 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 BBC’s reporter Andrew Gilligan in a London hotel and discussed Tony Blair’s now-famous dodgy dossier.  As such, he appeared to be the source of Mr Gilligan’s 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 question and 


in fact made every questioner look foolish.  

The Committee were unable to catch him out and clearly did not enjoy the experience.  

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 negotiations with 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 bully.  By 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 Committee’s 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 Times.  

Nobody will come away from these events untarnished.  

To remind you, the British Government issued three dossiers on Iraq, downloadable as PDF files : 

  1. Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction - The Assessment of the British Government”, September 2002 (427 kb)

    The first so-called “dodgy dossier


    Up to 60% of the document was allegedly 
    written by Dr Kelly


    Contains the now (in)famous claim that 
    Saddam could launch WMD “within 45 minutes

  2. Saddam Hussein - Crimes and Human Rights Abuses, December 2002 (197 kb)

    Amnesty International hypocritically objected 
    to the inclusion of their data as part of the 
    justification for war

  3. Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation”, January 2003 (205 kb)

    The other so-called “dodgy dossier


    Contains those extracts (in)famously plagiarised 
    from a PhD student’s out-of-date thesis


Marcus writes to the effect that it is premature to conclude that David Kelly’s death was suicide rather than murder.  See Letters.  

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Who Was the Man Who Never Was ?

Gerry O’Neill 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.

In his memoirs which due to his blindness I edited and am currently publishing on my website (, he tells in chapter 7 the story of his assignment in Sailing between Gibraltar and Huelva, with a cargo of coal, spies and POWs. Click to enlarge 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 day’s 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 Confidential.  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 town.  

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.

The Man Who Never Was. Who was he? Click to enlargeGerry’s ship happened to be in Huelva when the body was discovered on the beach. A promise had apparently been made to the man’s 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 ship’s 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 hasn’t ended.  John and Noreen Steele have written a book, The Secrets of HMS Dasher, about a British aircraft carrier of this name which 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 poison,  


the Welshman Glyndwr Michael, or


a drowned Royal Navy sailor from the aircraft carrier ?  

We’ll never know.  But he lies in peace in Huelva, 60 years after his posthumous heroic adventure.  And my friend Gerry O’Neill is proud of his part in laying him to rest.  

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Moby 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 sink it.  

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.

The sperm whale's spermaceti organ. Click to enlargeIt 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.  Nevertheless, it 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, pinkish-grey, blob of slimy, gelatinous, hard-to-cut tissue 40 feet long and resembling a squashed Elephant-sized blob on a beach elephant, found on a  beach in Chile, 680 miles south of Santiago ?
(Click on the thumbnail)

It 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 it’s the Chilean researchers, at Santiago’s 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 the spermaceti.

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 blubber,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. 

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When 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.  We’ve 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 results.


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 you’re 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 you’re hungry.  


Read the book when you’ve finished the paper.  


Stand up expectantly and cheerily every time someone enters or leaves your quarry’s office.  

I guarantee that before 5 pm the person you are seeking will have cracked.  He/she will see you.  It always works.  

And if it doesn’t, simply repeat the procedure the next day.  

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Sex and the Cybersquatter

I happened to hear an interview on Ireland’s Today FM radio station last week (18th July) with a Californian entrepreneur called Gary Kremen.  

With great foresight, he had acquired the domain-name back in 1994.  

But he didn’t make immediate use of it because at the same time he also acquired and used it set up an online dating agency which turned out to be highly successful, having brokered 20,000 marriages up to now.  (That’s why he calls himself history’s greatest match-maker).  

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 can’t 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 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  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.  

He 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.  

Why 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.   I’ll be keeping my eyes open.  

Meanwhile, Mr Kremen says he has revamped 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. 

Salaciousness 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 landlord.  

So, hands off please.  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : [The] 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] don’t give up on Europe.

Anywhere, any time ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same : 


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 Congress 
on Thursday 17th July 2003

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ISSUE #46 - 13th July 2003 [133]

bulletFuel Shortage in a Land of Oil
bulletGeldof on Africa
bulletUS Casualties in Iraq vs Industry
bulletSaddam Invites Hypocrisy
bulletUS Democrats and Atheism
bulletTime to Reinvest in the Stockmarket
bulletGoogling to Weapons of Mass Destruction
bulletQuote of the Week

Fuel Shortage in a Land of OIl

Before civil war broke out in Nigeria in 1967, it was producing about one million barrels a day of oil.  War’s 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 boom not 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 that’s another story.  

Nigeria’s 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 nation’s 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 artificial. 

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 country’s 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 Europe’s 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 features.

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 today’s (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. 

When 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 unions.

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 Bush’s limousines will have been imported fully tanked up.  

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Bob Geldof on Africa

Marking George W Bush’s 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 asterisks.  

You can find the subscription-only original here, or a non-subscription copy here.  

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 personally.  

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 EU’s 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.    

Acknowledging the success of individual piecemeal programmes on AIDS, debt etc, he nevertheless notes the lack of a coherent continent-wide strategy to deal with the problems holistically.  

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 capitalism’s 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.  

He concludes that such a Plan therefore is in the self-interest of not just Africans, but Europeans and Americans as well.  

Well worth reading the full article.  

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US Casualties in Iraq vs Industry

Since President Bush declared the end of major combat on 1st May, it’s 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 fire” etc. 

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 day’s lost work, the so-called Lost Time Accident Frequency (LTAF) works out at 2.43 per million man-hours.  

Here’s how they then compare.  


(per 100m m-hrs)

US army in Iraq


Agriculture in UK, 2001/2 4.6

Construction in Ireland, 2002


Shell worldwide, 2002




(per 1m m-hrs)

US army in Iraq


Shell Canada’s target for 2003 0.8

Cameco Canada, uranium production


Major Oil & Gas Cos & Contractors 2.5

UK Atomic Energy Authority, 
nuclear decomissioning


US Rubber Industry 15

Outokump Finland, mining and metals


While the US army’s 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 Iraq.  

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. 



services are restored, 


representative Iraqis begin to be brought into the governance process, and 


American soldiers learn to operate with a lighter touch, 

it’s not unreasonable to expect the FAR to be much reduced in, say, a year’s time.  

I’ll be keeping a watch.  

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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.  

bulletAccording 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 Saddam’s 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. 
bulletIt asks would they dare to hold the gaze of an Iraqi woman sitting at the grave of her murdered children ?  
bulletIt 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.   

bulletIn 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.  

Huh ?
bulletIt’s not OK for the US to use military force to remove a tyrant who routinely murders his own people, if he’s an Arab called Saddam Hussein ?  
bulletBut it’s imperative for the US to use military force to remove a tyrant who routinely murders his own people if he’s an African called Charles Taylor.
bulletSome 300,000 people, a tenth of Liberia’s 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 #48

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US Democrats and Atheism

Senator 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 you’re black or gay, than if I don’t hate you at all (though if I like you I wonder why I have killed you).  

Either way you’re just as dead, so it seems curious to have different penalties.  

Democrats are atheists?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 proclaiming, Religion Is Immoral.  

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 poster.  

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Time to Reinvest in the Stockmarket

A year ago, I wrote an article titled Stock Market Jitters, Booms & Busts” which noted that the 20th century’s major stockmarket crashes seemed to follow a similar pattern of four phases : 

  1. after a period of steady growth, a boom appears;
  2. this boom eventually crashes, creating a bust;
  3. the bust is followed by a steady recovery;
  4. eventually the steady recovery brings the market back onto the original growth path that was being followed prior to the boom.

A 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 recovery.  

Well, it’s dropped no further.  Since then, apart from a couple of brief dips into 7,000 territory, it’s been oscillating between 8,000 and 9,000 and today it’s 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.  

Dow Jones 1990-2009. Click to enlargeThis year’s 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 money.  

But there still won’t be many get-rich-quick opportunities for some time to come.   

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Googling to Weapons of Mass Destruction

Try this soon, before Google fixes its site:

  1. Go to;

  2. Type in (but don’t hit Return) : weapons of mass destruction

  3. Hit the I’m feeling lucky button, instead of the normal Google search button.

Read what appears to be a normal error message carefully. 

Thanks Zeynap for spotting it !

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Quote of the Week

Quote : 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.   I’m 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

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ISSUE #45 - 6th July 2003 [142]

bulletIran Approaches Its Velvet Revolution
bulletConsequences of Withdrawal from Iraq
bulletHome-made Cruise Missile
bulletInsurance and Drugs Cartels in Ireland 
bulletNo Americans in Normandy in 1944
bulletThe Hunt for Authentic Nazis 
bulletQuote of the Week
Iran 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.  

The Shah 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 control.  

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 business everywhere. 

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 former regime.  

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 Shah.  

bulletThey 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. 
bulletThey 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.  
bulletThey 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 their power.  

bulletBut do they really have the stomach, that not even the Shah had, for such a fateful step ?   
bulletMy belief is that they don't; that their belief in Allah will not allow them to take such an appalling measure.  
bulletAnd can the armed forces be relied upon to carry out a massacre or look on passively if others do it ?
bulletI 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.  

The regime-change 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.  

bulletMany of the Iranian expatriates and émigrés are visiting their homeland to participate and lend direct encouragement to the movement.  
bulletOthers, as well as non-Iranians, are simply sending money. 
bulletSolidarity 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.  
bulletThe print, radio and TV media are broadcasting - 
bullet programmes of support; 
bullet reports of speeches and activities 
bulleteither that form part of the protest within Iran, 
bulletor that are expressed by political leaders and 
others outside the country; 
bulletor indeed overt propaganda.  
bulletBloggers 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.  
bulletIndeed this post you are reading forms part of a 
BlogBurst being issued by hundreds of bloggers on 
9th July.  

Extraordinarily, Iran seems to be one issue that is drawing not one iota of support for the mullahs; they are truly alone in their world.  

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 dictatorship of communists stepped aside in the face of country-wide demonstrations and a general strike during the velvet revolution 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 !.  
Click here 
to find out what this slogan for Iranian reformists means.  

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Consequences of Withdrawal from Iraq

In Iraq, six British soldiers were killed in one incident last month.  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 and exit strategy” (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 Iraqis.  

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 basis).  

What would actually happen if the foreign armies did decide to go home ?  

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;


Tikritis, 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 


to 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 faint-hearted.  

Nevertheless, they've been fluffing around too long.  Things are getting dangerous.  

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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 public domain,


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 components.  

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 an LCCM.

But why is doing this ?  He is not planning any attack himself.  

He simply wants to demonstrate that if he can build an LCCM, 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, click here.  

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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 €500.  

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
almost instantaneously.

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 Spain.  

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 !

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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 here.  

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 ... 


in various parts of the museum, 


in other memorials in the town of Beyeux and 


lining some streets.  

He also 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.  

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The Hunt for Authentic Nazis

Ever since 1945 people have been searching for escaped WW2 Nazis.  They have turned up all over the place.  In various European countries, South America, the Far East, the United States.  


Some ended up as ministers in the French government; 


many 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 life.  

What to make, then, of what happened last week ?  

In 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 LeprichDefinitely a Nazi concentration camp commandant, declared the judge, throw him out”.  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 appointed 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 SchultzDefinitely a Nazi concentration camp commandant declared the president, throw him out.   

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 recruits.  

Or are Johann and Martin really two different people ?

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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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 What I've recently
been reading

The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tol, 2006
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy Tol (2006),
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a household lemon tree as their unifying theme.

But it's not entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz, 2004

See detailed review


Drowning in Oil - Macondo Blowout
examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term technical sustainability.  

Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in Russia.  

The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that had become poisonous and incompetent. 

However the book is gravely compromised by a litany of over 40 technical and stupid errors that display the author's ignorance and carelessness. 

It would be better to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying. 

As for BP, only a wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.

Note: I wrote my own reports on Macondo
May, June, and July 2010


Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:


how the death penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,


the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and


Singapore's enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship

More details on my blog here.


Product Details
This is nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s incredible story of survival in the Far East during World War II.

After recounting a childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen, Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on Germany in 1939.

From then until the Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror. 

After a wretched journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless garrison.

Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in 1941, he is, successively,


part of a death march to Thailand,


a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),


regularly beaten and tortured,


racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,


a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,


shipped to Japan in a stinking, closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,


torpedoed by the Americans and left drifting alone for five days before being picked up,


a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic bomb.

Chronically ill, distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life.  Only in his late 80s is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this unputdownable book.

There are very few first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical document.


Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

This is a rattling good tale of the web of corruption within which the American president and his cronies operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.

With 75 page of notes to back up - in best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife. 

Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett, Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book. 

ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine it is.


This much trumpeted sequel to Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment. 

It is really just a collation of amusing little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour and situations.  For example:


Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.


People aren't really altruistic - they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.


Child seats are a waste of money as they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.


Though doctors have known for centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection, they still often fail to do so. 


Monkeys can be taught to use washers as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.

The book has no real message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.

And with a final anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in its tracks.  Weird.


False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics. 

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as


Why does asparagus come from Peru?


Why are pandas so useless?


Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth?


Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

It's central thesis is that economic development continues to be impeded in different countries for different historical reasons, even when the original rationale for those impediments no longer obtains.  For instance:


Argentina protects its now largely foreign landowners (eg George Soros)


Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs


The US its cotton industry comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce

The author writes in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to digest. 

However it would benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide natural break-points for the reader. 


Burmese Outpost, by Anthony Irwin
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.

The author was a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to harass Japanese lines of command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of India.   

Irwin is admirably yet brutally frank, in his descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness. 

He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved authority of the British. 

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

Oh, and Irwin describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF Brennan.


Other books here

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