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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive, organized into months, and indexed by
time and alphabet, contains all issues since inception, including the current week.

You can write to me at blog2-at-tallrite-dot-com
(Clumsy form of my address to thwart spamming software that scans for e-mail addresses)

July 2005

ISSUE #104 - 24th July 2005 [201+270=471]

Roosevelt's Last Wicked Deals

Sixty years ago, February was a very busy month, and with retrospect a shameful one, for the undoubtedly well-meaning US President Franklin Roosevelt, who had commandeered for his personal transportation the USS Quincy, turning it into the equivalent of today's Air Force One.  It was just a month after his fourth inaugural address and though he didn't know it, he had but two further months to live.  

First he sailed to Yalta in the Crimea where he met with fellow World War 2 victors Winston Churchill and the dictator Josef Stalin.  Together the trio cobbled together three crucial postwar deals that stood for over forty years.  

  • They reorganized the Europe that Hitler had so recently lost by awarding 

    • western nations such as France, Netherlands, Italy, Scandinavia to the Allies, with America providing a massive and nuclear security umbrella which enabled their democracies and economies to flourish and the EU to be created;

    • central and eastern nations such as Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia to the Soviet Empire, under which their peoples would be tyrannised and held back for the next 44 years.  

  • They divided defeated Germany into two zones, 

    • an Allied zone, which under an Allied-imposed democratic system quickly recovered, rebuilt and became Europe's economic engine for the next five decades, and 

    • a Soviet zone in which under the proud banner of socialism 
      the citizens remained poor and subjugated for those 44 years (and indeed even today, 16 years after its liberation and democratisation, it remains the economically and socially depressed part of united Germany).

  • They laid the seeds for the creation of the United Nations, which despite early efforts to make the world a more just place for its inhabitants, was never successful in this, especially since two of its five founders - USSR and China - were by 1949 both brutal tyrannies; 

    • furthermore over the next decades, as the UN expanded and accorded equal weight to minnows and giants, tyrannies and democracies, it inevitably sunk into today's morass of corruption, cronyism, hypocrisy, ineptitude and ineffectualness.  

Two of these three wrongs were eventually righted as the Soviet Empire crumbled and collapsed in 1989-91, and one day perhaps the UN too will be trumped by a new United Democracies.  

But Roosevelt was yet not done with causing half-a-century's worth of damage.  

For after Yalta the Quincy brought him into the Suez Canal where, in a bulge known as the Great Bitter Lake, he met with Saudi Arabia's 1932 founder and first king Abdel Aziz (also known as Ibn Saud).  It was the latter's first ever trip beyond his homeland and in deference to his sensibilities, the ship's deck had been heavily carpeted so that the honoured guest would not have to put foot to metal.  

The president and the king struck a one-sided deal whereby in exchange for guaranteed access to Saudi oil, the Americans would make available money and technology and turn a blind eye to how the king ran his country whilst also guaranteeing to defend it.  Though the king refused to countenance the creation of Israel, this nevertheless constituted a friendship alliance which persists to this day.  

But it is - and always was - an unnecessary and damaging arrangement.  

In fact no democrat should never enter into an alliance” with an autocrat, because whereas the democrat speaks for every citizen of his country, the autocrat, who is by definition an illegitimate ruler, speaks only for himself.  So Roosevelt's deal means that 296 million Americans are somehow contractually tied to a single individual, the current king Fahd (who happens to be infirm due to a stroke and a lifetime of alcoholism).  How ridiculous is that!  

Late note : King Fahd died on 1st August 
and was succeeded by his octogenarian half-brother Abdullah. 

Moreover, the deal itself is a nonsense.  American businesses invested in Saudi only in order to make money for their shareholders from its oil.  Saudis sold their oil to American businesses solely to make money for their rulers.  No “alliance” was or is needed for this; merely enlightened self-interest, and there's no shortage of that on either side.  

Moreover, Saudi is no ally of the US or of the West.  

Allies protect each other, like for instance America, Britain and Australia.  

  • It is inconceivable that the Saudi army would fight alongside Americans against an enemy of the US (for example the Taliban); 

  • yet the converse is perfectly conceivable.  America fought the first Gulf war to drive out of Kuwait the invader Saddam Hussein who was clearly less an enemy of the USA than of Saudi, the country next on his invasion menu.  

Meanwhile, the Saudi regime allows - nay, encourages - anti-Western sentiment and aggression to foment within its borders and even finances it via pro-terrorism mosques and madrassas not only internally but across the world.  The regime, like all other Arab regimes save democratic Iraq and Lebanon, must preserve itself by creating external enemies, preferably American, that its people can hate instead of hating their own tyrants.  Since this has been official policy for several generations it should be no surprise that the Saudis include many willing terrorist recruits against the West.  Providing 11 out the 19 suicide hijackers on 9/11 is but one albeit egregious example.  

Roosevelt's deal has caused America to nurture and honour the Saudi royal family instead of disparaging or better still destroying it.  And it set a pattern of tolerating despots provided they were willing to sell oil (which they would have had to do anyway to get their hands on money without which no-one, especially not thugocracies, can survive).  

The West - and ordinary Muslims - are paying the price of Roosevelt's folly today.  

So in the space of those three February weeks in 1945, Roosevelt the democrat signed agreements with a pair of contemporary dictators, which enslaved millions of Europeans for two generations and hooked America into a depraved arrangement which inevitably fostered the kind of ungodly Islamic terrorism that is currently plaguing the world.  

In April the following he died of a brain haemorrhage.  A bullet in the head causes a brain haemorrhage.  There have long been rumours, supported by circumstantial evidence, that this intelligent man in fact shot himself, shamed and aghast at the realisation of the wicked deals he had just struck.  

This would be in keeping with his otherwise honourable presidency.  

It is high time the US abrogated Roosevelt's pernicious agreement with the Saudi royal family.  The West, because its freedoms have made it rich and oil-hungry, will always have money to pay for oil.  Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing dictatorships, which without oil are poor yet they have extravagant appetites for material possessions and suppression of their citizens, will always sell their oil to the West.  

No special concord is needed for this.  

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Piteous White Faces in an Arctic Convoy

For some years I have been helping an elderly friend, Gerry, who served in World War 2 in the British merchant marine, to write and finalise his memoirs, a tome of over 400 pages.  My assistance became necessary when he went blind due to macular degeneration. 

Back in 2003, I published the first edition on my website here, where all chapters can be downloaded for free.  However so many clarifications were needed and so much new material emerged that a completely revised edition will be issued later this year. 

A particularly poignant tale concerns his sole experience sailing with one of many Allied convoys that brought vital supplies to northern Russia. 

For some two years, Gerry served as a marine engineer on a large (187 by 23 metres, 22,000 tonnes) three-funnelled, sumptuously-appointed vessel named ‘Empress of Australia’, with turbine-driven twin screws that could deliver 17 knots.  She had been built by the Germans in 1912 who named her Tirpitzafter the legendary German Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of Germany's World War 1 navy.  She is not to be confused with Germany's largest warship of World War 2, also named Tirpitz, after the great man.  

The original 1912 Tirpitz was later pressed into war service as a troopship and at one stage was to have become the Kaiser’s imperial yacht.  But in the end she was turned over to Britain as part of the German surrender in 1918, and in due course acquired her Australia name.  When hostilities broke out again in 1939, she found herself back in war service but this time on the other side. 

Late in 1944, with Gerry on board to keep the turbines running, the Empress sailed, under the red ensign, out of the Clyde and turned south to Le Havre in France to pick up their cargo.  This was several months after the Normandy invasion and the mission was to bring a large group of Soviet passengers home to the USSR.  They were mainly members of the Soviet armed forces but also included some Soviet civilians, all of whom had been liberated by the Allies from Nazi slave labour camps in France. 

However they included a few who had collaborated with the Germans, some of whom threw themselves overboard rather than face the music back home. Indeed a great many of the ordinary, innocent ex-prisoners were also reluctant to return to the Motherland. We now know they had good reason, for Stalin executed huge numbers of his own soldiers as traitors simply for the “crime” of having been captured by the Germans. 

Most of this sorry human cargo had been very poorly fed whilst in captivity and for some reason were on restricted rations while on board. Gerry and his fellow engineers therefore persuaded the catering staff to double up on their rations. White bread was like gold dust, so they had the cook working overtime to produce it for the unfortunate Soviet travellers. 

From France, they headed north again to join their convoy.  It included the Cunard Line’s Scythia which was also repatriating Soviet ex-prisoners of war, a total of 10,139 men, 30 women and 44 boys between the two of them.  It was early winter, and Convoy JW61A would brave the packs of German U-boats prowling the Arctic Ocean for prey, as it raced toward its destination, Murmansk, situated in the Kola Inlet in the north of the USSR, 200 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle. 

Whilst the mortality rate of ships on these Russian convoys had been reduced, nevertheless Gerry's convoy lost several vessels and everyone lived in fear that his own ship would be the next one to go to the bottom of that frigid sea.

A custom prevailed on the North Atlantic and elsewhere whereby both escort ships and merchant vessels generally stopped, even at great risk and sometimes for long periods, to pick up survivors of stricken ships. 

But this was not case on Russian convoys, where ships were forbidden to stop in such circumstances.  The harsh justification was that a stopped vessel was itself a sitting target and that the U-boats would show no mercy.  Moreover persons cast adrift on these northern icy waters could not survive for more than a few minutes, so by the time a rescuing vessel could have reached them they would have perished. 

Gerry recalls his own ghastly experience of this dreadful situation.  Coming on deck at midnight after his watch in the engineroom, during which the convoy had been under heavy U-boat attack with the loss of several ships, he was just in time to hear two loud explosions.  A vessel not far ahead had been hit.  The ship sank rapidly and there was evidently no time to launch lifeboats or lifecraft.  

The night was almost as clear as day, with a myriad of stars shining brightly overhead. The cold was intense, biting into one’s bones and his breath froze as Gerry gasped in the icy, searing air. 

Soon he could see lots of red lights bobbing about in the water, these lights being attached to the lifejackets worn by the unfortunate men who had jumped off the sinking ship. The Empress of Australia came so close that Gerry could see piteous white faces and waving hands as it steamed steadily past those doomed creatures. He could not help but think of himself in their position, waiting in terror, misery and cold for the end to come. 

Nevertheless, the Empress of Australia reached its destination unscathed, as did the Scythia, and they were able to discharge their passengers safely.  

The Australia sailed back to Liverpool without incident. But what became of the 10,000 ex-POWs was never known, though Gerry managed for some years to correspond with one of them, Alexei, whom he had befriended. 

The Allies were of course not merely victims in the Arctic Ocean; they were also aggressors. By a strange irony, at the very time that the Empress of Australia, ne Tirpitz, sailed along the Norwegian coast dodging U-boats, the RAF were bombing and sinking the then Tirpitz, pride of the German navy, as it lay at anchor in a fjord near Troms way in the north of Nazi-occupied Norway. 

It is well, in the current troubled times over random bomb-attacks in the world's cities, that we remember the heroism of those ordinary men such as the piteous white faceswho fought and died for the freedom that today's terrorists would deny to all but themselves. 

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Unwanted Indian Googlies

India's National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) is a very worthy outfit devoted to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the subcontinent.  Judging by a recent advertisement, it also has great imagination, a sense of humour and key understanding of what reverberates with Indians.  Yet it and the press are also surprisingly coy.  

Earlier this month, NACO published an HIV-beware ad in a national daily newspaper.  It depicted three cricket stumps set against a blue sky, each one covered by a condom.  The caption read, Save your wicket from unwanted googlies of life.  Even in your favourite sport, you never know when you'll lose your stumps. Life is also unpredictable in the same manner. Why take chances? 

But here's the coy part.  

Though the story was picked up by both Indian and international media, not one of the outlets that I've been able to find has reproduced the actual advertisement, or even named the paper in which it appeared.  Reuters for example illustrates the story with an irrelevant photo of Sri Lankan cricketers congratulating each other, with not a wicket in site, much less a condom, nor even an Indian.  Not even NACO on their own website have published the advertisement; indeed they don't even mention it, though you would think they'd be pleased with the international publicity.  

It is now widely accepted that among the main weapons to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, are openness and frankness about the kinds of sexual behaviour that foster contagion and the measures to be taken to prevent it.   Thus the shyness about publishing the picture is puzzling, particularly from NACO.  We might expect this from people like President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa who regularly denies the huge AIDS problem in his country.  But what good are tabloids, after all, if they quake at the thought of publishing a humorous picture about sex.  

We seem to be back to sniggering behind the bicycle shed.  

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Nigerian Tales Return

Those of a whimsical fancy may like to take a look a the latest two true tales from Nigeria, that were published last week, after a long absence.  

  • Henry's Arrivaldescribes the adventures of a Briton who arrives in Nigeria for the first time and must fly on to Port Harcourt in the East.  Welcome ... to Africa ... she said.  

  • Ghosts of the Aba Express” tells of those unfortunates who expire on this mighty Port Harcourt road and how their ghosts live on.  Meet the Lady in the Wheelbarrow, the Grim Reaper, the young woman, the Naked Man.

You can access the stories here.  

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Quotes of Week 104

Quote: “"I've never seen anything like it in my life. I saw them kill a man basically. I saw them shoot a man five times

Mark Whitby, eyewitness when plain-clothes police 
pursued and shot a suspected terrorist 
in Stockwell underground station in south London, 
only to find he was an innocent Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, 
who thought the police were pursuing him for an out-of-date visa 

________________________

Quote: I blame the British government and I blame the British people [for the Double-7th London bombings].  The British people did not make enough effort to stop its own government committing its own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan ... The British people showed Tony Blair full support when they elected him again after he waged the latest Iraq war.” 

Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, 
sometimes known as “the Tottenham Ayatollah”, 
who lives in London on British welfare payments, 
claiming asylum from his native Syria 
because it has convicted him of terrorism.  
Words fail me.  

_________________________

Quote: The occupation in itself is a problem, Iraq not being independent is a problem, and the other problems stem from that - from sectarianism to civil war. The entire American presence causes this.” 

Radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr 

His best route to get rid of the hated Satans 
is thus to hasten the creation of a constitutional democratic state

_____________________

QuoteCan you tell us why the violence is continuing? ... Can you tell us why the government is supporting the militias? ... Why should Americans believe your promises?” 

NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, part of 
US Secretary of State Condoleeza's entourage visiting Sudan, 
poses hard questions to Sudan's despotic president 
Omar el-Bashir, the man who is ultimately responsible 
for the obscene ethnic cleansing and genocide in Darfur.  

Seeing him dumbstruck and frightened by the questions, 
his thugs manhandle her out of the room.  
Like all tyrants, el-Bashir can dish it out but he can't take it.  

Quote: “I said action, not words.” 

Condoleeza Rice, having secured an apology for Mitchell's treatment, 
relays what she told el-Bashir concerning the ongoing crimes in Sudan

__________________

Quote: “Somebody has to take her out if she won't go ... The armed forces of the Philippines has [sic] to take her out. Do they not have a sense of smell? This government stinks and they have not done anything.”  

Ike Seneres, a former ambassador and Arroyo adviser, 
who wants the democratically elected Gloria Macapagal Arroyo 
removed at the barrel of a gun from the presidency of the Philippines, 
because he and others do not believe they can achieve this 
through a constitutional impeachment process. 
They accuse her of corruption, incompetence and 
trying to influence the outcome of
her (convincing) victory at the last presidential election in 2004.   

Democracy is such a pain when you don't get what you want.  

No to Junta, Yes to Democracy” 

Government banner strung across a major bridge in Manila

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See the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience

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ISSUE #103 - 17th July 2005 [219]
Third Blogiversary

Thought I'd mention that on 14th July the Tallrite Blog  
reached its Third Blogiversary, 
which keeps it at just two years behind Andrew Sullivan's.  
But it's not so special since I've so recently 
congratulated myself on my Centenary edition.   

Happy Third Blogiversay also to Gavin's Blog, which seems to be a twin

Slay Them Wherever Ye Catch Them

Last week Tony Blair told the House of Commons that the London bombings were a manifestation of “an extreme and evil ideology whose roots lie in a perverted and poisonous misinterpretation of the religion of Islam.”  

Since when did Tony Blair become an expert interpreter of Islam?  And countless other well-meaning white Christian politicians and churchmen have made a similar point.  Are they also experts?  Have they even read the Koran?  How do they know with such certainty that phrases such as “slay them [ie non Muslims] wherever ye catch them” which pepper the Koran actually mean “don't slay them”?

It is in Chapter 2 (The Cow), shurah (verse) 191 that you first find this injunction, probably the most egregious admonishment in the Koran.  And in case you don't get the message, try

  • slay them wherever you find them - 4:89

  • slay the idolaters wherever you find them - 9:5

  • When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks - 47:4 

  • And had you seen when the angels will cause to die those who disbelieve, smiting their faces and their backs and saying, ‘Taste the punishment of burning - 8:50 (incidentally the exact timing of the London, Madrid and 9/11 bombings)

  • Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them - 9:73

It is time for the world to publicly challenge these and other outrageous teachings that are to be found throughout the Koran (such as this selection or this), for they provide both comfort and religious backing for Islamic terrorists.  

Martyrdom via suicide-cum-homicide, leading to unlimited sexual rewards in heaven, is another insidious belief of many Muslims, which needs to be robustly confronted and not simply taken as read.  As I noted last year, the 70 virgins supposedly awaiting martyrs are just as likely to be 70 white raisins; this should be shouted from the rooftops so as at least to sow legitimate doubt in the minds of would-be bombers with only one thing on their frustrated minds.  

Certainly non-Muslim politicians, pundits and media should not hesitate to publicise the warlike, hate-inducing shuras of the Koran and to challenge Muslims to explain or refute them.  All this nonsense about Islam being a religion of peace should stop immediately until all this is clarified by Muslim clerics and the general Muslim community.  

But such challenges will only go so far, because at the end of the day a Christian or Jew or Hindu or Sikh or Buddhist or Shintoist who criticises Islam lacks the street-cred of a Muslim and just sounds like he's proselytising.  Moreover, very few are Koranic experts any more than Tony Blair is.  They can simply read translations of texts, as I have done, and try to understand the words.  

The real call for clarity and exposition should come from peace-loving Muslims themselves, for there is no doubt that the vast majority are peace-loving.  Indeed, there has been much evidence of this in the aftermath of London's Double-7 bombings.  One can only imagine the internal torment they must suffer whenever they see mass murder carried out in their name, in their religion's name, in the Prophet's name, in Allah's name.  Yet the Koran itself seems to exonerate the killers telling them in 8:17, Ye [Muslims] slew them [infidels] not, but Allah slew them.  

Muslims should broadcast the correct interpretation of the Koran and its more controversial verses not only to help quell the anti-Islam sentiment that their co-religionists' terrorist attacks induce in the infidels, but to counter the anti-infidel vitriol that emanates from some mosques and madrassas and infects fellow-Muslims, young and old(er).  Welcome as recent condemnations by Muslim leaders in UK of the London bombings as criminal and unIslamic”, this is not the same as pointing out why what the terrorists did does not conform with with Koranic injunctions that appear to support such killings.  

For it is Muslims themselves who are turning out to be by far the most plentiful dead and bleeding victims of Islamic terrorism, whether in Iraq or elsewhere, and they don't deserve it.  

Not only that, but many ordinary Muslims and clerics also seem to be silent victims of unspoken threat.  They dare not speak out for fear of being targeted as too lukewarm in their enthusiasm for jihad.  The threat is probably worse should they actually defend the right of infidels not to be slain.  As military historian Ralph Bennett recently pointed out, many of the most mealy-mouthed or silent among moderate, well-meaning Muslims know that they are in a position very like front-line officers vis--vis snipers.  Show their true colours and they're dead.  It can be that brutal.  

Yet their silence is a key contributory factor to the recruitment of jihadists and to the non-Muslim world's increasing opprobrium of Islam, in a cycle that can have no happy ending for anyone, least of all the jihadists or ordinary Muslims. 

Or is this, in fact, a false trail?  

  • Does the Koran actually mean exactly what it says when it exhorts murder and mayhem?  

  • Does this mean that a peace-loving Muslim cannot therefore be a true Muslim?  

  • Has Islam no room for humanitarianism?  

I wish someone would tell me and explain.  

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Chirac's Misery

The past six weeks must have been the most miserable of Jacques Chirac's whole political life. For a man of such hauteur (seemingly a prerequisite for French presidents), the series of recent humiliations, large and small, coming on top of two years of them, must be devastating.  And all the more so because every stage has corresponded with an uplifting success for his nemesis, who goes by the name of Tony Blair.   It's been a while building up ...

  • 3/03: It all began with the Iraq war.  Mr Chirac left no stone unturned in his efforts to thwart George Bush and Mr Blair as they tried to bring his good friend Saddam Hussein to book.  

    • He had sold arms to Saddam for years; 

    • had built him the Osirak nuclear plant (nicknamed O'Chirac) 
      which was so rudely bombed by Israel in 1981; 

    • had organized oilfield development contracts for TotalFinaElf to be activated as soon as sanctions were lifted.  

But the Chirac umbrella came to naught: Messrs Bush and Blair launched the Iraq war in March 2003.  Within a month Saddam was deposed and after seven further months he was behind bars, both his execrable sons were dead and France was rendered irrelevant.  

  • 11/03: In November 2003, England trounced France 24-7 in the semifinals of the Rugby World Cup in Australia and went on to win the coveted trophy.  Mr Chirac made himself look foolish when he tried to claim that it was actually the EU which had won the cup.  

  • 1/05: Back in Iraq, despite the mayhem and bloody insurgency, the US Coalition's plans for transiting to democracy since the end of the war to the present have been proceeding on time, and the elections in January were an outstanding step forward by millions of extraordinarily courageous Iraqis.  Even the Iraqi economy has been the fastest growing in the Middle East.  Mr Chirac has been forced to agree, albeit through gritted teeth and without providing an iota of practical support, that this is a desirable process.  

  • 29/5/05: Then there was France's 29th May referendum on the EU's notorious Tea or Coffee constitution, which had been drafted by a previous French president and strongly championed by Mr Chirac.  The resounding Non was a bitter and unexpected (to him) rejection of, above all, Chiracism, and the dream of a Europe gratefully united under a French-inspired federation.  And it was only because, to his fury, Tony Blair had decided to hold a referendum, that he felt obliged to follow suit.  And of course the French Non has now allowed Mr Blair to duck out of his own referendum.  

  • 18/6: To try and deflect attention from his referendum humiliation, he immediately launched a vitriolic, out-of-the-blue attack on the British rebate at the EU summit of 18th June.  But Mr Blair firmly rebuffed him with a counter-attack on the colossal and unjustifiable EU subsidies to French farmers, and this spat stalemated the budget negotiations.  Another Chirac failure.  

  • 28/6: It then got worse.  Just ten days later, the French Navy found itself participating (inexplicably) in Britain's bicentenary celebration of Trafalgar, with Mr Blair once more in the ascendancy.   Mr Chirac had to pretend he was happy about the sea battle which so utterly crushed the French (and Spanish) navies that Britain ruled the seas unchallenged for the next century and put an end to any ideas of a united Napoleonic Europe, if not World.  Moreover, it directly led to the demise of Napoleon's career ten years later when Britain destroyed France's land forces at Waterloo.  How could Mr Chirac be happy, or Mr Blair sad?

  • 1/7: Then, just three days after Trafalgar, a fresh wound was inflicted as it became the Buggin's turn of the insufferable Mr Blair to assume presidency of the EU on 1st July.  Thus he gets to set the course of and to chair all EU debates for the next six months, including of course that little matter of the EU budget.  Do you think Mr Chirac relishes this situation?

  • 2/7: The next day was Live-8 day, which was seen as another British triumph even though the instigators were two Irish rock stars Bob Geldof and Bono, and Paris did put on one of the nine concerts.   

  • 6/7: As if to rub salt in the latest wounds, after but a few days respite, it was off to Singapore where Messrs Chirac and Blair met head-to-head to lobby for the 2012 Olympics.  Paris lost; London won (which triggered the appearance of gloating, unsportsmanlike signs like this one outside a Windsor pub).  Mr Chirac was again forced to convey clenched-teeth congratulations to his dastardly tormentor.  

 "Well stick your Charolais up your bottom now Chirac!  Well done SEB"

  • 6/7: And as if that weren't enough, since the beginning of 2005 Mr Blair has been heading the G8, that prestigious group of the world's seven richest countries plus Russia.  So the very day of his Singapore dbcle, Mr Chirac found himself in Gleneagles, bowing to the Queen of England, and having to smile to show how pleased he was to be playing third (at least) fiddle to Messrs Blair and Bush.  

  • 7/7: And even those dreadful bombs in London on the Double-7th must have been difficult for him, because he again had to show stoic solidarity, whilst any chance of have a real go at Mr Blair at the G8 meeting evaporated.  I don't mean the solidarity wasn't genuine - I'm sure it was - but from Mr Chirac's viewpoint the timing was awful. 

It is hard to see how Mr Chirac is going to bounce back to his usual wily, ebullient if arrogant self.  But hey, he's a politician.  That's what they do.  You can therefore be sure there there is at least one innings left to him before, to the immense relief of the French electorate and countless others, he departs the scene in 2007.   If you don't believe me, just have a look at Chirac Celebrates Bastille Day with British Rant, one of several articles which cover his traditional Bastille Day television interview.  He absolutely seethes with hubris, denial and unwarranted optimism.  

But on the inside, he's miserable.  

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Dealing with Uncertainty

David Michaels is a professor of epidemiology at George Washington University's School of Public Health and was once US assistant secretary of energy under Bill Clinton.  Last month he wrote that industries that are under fire will often use uncertainty to fight back.  

  • As an example, he cites a federal report on climate change that the White House has just rewritten to magnify the uncertainty over climate change, in order to demonstrate that drastic action (ie Kyoto) is ill-advised.   

  • The American Petroleum Institute (API) is accused of similar sins.  

  • He also illustrates how the tobacco industry for decades stressed the uncertain nature of studies showing that cigarettes cause addiction and lung cancer.  

  • Other industry groups routinely highlight the uncertainties surrounding reports into the health hazards of chemicals such as beryllium, lead, mercury, vinyl chloride, chromium, benzene, benzidine and nickel.

The essence of these types of issue is that you cannot carry out controlled experiments to prove your point definitively.  For example, you can't deliberately feed people mercury.  So you have to draw your conclusions from whatever data happens to be around you, from natural experiments”.  This is never precise enough: you cannot screen out all extraneous factors, you cannot replicate findings.  Hence the uncertainty.  

Prof Michaels complains that the manufacture of uncertainty has become a business in its own right with its own professionals available for hire, and implies that it is all rather deceitful.    

He makes a very good point, for the science of uncertainty is indeed a bit dishonest and incomplete unless an attempt is made to quantify the uncertainty. But then the other side doesn't always do that either. Typically, 

  • one side says its research shows that 'x' is bad, and 

  • the other side retorts that the science behind this conclusion is so uncertain as to render it unreliable and therefore to be ignored.   

This is all much easier to say than that the probability of 'x' being bad is y percent. 

The real debate should be around the quantification of y%, yet this often seems to be shied away from.  It's strange because this is surely exactly the figure that those natural experiments produce. Dealing with uncertainty is a fact of life.  

For example, 

  • The oil industry (and doubtless many other industries) deals with uncertainty all the time, makes best efforts to quantify it and then makes huge investment decisions on the basis of it.  At its simplest, an oil company may say, there is a 10% chance of finding a billion barrel oil field at this spot, so let's go ahead and drill a $20m exploration hole there. If the probability were only 5% we wouldn't bother.  

Decisions consistently made on the basis of best assessments of uncertainty will over time prove on balance to be wise ones.  

  • Civil law, though not criminal law, is also predicated on the balance of probabilities to secure a conviction.  O J Simpson famously got away with murder” in his criminal trial where the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt over the slaughter of his wife and friend.  Yet he was later obliged to pay heavy damages in a civil hearing for the same offence because the jury concluded that he “probably” committed the murders.  

So if the available evidence says that there is, say, a 75% chance that tobacco causes cancer or that carbon dioxide causes climate change, there is a much stronger case to act than if that percentage is 25%. 

But rarely do you come across two antagonists arguing about the degree of uncertainty over a contentious issue and their reasoning behind it.  It's far easier to say I'm right and you're wrong.  

Incidentally, not all energy companies agree with the API's rejectionist position on climate change and Kyoto. Though this rejection is championed by Esso, Shell for one has voluntarily been pursuing Kyoto targets within its own global operations for the past seven or eight years. Whether this is because Shell believes in the science is another matter, but it certainly values the public relations kudos that observance of Kyoto brings.  

My own view, which I expressed in the very first issue of this blog three years ago, is that, regardless of whether CO2 does cause climate change, Kyoto would incur enormous costs on the global economy ($100 bn per year) for absolutely marginal improvements in 100 years time (everyone agrees on this bit of science, including Greenpeace etc). Therefore the money, if it is to be spent at all, would be far better devoted to providing, say, clean water and sanitation to the world's poor today (cost $200 bn according to the UN), rather than asking them to wait a century to see but a improvement in their lives for the money.  

Kyoto is nothing more than feel-good tokenism.  What is needed in its place is a solution that does not cripple the world's growth as this will hurt the poor most of all. 

For who is going to suffer from climate change anyway?  Certainly not the rich world because it will always be able to afford mitigating measures.  So that leaves the poor world.  Someone should ask them what they want climate change money spent on.  (How about regime change?).  

One thing that is only 1% uncertain is that those countries which have ratified Kyoto will certainly not observe its strictures.  

So I won't say that Kyoto is bad; only ask whether anybody wants to debate the 1%?

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Spy Extraordinaire

It is often said that there were no more successful, more dramatically impressive spies than a group of Englishmen who all met at Trinity College, Cambridge University in the 1930s. To one degree or another, they were active for the Soviet Union for over thirty years; one of them for fifty. They were the most efficient espionage agents against American and British interests of any collection of spies in the Twentieth Century. 

Three of them were exposed during their lifetimes, so they fled to the Soviet Empire as honoured guests to serve out their days, and were of course meantime hounded and vilified by the British authorities and media.  The fourth was outed by Margaret Thatcher not long before he died in 1983, at home in England, curiously unprosecuted, and after a distinguished career as the Queen's most trusted art historian.  All but one were gay.  

Outwardly pillars of British society with distinguished careers, all of them worked at some time for MI5 or MI6 whilst spying for the Soviets.  They were of course Kim Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt.  Their fellow-Marxist friend Baron Victor Rothschild who also worked in MI5 is suspected to have been a fifth.  All are now thankfully dead.  

But there was another British spy who faithfully served the Evil Empire undetected for over forty years until retirement, who was quite distinct from and unknown to the Cambridge four/five, far more humble, yet in some ways more formidable than any of them.   

Last month Melita Norwood, a gardening, jam-making great-grandmother, died peacefully and unrepentant in a nursing home, at the ripe old age of 93.  

From 1937 until she retired in 1977, she worked in various secretarial capacities for British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, whilst simultaneous a spy.  This Association was in fact a front company for researching and developing Britain's nuclear arsenal.  Norwood's crowning success was to photograph countless secret documents, which as a secretary she either had personally typed or could access, and pass them to the Soviets' KGB and GRU.  These enabled the USSR to develop its own atomic bomb years ahead of what its scientists could have otherwise achieved.  

It was to be over two decades after her retirement before she was finally unmasked, via a KGB defector, in 1999.  

The BBC's David Rose then simply looked her up in the phone book, made an appointment, went to see her and was stunned when she confessed her treachery quite openly.  You can listen to his fascinating account here or read this comprehensive obituary.   

Extraordinarily, however, despite the damage she undoubtedly did to Britain's national interest and - if the results of the Cambridge spies' activities are anything to go on - the deaths she probably caused, the British declined to prosecute or even interview her.  They merely said that at 84 she was too old.  

I find this scandalous.  Why should age or health release anyone from the consequences of his/her criminal behaviour?  If anything, the penalty for elderly criminals who have escaped justice for decades should be even greater, because imprisonment will be taking the worst years of their lives instead of their best.  

  • Hitler's aide Rudolf Hess was kept in jail for war crimes, mostly in solitary confinement, from 1941 for 46 years until his death aged 93.  

  • Great train robber and escapee Ronnie Biggs is currently in prison, aged 76, dumb, semi-gaga, crippled and frail from a stroke. 

  • America last month sentenced Edgar Ray Killen, a Baptist minister aged 80 and in a wheelchair, to no less than sixty years in jail for three Ku Klux Klan killings he carried out back in 1964.  

One can only conclude that the British establishment feared - and fear - that a prosecution of Norwood would have brought to the open the utter incompetence of Britain's military intelligence organization, then and now, which would be embarrassing.  That Norwood, truly a spy extraordinaire, was able to operate freely for all those decades and remain undetected for a further two, is testament to this MI ineptitude.  

It is nevertheless a disgrace that she was allowed - like Blunt, incidentally - to live  her remaining years, and to die, outside the prison walls that were her due and not even in a miserable exile.  Burgess, MacLean and Philby should be so lucky.  

Good riddance to all five of them.  

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Kiddies' Brain Teaser

I am told that 80% of Kindergarten kids solved this riddle, but only 5% of Stanford University graduates figured it out.  

Can you answer the following question?

  1. The word has seven letters...

  2. Preceded God...

  3. Greater than God...

  4. More Evil than the devil...

  5. All poor people have it...

  6. Wealthy people need it...

  7. If you eat it, you will die.

Can you work it out? Try hard before looking up the answer 

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Quotes of Week 103

Quote: “This ... terrorist attack ... was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.” 

London Mayor Ken Livingstone 
reacts to the four co-ordinated terrorist bombings 
in London on 7th July 

_____________________

Quote: “Let us make these unacceptable trade subsidies history; let us make waste in the CAP history; let us make developed country protectionism history.

British chancellor Gordon Brown 
addressing an Edinburgh rally of 200,000 people 
before the Live-8 concerts

He is commendably determined to fight for the reform of trade barriers 
that prevent African farmers from competing in the global market.

Quote: “I admire Geldof for putting this on the agenda, but the G8 are the cause of these problems of poverty [in Africa]. They are responsible. All their solutions are loaded with strings, such as the privatisation of services.

Nicolas Van Labeke, a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, 
at a pre-G8 protest in Edinburgh,
lets African tyrants off the hook 
for the poverty they have wreaked on their own people 
ever since the end of colonisation

Why does the left love tyranny so much more than democracy?

Quote: “Backstage, I got to meet my most favourite comedian in the world, Ricky Gervais. I worship him and I told him I would sweep his floor for him. 

He said, ‘Who are you?

Madonna, at the Live-8 concert in London

_____________________

Quote: You can put your trust in France, you can trust the French, you can trust us.” 

French President Jacques Chirac, 
addresses the International Olympic Committee,
as part of Paris's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games 

Was George Bush listening?  Believing?  Trusting?

(Mr Chirac did not dare repeat this quote at the G8 summit)

_____________________

Quote: I distinctly remember the troops, the bands playing and so on. Collins arrived a little late in a taxi. He was approached by a very officious British civil servant [Viscount Fitzalan, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland] in morning dress and with a watch chain in his breast pocket.  He said to Collins, Mr Collins, you are seven minutes late.  Collins used some west Cork expression first and then remarked that you people are here 700 years, and what blooming difference will seven minutes make now that you are leaving.

Col Sen Clancy from Co Clare recalls, on his 104th birthday, 
how he witnessed the day in 1922 that power was handed over 
by the British to the Irish under Michael Collins 
(who was ambushed and killed a few months later)

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ISSUE #102 - 3rd July 2005 [174+116=290]

Aid for Africa's Poor, Please, Not its Tyrants

Whether you like them or not (I don't), you have to admire the energy and zeal of Bob Geldof and Bono in promoting the Live-8 marches and concerts while browbeating Western politicians to forgive debt and up their aid budgets, all to raise funds for the penury stricken millions of Africa.  And of course who can gainsay that slogan, Make Poverty History, or that the continent's poor need all the help they can get?  Even the churches are getting in on the act, writing to newspapers, marching to Edinburgh, attending rock concerts.  

But, frankly, raising money is the easy part by far.  When it comes to converting the money into something that will actually help the poor, both now and in the long term, we are in a totally different ball game, one where those rockstars and Western politicians are fearful - or culpably ignorant - to tread.  

If you doubt this, just consider the large-scale experiment that was conducted twenty years ago for famine relief in Ethiopia.  Simultaneous Live Aid concerts in London, Philadelphia, Sydney and Moscow, also transmitted to 1 billion viewers, were a massive fund-raising success.  They raised 150 million - largely under the rubric of the Bob Geldof school of economics, which the Economist summarises as Give us your f**king money”. Surely this was enough, if anything was, to turn Ethiopia around and save its people.  

Immediate starvation was indeed averted for most of the unfortunates, but here is a comparison I made in early 2004 for a post entitled “Multiple Mass Killers”, the two leaders of Ethiopia then and now being exemplars of this awful epithet.   

Ethiopia, Then and Now

When

1983 2003

Dictator in Charge

Mengistu Haile Mariam Meles Zenawi

Years in power

17 10 so far (today 12)

Political Inspiration

Marxist Marxist (though the BBC today calls it ethnic federalism)

Control of land

Entirely by Govt Entirely by Govt

Foreigners banned from

All business enterprises All business enterprises (though a little bit of loosening lately)

Stock market

None None

War waged

Civil Against Eritrea

 

   

Average annual income

$190 $108

Food production per head

450 kg 140 kg

Population

34m Doubled, to 68m in 20 yrs; now 73m

Population growth

  2.5% pa 2.7% pa; now 2.4%

Top soil lost

  2.7% pa

Number hit by drought

6m 14m

Number fed by outside world

7m 14m

In other words, Ethiopians, though still absorbing vast quantities of aid money just to keep them alive, are almost twice as poor and one third as productive as they were in the Live Aid days of 1985 and still have no prospect of improvement.  Live Aid did absolutely nothing to improve the long-term well-being of the poor of Ethiopia.  

The reason is simple.  So long as Ethiopia remains a tyranny with no progress towards democracy, it will never be able to stand on its own economic legs.  No amount of Live Aids or 8s can save it.  

The Daily Telegraph agrees that Ethiopia has in no permanent way benefited from Live Aid, but makes the shameful observation that many in the West regard the thug Meles Zenawi as a visionary African leader and a democratic reformer”.  Such balderdash.  

The only long-term solution to the woes of ordinary Africans is democracy.  With it will come the improvements in governance and reductions in corruption, the need for which are at least being now recognized by Western governments and rock stars.  (Incidentally, I made this point in RTE's Question & Answers TV programme on 20 June when the panel debated Why does it take rock stars to raise poverty issues?  Masochists can tune in to the video clip - Minute 6:20-7:08.)  

But here comes the hard part.  If democracy is the solution, how do you introduce it to a tyranny which has absolutely no interest or incentive, since for the incumbent and his cronies it means certain loss of power and possibly worse (think Ceauşescu)?  The despot will not leave unless he is compelled to and there are only two ways to do this.  

  1. Through an internal uprising which interested outsiders can help finance and foment.

  2. Through external force 

    • Iraq is the notorious example, but there are other simpler ones 
      such as Sierra Leone and Kosovo where armed intervention 
      put a stop to mayhem and tyranny and provided a platform 
      for democracy.

Internal uprising is of course the less (or not) violent and thus the more desirable route to get rid of the tyrants, but carries no guarantee it will work or be peaceful or even happen.  Thousands died when ordinary Chinese citizens tried it in Tiananmen Square, and we've all been waiting a long time to see it happen in Iran, while a North Korean insurgency is not even on the horizon.  

External force on the other hand has a high probability of success, but it guarantees bloodshed and carries all kinds of questions over legality as well as distasteful overtones of an imperialist/colonialist past.  It also needs to be followed up with determined nation-building.  

Yet until the well-meaning fund raisers and politicians are prepared to at least debate real solutions to Africa's economic death-spiral, rather than instant band-aids and platitudes, the money they send is as likely to do long-term harm as good.  

Perhaps the UK's senior Catholic, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, was closer to the truth than he intended when he declared approvingly that the Live-8 concerts were probably the greatest awakening since the movement to end slavery in the 18th century.  For he should recall that an end to slaving was achieved only when the Royal Navy loaded its guns and opened fire on the slave traders.  Does he mean that Live-8's awakening” should include today's armed forces likewise priming their weapons and attacking the tyrants who are causing the poverty?  Though this might prove to be an excellent solution, I rather think that is not what he meant.  The pity is that he won't even address force as a point to consider.  

Because a proper resolution to African poverty through tyrant-removal followed by the introduction of democracy is so difficult and morally hazardous, no prominent person, rocker, politician or cleric wants even to mention the subject.  

But until they do, not a penny of aid money should be channeled through or to any non-democratic government or other official body, and that includes state-run schools and hospitals, which are anyway dire.  It also includes that seductive trojan-horse debt-relief, which is so much in vogue at the moment - because it will free up debt repayment money not from the people but from their tyrannical illegitimate governments.  And it also of course includes Ethiopia under Zenawi's Marxist dictatorship.  

For the fate of any extra money heading the way of non-democracies is well known; it is a heavily-trod path.  The cash will either be raided en route by the tyrant, or else free up other government money for him to steal.  He will then 

  • squirrel it away in Switzerland 

  • or spend it on more guns 

  • or distribute it amongst his loyal supporters 

  • or any combination of the above. 

The poor meanwhile will remain poor.  

An exception should be made only in the unlikely case that the tyrant is willing to trade aid for full transition to democracy. Even then, it should be dispensed only in strict proportion to democratisation: 5% of verified progress towards democracy to be rewarded with 5% of a specified aid package, and so on.    

Failing this, aid money should be directed solely to NGOs and charities who are able to render assistance directly to those who need it, bypassing all government functionaries.  As well as providing immediate relief, many of them are also in a position to support African enterprises that build for the future, such as the thousands of private schools that anyway provide superior education at lower cost in the slums of major cities.  

Personally, therefore, I will not be giving a cent to Live-8, and would urge others not to.  Instead I will donate to selected charities such as GOAL which have a proven record for exclusively helping the poor and not propping up their tyrant overlords nor engaging in wealth-destroying anti-Capitalist rhetoric.  

But I wasn't able to resist watching part of the concerts on TV.  And what a wonderful and clever logo Live-8 came up with: Africa connected by the neck of the guitar, intertwined with the 8, to a headstock shaped in a vestigial map of Britain.  

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Topping Up Ireland's Foreign Aid to 0.7%

Whilst we're on the subject of aid, the UN as a strategy to help reach its Millenium Development Goals, has secured the commitment of all OECD countries to assign 0.7% of their gross income as foreign aid to less fortunate countries.  Only Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are actually doing so.  

Five years ago, Ireland - world-renowned for its massive army of, er, just 10,000 - was for some reason mad keen to get one of the rotating seats on the UN Security Council.  So the Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern promised the UN General Assembly that Ireland would crank up its aid to 0.7% of GNP by 2007.  It duly won its seat, elected by grateful if deluded third-world members, and served its two-year 2001-2 term.  

But now that that's well over and 2007 is looming threateningly, Bertie has predictably slipped the 0.7% promise to 2015.  Equally predictably, there is outrage at home for this broken promise, with the usual left-wing opposition, charities and churches doing the cheer-leading.  

So here's a suggestion.  

According to figures derived from the OECD, Ireland spent the equivalent of $586m on foreign aid in 2004, equivalent to 0.39% of GNP.  That makes it 

  • 9th out of 17 rich countries in terms of %GNP (Norway is top, Italy is bottom) and 

  • 19th out of 22 in terms of actual disbursement (USA is top, New Zealand bottom)

Ireland's GNP was €117.7 billion in 2004, so the shortfall to go from 0.39% to 0.7% works out at €459m.  Divide this by the adult population of 3.18m and you get €144

You can see where this is going.  I would suggest that each of us who feels strongly about the shortfall simply sends an annual cheque to Bertie for a mere €300 (thus allowing for around 50% of conscientious objectors), requesting that he add it to his foreign aid budget.  

Oh?  We only want 0.7% of GDP to be sent to foreign countries if it doesn't hurt us personally?  

Forget it then.

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Abraham's Scope for Incitement to Hatred

Britain's bill to make illegal the incitement of religious hatred passed its second reading in the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago. It has now gone for further review by committee, thence to the House of Lords. 

It is built on an absurd concept, for it will enable the law to punish one person for ridiculing or insulting the (voluntarily held) religious beliefs of another person, or for encouraging others to disparage such beliefs.  You will just have to show that, regardless of intent, someone along the way has been incited to religious hatred.  Not violence, just hatred.  And the penalty can be seven years in the slammer.  

In other circumstances, promoting one faith over another, which inevitably casts the other religion in a very negative light, is called proselytising or preaching or spreading the word or acting as a missionary.  It should not be confused with ridiculing people's race over which, unlike religious belief, they have no choice or control.  

Nevertheless, the legislation has potential to create a lot of expensive fun for high-paid lawyers, especially among over-sensitive adherents of the three mighty Abrahamic faiths.  The scope is vast.  

Consider.  

Judaism

The Russian State Prosecutor in Russia is investigating whether a translation into Russian of some Jewish religious legal texts constitutes an incitement to national and religious hatred.  (Interestingly, it's only the Russian language version that's under attack, not the original.)  

These texts forbid, under pain of death, non-Jews from studying the Torah or observing the Sabbath.  It also forbids the baby of a non-Jewish woman to be delivered on the Sabbath. 

In another document, a learned 20th century Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook writes that the difference between the Israelite soul ... and the souls of all non-Jews, no matter what their level, is bigger and deeper than the difference between the human soul and the animal soul.  This makes Christians and Muslims the same as pigs. 

So as an Islamic Christian, I am a porker who's not allowed to rest on Sundays, especially if I'm planning to deliver a few Gentile babies, which is what I normally do on my day off.  

I am so incited by this, I can just feel the religious hatred bubbling up within me.  

Christianity

St Paul is a great source of religious hatred incitement.  

First of all, he bluntly tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians (2:14-15) that, “the Jews … killed … the Lord Jesus”.  He was wrong of course (it was the Romans) but it's enough to incite the Jew inside me to religious hatred.  

He goes on to tell you in his letter to the Romans (16:17) to shun those who disagree with your religious views.  But if anyone dares shun me for my religious beliefs I will definitely be highly incited. 

Then he tells the Corinithians (2:15) that, in effect, Christians can judge everything and everybody, but no non-Christian can judge them, while the Philippians (2:10-11) are instructed that everyone has got to worship Jesus, whether they want to or not.  So as a faithful Judaic Muslim, I feel severely incited indeed.   

Islam

The Koran regularly tells Jews they're pigs (as the Jews tell the Muslims), and only three years ago Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, called them the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs.”  So here I am again, a freshly incited porcine primate.  

The Koran also says that we disbelieving Christian Jews are not to trusted (3:73), are cursed by Allah (2:88-90), face a shameful doom and are the rightful owners of Hell (5:10).  

And of course we must be slain wherever we are found (2:191), which really racks up my incitement-meter because I don't enjoy being slain.  

No wonder, therefore, that if you're a Muslim you are admonished not to take as friends those Jew and Christian perennial losers (5:53), for otherwise Allah will consider you to be one of them (5:51).  How inciteful is that?

_________________

In conclusion, I do hope I've been an equal opportunity inciter as far as religious hatred among the Abrahamists is concerned; I hate to be prejudiced.  That way, everyone's lawyer can make money off me in similar measure.  

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How Slippery Girls Do the Conger

I love offshore game-fishing in tropical climes; there is nothing better than looking for fish from a comfortable boat sailing on a crystal blue sea, out of sight of land, under a scorching sun with a cold beer beside you.  

There's not much of that here in Ireland unfortunately, but I occasionally take the opportunity to fish off the coast of West County Cork during the summer.  Trolling hooks along the surface behind the boat, the technique for catching monsters such as blue marlin, is not very productive in this area, but bottom-fishing can be.  In particular, with the right technique and skill, there are some very large conger eels to be caught, up to 50 kilos in some cases, with slippery lithe bodies and great maws and teeth to match.   

The European conger eel is a strange creature.  When it roams the open sea in very deep water it is a pure white, seemingly a kind of reverse sun-tan.  But it is more commonly found in shallower waters (say 30-50 metres), where it hides among rocks and wrecks emerging only to hunt passing prey.  In this habitat, it sports a more attractive mottled greeny-brown colour, though it is identical in species to the white one.  

It is a big, strong, wily fish, with few if any predators, which is why it grows to be so large.  

But the really curious aspect is that, in Irish and other northern European waters, every one of them ever caught and checked is a female.  No male has ever been identified.  The nearest males can be found swanning about in the balmy Atlantic waters surrounding Madeira Island nearly 3,000 km to the south, off the coast of Morocco on the same latitude as Casablanca.  

It seems, therefore, that when the Irish ladies get randy and broody, they are obliged to make their own way to Madeira for a debauched fling with the guys, a bit like a hen night.  This is followed by gestation and eventual emergence of the youngsters.  Then, when the girls are big enough, they leave their brothers behind and all swim back with their mammies to Ireland.  

Back home, they either stroll around the wide deep ocean developing a negative sun-tan, or else find convenient rocks to set up their spinsterish homes and protect their colourful good looks.  And there they remain, dining splendidly on passing livestock, until it's their own turn to have a few nights out with the boys in Madeira. 

Except of course for the very few that are foolish enough to mistake my heavily baited hook for lunch.   

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Quotes of Week 102

Quote: “It is said that the failure to reach a deal has deepened Europe's crisis; that Europe's credibility demanded a deal. No. Europe's credibility demands the right deal. Not the usual cobbled together compromise in the early hours of the morning but a deal which recognizes the nature of the crisis. The crisis is not about the failure of Europe's leaders to reach agreement with each other. The crisis is about the failure of Europe's leaders to reach agreement with the people of Europe about the issues that concern them.”

Tony Blair reports to Parliament on June's 
acrimonious, name-callling European summit

____________________________

Quote: Politics is not mathematics” 

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shi'ite prime minister of Iraq, 
making the point that it is impossible to predict 
how long it will take to defeat his country's Sunni insurgency

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld 
had said it could take twelve years

____________________________

Quote: “Give us your f**king money

The Bob Geldof philosophy of economics, 
according to The Economist magazine

____________________________

Quote: “We publish classics. I'm afraid this one does not make it. 

Alessandro Gallenzi of the publisher Hesperus Press 
on his decision not to publish 
Saddam Hussein's new novel, Get Out Of Here, Curse You
written before the American invasion

____________________________

Quote: “Yeah, I think the aspect that upset me, sure he [Tana Umaga, the New Zealand captain] was involved in it, but also there's unwritten rules as well. If somebody gets stretchered off, particularly in the first minute of the game, the captain of the opposition should come over, particularly when it's the opposition captain that's been injured or someone in your own position. You just expect someone to come over, you don't even have to say anything, just give an acknowledgement.

That certainly did disappointment me, because I felt that we had a good rapport. But as well, with him not coming over, I felt there was an element of guilt in it. I thought that spoke volumes
.”  

Brian O'Driscoll, British & Irish Lions captain, 
over Umaga's deliberate spear-tackle assault 
that took him out of the test series one minute after it began

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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

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

  • the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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

More details on my blog here.

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

  • part of a death march to Thailand,

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

  • regularly beaten and tortured,

  • racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

  • a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

  • Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

  • Why does asparagus come from Peru?

  • Why are pandas so useless?

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

  • Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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

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

  • Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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

+++++

Other books here

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