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#104 - 24th July 2005
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
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
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
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
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
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!
note : King Fahd died on 1st August
and was succeeded by his octogenarian half-brother Abdullah.
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
Saudi is no ally of the US or of the West.
protect each other, like for instance America, Britain and
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
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
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).
West - and ordinary Muslims - are paying the price of Roosevelt's folly
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.
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
would be in keeping with his otherwise honourable
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.
to List of Contents
White Faces in an Arctic Convoy
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
in 2003, I published the first edition on my website here, where
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.
particularly poignant tale concerns his sole experience sailing with one of
many Allied convoys that brought vital supplies to northern Russia.
some two years, Gerry served as a marine engineer
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 ‘Tirpitz’
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
after the great man.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
the Empress of Australia reached its destination unscathed, as did the
Scythia, and they were able to discharge their passengers
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, née 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 Tromsø
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 faces” who fought and died for the freedom that today's
terrorists would deny to all but themselves.
to List of Contents
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
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
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
We seem to be back to sniggering behind the bicycle
to List of Contents
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
describes 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
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.
can access the stories here.
to List of Contents
“"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
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.”
Omar Bakri Mohammed,
sometimes known as “the Tottenham
who lives in London on British
claiming asylum from his
because it has convicted him of
Words fail me.
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
His best route to get rid of the hated
is thus to hasten the creation of a constitutional democratic state
you tell us why the violence is continuing? ... Can you tell us why the
government is supporting the militias? ... Why should Americans believe
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
“I said action, not
Condoleeza Rice, having secured an
apology for Mitchell's treatment,
relays what she told el-Bashir concerning the ongoing crimes in Sudan
“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
who wants the democratically elected Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
removed at the barrel of a gun from the presidency of the
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
Democracy is such a pain when you don't
get what you want.
to Junta, Yes to Democracy”
Government banner strung across a major
bridge in Manila
to List of Contents
the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
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#103 - 17th July 2005
Thought I'd mention that on 14th July the Tallrite
reached its Third Blogiversary,
which keeps it at just two years
But it's not so special since I've so recently
congratulated myself on my Centenary
Happy Third Blogiversay also to Gavin's
Blog, which seems to be a twin
Wherever Ye Catch Them”
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.”
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,
them wherever you find them”
the idolaters wherever you find them”
you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks”
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)
war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites. Be harsh with them”
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
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
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
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
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
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-à-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.
to List of Contents
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 ...
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
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
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
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
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.
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 débâcle, 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
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
But on the inside, he's
to List of Contents
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
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
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,
the other side retorts that the science behind this
conclusion is so uncertain as to render it unreliable and therefore to
This is all much easier to say than that the probability of 'x' being bad is
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
experiments produce. Dealing
with uncertainty is a fact of life.
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
Decisions consistently made on the basis of best
assessments of uncertainty will over time prove on balance to be wise
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
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
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
So I won't say that Kyoto is bad; only ask whether anybody
wants to debate the 1%?
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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
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
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
It was to be over two decades after her retirement before
she was finally unmasked, via a KGB defector, in 1999.
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
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
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
Can you answer the following question?
The word has seven letters...
Greater than God...
More Evil than the devil...
All poor people have it...
Wealthy people need it...
If you eat it, you will die.
Can you work it out? Try hard before looking up the answer.
to List of Contents
Quotes of Week
... 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
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
chancellor Gordon Brown
addressing an Edinburgh rally of 200,000 people
before the Live-8 concerts
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
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?
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.
‘Who are you?’
at the Live-8 concert in London
You can put your trust in France, you can trust the French, you can trust us.
President Jacques Chirac,
addresses the International Olympic Committee,
as part of Paris's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games
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 Seán Clancy from Co
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
(who was ambushed and killed a few months later)
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#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
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,
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 1½ 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
us your f**king money. Surely this was enough, if anything
was, to turn Ethiopia around and save its people.
starvation was indeed averted for most of the unfortunates, but here is a
comparison I made in early 2004 for a post entitled Multiple
the two leaders of Ethiopia then and now being exemplars of this awful
Ethiopia, Then and Now
Years in power
(though the BBC today calls it ethnic
Control of land
(though a little bit of loosening lately)
Average annual income
Food production per head
in 20 yrs; now 73m
; now 2.4%
Top soil lost
Number hit by drought
Number fed by outside world
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
visionary African leader and a democratic reformer.
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.
Through an internal uprising
which interested outsiders can help finance and foment.
Through external force
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
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
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
or spend it on more guns
or distribute it amongst his loyal
or any combination of the above.
The poor meanwhile will remain
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
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
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
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.
to List of Contents
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
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
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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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
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.
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
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
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.
St Paul is a great source of religious hatred
First of all, he bluntly tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians (2:14-15) that, the Jews
the Lord Jesus. He was wrong
of course (it was the Romans) but it's enough to incite the Jew inside me to
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.
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,
the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and
So here I am again, a freshly incited porcine primate.
Koran also says that we disbelieving Christian Jews are not to trusted (3:73), are cursed by
(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
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.
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
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
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
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
“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
acrimonious, name-callling European summit
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
us your f**king money
Bob Geldof philosophy of economics,
according to The Economist magazine
Quote: We publish classics. I'm afraid this one does not make
Alessandro Gallenzi of the publisher Hesperus Press
on his decision not to publish
Saddam Hussein's new novel, “Get Out Of Here, Curse
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
Brian O'Driscoll, British & Irish
over Umaga's deliberate spear-tackle assault
that took him out of the test series one minute after it began
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the Archive and Blogroll at top left and right, for your convenience
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to Tallrite Blog
Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
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the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics