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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

This archive, organized into months, contains all issues published in 
the Tallrite Blog (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm) since inception on 14th July 2002

You can write to blog-at-tallrite-dot-com

March 2004
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ISSUE #69 -7th March 2004

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ISSUE #70 - 14th March 2004

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ISSUE #71 - 21st March 2004

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ISSUE #72 - 28th March 2004

ISSUE #72 - 28th March 2004 [127]

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Good Riddance Sheikh Yassin

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Combating Terrorism, EU Style

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Bloody Handshakes

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Rich World Attitudes to Rich World Poverty

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Ireland Leads on Smoking

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George Bush the Comedian

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Quotes of the Week

Good Riddance Sheikh Yassin

The vaporisation in Gaza by three helicopter-borne missiles of the wheelchair-bound Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder, spiritual leader and commander of the radical Islamic group Hamas, came as no surprise.  I wrote in January that he 

gave his personal blessing to Reem [al-Rayashi's suicide] attack [at the Erez border crossing] for which Israel will assassinate him”.  

But I was simply going on the advice helpfully provided by Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim  : 

"Sheikh Yassin is marked for death, and he should hide himself deep underground where he won't know the difference between day and night."

The public outcry and condemnations that followed implementation of this threat were larded with hypocrisy, especially in the case of Western leaders such as 

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British Home Secretary Jack Straw (we condemn [the killing]; it is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives”), 

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EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (“very, very bad news for the peace process”) and 

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French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, “France condemns the action against Sheikh Yassin ... such acts can only fuel the cycle of violence”.

For Israel have carried out many other targeted killings, with little outcry.  And certainly any outcry against attacks on Israeli citizens by Palestinian militants has been muted by comparison.  

America has had a go at such assassinations too, which is one reason it had to veto a condemnatory UN resolution.  During the Iraq war It twice bombed buildings believing Saddam Hussein to be inside.  And before that, in 2002, it used a remote-control aircraft in Yemen to track and bomb a car blowing up the six Al-Qaeda suspects inside.  

Compared to other methods of stopping a terrorist, this pinpoint technique has a certain humanitarian ring to it, for it kills only the target and perhaps a few others nearby.  The alternative is to carpet-bomb the area or else try to arrest the suspect and put him on trial.  But an arrest can entail sending in an armed squad and inviting a firefight that can leave a lot of people dead on both sides.  Indeed, you could argue that America launched a war that killed over 5,000 innocent Iraqi civilians partly in an attempt to apprehend Saddam.  

In 1960, Israel was able to kidnap the Nazi Adolf Eichman in Argentina, ship him back to Israel where they tried, convicted and executed him.  But that was in a pre-terrorist age and Eichman was not surrounded by armed loyalists, so no bloodshed was involved in apprehending him.  Try that in Gaza !  

Some - including Hamas - argue that the Sheikh's assassination will increase the violence against Israel.  These are thin words.  Israel has been under sustained attack ever since Yasser Arafat torpedoed Bill Clinton's Camp David peace negotiations with Ehud Barak.  Quite simply, it can't get worse.  Hamas, Fatah, Al Aksa etc are already doing everything bad they can.  (And by the way, steadily regressing the welfare and cause of the Palestinian people, about whom they care so little.)

So why the big outcry over Yassin, who blessed and dispatched countless youths to their homicidal suicides and as such was arguably the most evil of all the terrorists killed in recent times ?  Why do some people think that only front line terrorists should be assassinated, that it is unfair to go after commanders ?

Had DNA evidence shown that the occupant of the wheelchair was none other than (the late) Osama bin Laden, the cheers would have rung to the  rooftops.  Just as they would had Hitler or Mussolini or Hirohito been assassinated.  

Yet Yassin was Israel's Osama, the prime orchestrator of dozens of vile suicide attacks on innocent civilians -  men, women and children, Israeli and Palestinian, Jew, Muslim and Christian.  How can the world think that assassinating him is worse than assassinating other terrorists responsible for only a handful of murders ?   

I am left to conclude the reason for the outcry is simply that he was a leader.   Leaderlessness makes people nervous, and it especially frightens other leaders.  They prefer it when the footsoldiers take all the hits.  

Anyway, good riddance Sheikh Yassin.  

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Combating Terrorism, EU Style

In contrast to Israel's direct action, the EU last week held an anti-terrorism summit in the wake of the Madrid Massacre, and published an eighteen-page “Declaration on Combating Terrorism” (127 kb PDF file).  Opening with, There will be neither weakness nor compromise of any kind when dealing with terrorists”, the European Council then calls for the development of a long-term strategy to address all the factors which contribute to terrorism.  It takes the remaining sixteen pages to propose a number of good measures to continue the fight against the terrorism, which can be boiled down to this shopping list.  

Member-states are called on to - 

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allocate funds to compensate and support terrorist victims

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implement by June existing anti-terrorism decisions;

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reinforce judicial and law-enforcement co-operation, including 
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information exchange, 

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optimum use of Europol and Eurojust, and 

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systematic collaboration between police, security and intelligence services;

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increase security in the area of firearms, explosives, bomb-making equipment and terrorist-friendly technologies; 

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continue with strong preventive action against the sources and flows of terrorist financing;

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increase the exchange of personal information (DNA, fingerprints and visa data) for the purpose of combating terrorism; 

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incorporate biometric features into passports and visas; 

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improve the regulation and transparency of charities and alternative remittance systems, which may be used by terrorists; 

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enhance co-operation with third countries through technical assistance and political dialogue;

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co-operate with UN measures

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beef up the capability to deal with the consequences of terrorist attack;

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provide full support should any member be attacked; 

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create the new position of Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator (to be filled by Dutchman Gijs de Vries).  

This is an admirable list except for the glaring omission of the most important anti-terrorism activity of all.  

For there is not a word to say that the terrorists will be ruthlessly pursued to their lairs to be captured or killed. The word “military” is mentioned but once and that's on page 18. 

Despite 201 innocents slaughtered by Al Qaeda in Madrid plus 1,500 maimed and injured, not to mention 9/11, the EU still doesn’t seem to realise we're in a war situation not a crime scene.

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Bloody Handshakes

2004-03-26T001714Z_01_NOOTR_RTRJONP_2_India-149150-4-pic0.jpg (30443 bytes)Some observers shook their heads, some held their noses, some averted their gaze, as Tony Blair extended his delicate finger tips to shake those of Moammar Qaddafi, bad despot turned good despot of Libya.  

When a multi-murdering tyrant or terrorist decides to go straight, provided he is important enough, he gets welcomed back into the human race, and no-one is so crass as to suggest he should be punished for his erstwhile crimes.  

Thus, shaking a hand stained with the blood of innocent victims becomes part of the job description for Western leaders.  But it generally makes them pretty uncomfortable, especially when cameras are around.  Bill Clinton had to do it a few times.  

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When he brokered the Oslo accords on the White House lawn in 1993 between Yasser Arafat and Israel's Yitzhak Rabin, which led to both the Nobel Peace prize and two years later Rabin's assassination.  

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Again when he hosted the disastrous Camp David talks in 2000 that Yasser Arafat peremptorily walked out of in order to launch the current intifada.  

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When he visited Northern Ireland in 1995 as the Belfast Agreement was nearing completion, and sneaked a hurried (though thoroughly orchestrated) handshake with Sinn Féin/IRA's Gerry Adams outside a pub, pretending they had met each other only by chance.  

Curiously, no-one had the slightest compunction in shaking Nelson Mandela's hand, and indeed embracing him, when he emerged from 27 years of imprisonment in 1990.  He too had been a terrorist, bombing and killing, which was why he was jailed.  

And of course In February last year, there was Jacques Chirac's infamous glad-handing of Robert Mugabe, dubbed at the time the bloodiest handshake of the year”.  Back then, Mr Chiraq was still trying everything to ensure that his other tyrannical friend Saddam Hussein could continue to kill 30,000 Iraqis per year ad infinitum, and so felt no embarrassment at all at welcoming the saintly (by comparison) Zimbabwean president to Paris.  

Mr Blair's his most noxious handshake, however, took place just the day before he met Mr Qaddafi, when he was greeted - through gritted teeth - by Al Qaeda's newest best friend, that master appeaser José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, new prime minister of Spain.  He it is who had just promised to do Al Qaeda's bidding by withdrawing all Spanish troops from Iraq, berated  Messrs Bush and Blair over Iraq, and declared his intention to embrace fellow appeasers Messrs Chirac and Shroeder.  

Mr Zapatero might not have direct blood on his hands, but that was nevertheless a welcome Mr Blair would certainly have preferred to hide from the cameras.  

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Rich World Attitudes to Rich World Poverty

An interesting new study, Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe : A World of Difference” was recently reported in the (subscription only) Economist.  It attempts to explain differences in attitude towards home-grown poverty as between America and the EU, and to connect this to welfare, charitable donations and racial diversity.  The chart below summarises it.  

Compared to EUropeans, Americans 

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are more racially diverse, 

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spend less on welfare though a lot more on private charity and 

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have an unsympathetic view towards the poor.  

The authors conclude that the poor gain more understanding from their own ilk, but less so from those of different ethnic background.  Thus the less diverse EU pays out more state welfare and has a more generous outlook towards its poor.  

But when it comes to actually putting your own hand into your own pocket (as distinct from allowing the government to put its hand into your pocket through taxation), Americans are twelve times more generous than those tight-fisted EUropeans.  

But the figures also point to the general Statist attitude of EUropeans - namely that the State is responsible for my problems - not I.  This in turn goes some way to explaining differences in GDP per head - $37,500 in the USA vs $30,000 in the EU.  

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Ireland Leads on Smoking

On Monday 29th March, Ireland will become the first country in the world to introduce a ban on smoking in all workplaces, though individual entities (eg California, New York) have already done so.  The science of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, or passive smoking) was discussed extensively on this blog last October and November.  

Ireland's ban is underpinned by an Irish study (PDF, 253 kb) on passive smoking dated December 2002, which showed that environmental tobacco smoke increases by 20-30% the risk to non-smokers of cancer and heart disease.  The objective of the ban is therefore to protect non-smoking workers.  

Its most controversial aspect is that it will include pubs.  The Irish vintners have been up in arms, fearing a mass loss of business if their smoking customers exit in droves in order to drink at home where they can have a cigarette; and so have the cigarette manufacturers fearing a loss of sales.   

Indeed the cigarette industry, which has spent a lot of money lobbying to prevent and delay the ban, has a wider agenda.  Its nightmare scenario is that where Ireland leads, the rest of the EU will follow, then the US then, who knows, the world. 

The main evidence that specifically bar workers are endangered by ETS comes from an authoritative if rather limited  California study,  Bartenders' respiratory health after establishment of smoke-free bars and taverns, published n 1998 based on an assessment of 53 workers before and after a similar smoking ban was imposed in California on the 1st January that year.  It showed that

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the ban reduced ETS exposure at work from 28 hours a week to two (no surprise there); 

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74% of bar workers had respiratory symptoms before the ban, of whom 59% were cured three months after the ban;

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77% had sensory irritation symptoms before the ban, of whom 78% were cured (click on the thumbnail below). 

CaliforniaSmokingBan.gif (12977 bytes)The principal conclusion from these and other measurements was that establishment of smoke-free bars was indeed associated with a rapid improvement of respiratory health (though the study does not go so far as to link this improvement to the key issue of mortality).   

Ireland is at present involved in a similar research experiment, but applying a more rigorous scientific methodology.  A large number of bar workers, both smokers and non-smokers, has been given equipment to measure and record their lung function at various times of the day, during both working hours and on time off.  The purpose of the current phase is to establish a pre-ban baseline.  The tests will continue in the months that follow the ban, with a view to measuring any improvement in lung function. 

By end 2004 or early 2005, the results will be published, which are expected to provide among the world’s first definitive, quantitative answers as to whether banning smoke from pubs has measurably improved the health of bar workers.  Removal of the unpleasant smell and the contamination of clothing will be a bonus.  

Watch this space for the outcome of the research.  

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George Bush the Comedian

George Bush displayed his jokey side last week in a most  unpresidential, self-parodying speech and slide-show at a dinner hosted by the Radio and Television Correspondents Association in Washington.  It had the diners in stitches.  

A couple of years ago when I was here, I read from my book of "Misarticalations. (Laughter.) Fortunately, my verbal phonation and electricution -- (laughter) -- have improved.”   

The John Kerry campaign chose to get upset when he quipped,  

Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere”, 

as a slide flashed up showing the President looking under furniture in the Oval Office.

It's worth reading the whole speech, though unfortunately the accompanying slides have not been published.  It's nice to think there is sometimes a bit of levity in the White House in these grim times.

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : “What happened on the commuter trains in Madrid was an affront not only to the Spanish people, but to all right-thinking people everywhere. 

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Terrorism is not just undemocratic. It is anti-democratic. 

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It is not just inhuman, it is an affront to humanity. 

It runs counter to all the values on which the European Union is founded.” 

President of the EU and Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, 
at the EU terrorism summit 
called in the wake of the Madrid Massacre

Quote ... quote : “It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists. ... Although nothing can justify terrorism, the issues of poverty and injustice, which fuel terrorism, have to be addressed.”  

EU Commission President, Romano Prodi
on 15th March and at the same EU summit,
appeasing and justifying terrorism (as usual)

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SEE THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE

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ISSUE #71 - 21st March 2004 [155]

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Pro-Business Governments Fear 
Pain, Risk and Inconvenience

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70 Virgins or 70 Raisins ?

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Frenchman Fights Terror

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Alternative Dentistry

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A Song for Jonny

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TV Debate on George Bush's Visit to Ireland

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Quote of the Week

Pro-Business Governments Fear 
Pain, Risk and Inconvenience
(PRI)

Governments are good at lecturing business about the merits of being businesslike and competitive (except of course those few businesses - agriculture, aviation, steel, movies etc - they favour with unwarranted subsidies and loopholes).  

Yet those same governments are last in line when it comes to applying business principles to their own affairs if this involves a measure of pain, risk or inconvenience.  PRI is something that every politician PRIfers to avoid at all costs. 

Three current examples.  

1     Electronic Voting with Eyes Closed

In Ireland electronic voting will be introduced later this year.  This is totally laudable because, assuming it works correctly, it will improve the accuracy and speed of producing election results, whilst reducing costs (no need for an army of human counters).  It will also provide means for analysis of voting patterns in excruciating detail.  

Electronic systems in all walks of business are widely accepted worldwide and prove their worth every second.  Each of us, for instance, happily allows banks to manage our finances through utter reliance on computerised systems, even though we don't understand those systems and would have great difficulty detecting all but very obvious mistakes.  

However, as anyone in business will know, when a new system is introduced, it is always run, for a while, in parallel with the old system to ensure it is working fine.  Then the old system is discontinued for all time.  

In Ireland, on the other hand, electronic voting will be introduced for elections to the European parliament in June, but with no parallel run whatsoever, though it would be straightforward to engineer.  

The voting machine would simply need to provide a printout of each vote, which the voter would verify and then put in a conventional ballot box.  The results of the electronic and manual counts would then be compared.  

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If they tally within a certain pre-agreed margin 
of error, the electronic voting system would 
be adopted for the future and paper voting discontinued.  

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If not, the paper vote would decide the 
outcome of the particular election, and 
the machines go back to the manufacturer for repair/reprogramming.  

But this straightforward, confidence-building verification is seemingly too PRIful to implement (for perhaps the machines will fail the test). 

Thus the Government PRIfers that the electorate simply trust that the digital technology will render the correct result, though no-one - no-one - will ever know if this is true.  

The CEO of a business would lose his job for such a cavalier attitude.  

2     Get Paid First, Perform Later

Meanwhile, in UK, Gordon Brown has just delivered his eighth budget.  Both it and the seventh contain a truly egregious flaw from the business point of view.  

Last year, he promised huge, unprecedented increases in funding for schools, hospitals, the police etc.  In exchange, the respective providers were told to improve the efficiency of their services so that the extra money would translate into more quality and quantity.  

Fair enough, except that it's the wrong way round.  

Providers need to earn the right to greater funds by delivering the efficiency gains first.  Otherwise, they'll say thanks for the dosh and carry on as before, or more likely get even flabbier.  And that's what seems to be happening.  Newspapers have been full of advertisements for public service jobs of dubious function, whilst wails of poor service continue barely abated.  

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State schools continue to fail their pupils (hence private schools thrive and universities lower their entrance requirements); 

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Hospital waiting lists are still growing

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Crime remains high and police continue to fail to catch the felons.  

So the extra money gouged from taxpayers is largely going to waste, because insisting that providers first earn it is just too PRIful for Mr Brown.   

This year, Mr Brown has promised yet more money for so-called front-line services (schools, hospitals, police again), but to pay for it has nicked the opposition Tories' idea of cutting 40,000 civil service jobs.  

A fine idea but equally delusory.  Once again, if this were a business, the tough part - cutting the jobs - would have to come first.  Only when the savings were seen to have been delivered, perhaps a year later, would the cash be released for other use.  

The truth is, an old Labourite such as Mr Brown is viscerally incapable of sacking 40,000 union members, especially as a general election draws close.  His pretence to do so his deliberate dishonesty. He will PRIfer that these extra costs will come, as the others before them, from further taxation.  For him, the associated PRI is less.  

3     Harmonise, Don't Cut

Finally, much favoured by Old Europe, there is tax harmonisation, which I've written about before.  Countries like Germany, France, Belgium thoroughly dislike the relatively low corporate taxes of the UK and Ireland (15-20%) because it attracts investment away from them (with their 35-40%).  

When Ryanair and Easyjet pioneered low cost air travel, the state-created behemoths like British Airways, KLM, Aer Lingus, etc responded by slashing their own costs and fares.   

This is normal business behaviour - except for Governments.  They abhor the idea of 

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cutting their costs in order to 

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cut their taxes so that

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they can compete for investment with UK/Ireland.  

Too PRIful.  That's why they demand instead that the UK/Ireland, increase, or harmonise, their taxes.  We are fortunate that the demands are being ignored.  

The Role of Governments

Governments really have only five main roles, if they could only stick to them -  

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to provide security against external attack and internal crime;  

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to provide a legal framework in which life and business can proceed with integrity; 

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to ensure essential infrastructure exists (transport, schools, hospitals etc); 

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to provide a minimum welfare safety net; 

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to get out of the way of citizens and business.  

A sixth could be added : to copy the business practices of businesses.  

"England and Wales have the highest crime rate among the world's leading economies, according to a new report by the United Nations." Daily Telegraph Dec 02

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70 Virgins or 70 Raisins ?

In mediaeval Europe, though aristocrats and warlords held the wealth, it was the Catholic clergy who held sway on knowledge and truth.  For only they were educated enough to read and write, and thus only they were in a position to convey the word of God from the Bible to the peasants, and that word included even scientific knowledge.  Not only was religious debate forbidden, but there was nothing to debate anyway because all knowledge came from the priests and they dealt in certainty.  

Wider education and free thinking were the undoing of them during the Renaissance.  People like Galileo began to challenge concepts such as that the sun and universe revolve around the earth, while others, now able to read, began putting their own interpretations on what the Bible meant.  Similarly, the Renaissance also liberated the human spirit to an unprecedented degree, and eventually paved the way for scientific exploration, the Industrial Revolution and the massive improvement in human welfare that it fostered and that we continue to enjoy today.  

Islam today bears many resemblances to mediaeval Catholicism, in that adherents are not allowed to debate and question what the Koran says : the mullahs and scholars make their interpretations and nobody may argue.  You cannot even pray in your own language - you must use Koranic Arabic even though you don't understand a word you are reciting.  

Let me share one extraordinary example of how ferocious consequences can follow the suppression of Koranic debate.  

Would be suicide-bombers are told repeatedly that they will die as a Shahid (Martyr) and as such receive numerous heavenly rewards, including 70 Dark Eyed Maidens (or Virgins) of Paradise.  

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According to Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli translation service, Palestinian Authority TV has apparently broadcast hundreds of times a music video showing a Shahid arriving in Paradise to be greeted by the Maidens.  

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In a recent TV broadcast, the mother of a Palestinian killed in clashes with Israel, explained her personal acceptance of her son's death as a Shahid, because it was his wish to marry the heavenly Maidens rather than an earthly woman.

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In his valedictory note to his co-terrorists, Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 outrage, wrote, Be happy ... because ... it will be the day, God willing, you spend with the women of paradise. ... Know that the gardens of Paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and the women of paradise are waiting, calling out ‘Come hither, friend of Allah’  They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing”.    

Ishad Manji, in her book “The Trouble with Islam”, points out that the Koranic word for these ladies is “hur”, which appears in the Koran's account of heaven.  But this description actually traces back to a Christian work written in Aramaic three centuries before the Prophet Mohammed was born.  The original may have been inspired or written by God, but the Koranic version would have been translated into Arabic by human hand.  The Arabic word for “virgin”, by the way is “houri”, which is not quite “hur”.  

Research a couple of years ago by Christoph Luxemberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages, has indicated that a more accurate translation for “hur” would in fact be “white raisins”, a delicacy in seventh-century Arabia.  

Maybe this is true, maybe not.  

But because free debate on Koranic interpretations is ruthlessly suppressed (the reason that “Christoph Luxemberg” is in reality a pseudonym), the conventional translation of “hur” as the Maidens remains unchallenged within Islam.  It is widely disseminated and exploited for political and military ends.  

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Yet how many young male suicide-bombers might have stepped back from the brink at the thought that their reward was perhaps a collection of white raisins instead of dark-eyed women ?  

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How many lives would have been saved as a result ?

When it comes to religious matters, today's suppression by Islam of open debate has repercussions that, just as in Mediaeval Catholic times, go far beyond mere intellectual curiosity.  

Late Note (29th March)

I've just read a report in the (subscription-only) Irish Times that illustrates my point.  

At the Hawara checkpoint near Nablus, the Israeli army arrested Hussan Abdu, a would-be Palestinian bomber of just 14, with explosives trapped to his stomach.  The army later said the boy told them he was given 100 shekels (about €20) to carry out the attack and that he had been told the only way he could have sexual relations was if he blew himself up and went to heaven.

The boy's mother, Tamam Abdu, told reporters that this is shocking. To use a child like this is irresponsible, forbidden.  

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Frenchman Fights Terror

Those of you who think the French are soft on terror (as if !) will be heartened by last week's story of a robust Frenchman taking the war on terror direct to the terrorists in the South of France. 

Whilst driving his car in Montpelier recently, whom did he spot walking down the road in front of him, but the late Osama bin Laden in person.  So he did what any red-blooded Frenchman would do - he jumped the lights and ran him down with his car.   

Sadly however, it turned out to be an innocent pedestrian, who happened to be sporting a long black beard - any of us could have made the same mistake.  

A court sentenced the driver to 

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a three-month suspended jail sentence, 

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a course of counselling and 

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€800 compensation for the bearded one.  

Beware, O terrorists (and terrorist look-alikes).  You are not safe in France.  

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Alternative Dentistry

The March 2004 edition (print-only) of the Irish Dentist reports that in a bid to rid themselves of dental problems, thousands of people have been visiting the graveyard shrine of a Muslim saint in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Daily Times tells us that Saint Amir Ghazi Baba’s shrine has been inundated with people suffering from toothache.

After developing pain in one of his teeth, Abdul Majeed was advised to go to the shrine and put a nail in the plank of wood. He said, “The shrine is so famous now that people in the area don’t bother consulting dentists and prefer coming here.

While the history of the shrine is still unclear, local Murad Ali, who claims to have seen the saint in his dreams, is convinced he’s the best dentist in town.  

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A Song for Johnny

The UK has, for hundreds of years, a thing called a Poet Laureate, with a salary of £5,000 and a personal supply of sherry.  Today's is Andrew Motion and he's just written a poem surprising in two respects.  It's about England's World Cup rugby triumph in winning the rugby world cup, and it actually rhymes.  

Maybe there's something in this poetry guff after all.  

A Song for Jonny

 O Jonny the power of your boot
And the accurate heart-stopping route
Of your goal as it ghosts
Through Australian posts
Is a triumph we gladly salute.

O Martin the height of your leap
And the gritty possession you keep
Of the slippery ball
In the ruck and the maul
Is enough to make patriots weep.

O Jason the speed of your feet
And their side-stepping hop-scotching beat
As you touch down and score
While the terraces roar
Is the thing that makes chariots sweet.

O forwards and backs you have all
Shown us wonderful ways to walk tall
And together with Clive
You will help us survive
Our losses with other-shaped balls.

Jonny Wilkinson, kicker

 

Martin Johnson, captain

 

Jason Robinson, runner

 

 

Clive Woodward, manager

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TV Debate on George Bush's Visit to Ireland

Ireland currently holds the EU presidency, and in this capacity will host a visit by George Bush in June.  The idea of the two presidents of the world's two biggest trading blocs (with annual GDPs of €9.7 trillion and US$11.0 trillion) talking to each other on Ireland's soil has raised a lot of anti-war and anti-Bush hackles.  The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who is the EU's current de-facto president, has even appealed to would-be protesters not to, as Blog-Irish delightfully puts it, parade on his reign”.  

I've been invited by RTÉ, the national broadcaster, to join a TV debate on its “Question and Answers” programme on Monday evening 22nd March, on the pro-visit side.  I'll report back.  

Report (23rd March)

The anti-war movement was represented by Richard Boyd Barrett of the Irish Socialist Workers Party (which calls Mr Bush the “World's #1 Terrorist”) and  fiery organizer of many anti-war demos, who argued that Mr Bush should not be invited.  He explained that his basis for this and for his opposition to the Iraq war was founded on three elements, all of which I pointed out were dishonest.  

  1. That the war had killed “over 10,000” innocent Iraqis. 

    This is wrong.  The correct figure “[may be] at least 5,000 ... and could reach 10,000” according to an article in the left-leaning Guardian that the anti-war websites themselves link to.  

    But the main point is that the war has put a stop to Saddam's killing of 30,000 Iraqis per year, both directly and through diverting oil-for-food money away from his people to acquire more arms and palaces.  Seventy mass graves and 300,000 corpses bear testimony to that slaughter.  

  2. That the war was founded on “lies”, ie the Bush/Blair lies about WMD.  

    But these, as I've argued earlier, were not lies, since there's no evidence that B&B believed the existence of WMD was untrue when they launched the war.  Indeed, the whole world believed in their existence and November 2002's unanimously agreed Resolution 1441 was predicated on that belief.  Even Saddam's own generals, as we now know, believed it, with each of them believing that the WMD were with another of their number.  

    Mr Barrett claimed that the anti-war movement always said there no WMD, but this is also false - it argued simply that inspectors should be given more time rather than that a war be launched.  

    The secondary reason for the war - humanitarianism, as set out in Tony Blair's December 2002 dossier (Crimes and Human Rights Abuses”) - has been abundantly justified.  Incidentally, Amnesty International were annoyed that the dossier included some of their material, because it was used as a causus belli (they like to whine about abuses, but only provided nobody takes any effective action.)

  3. That Ireland's minister for justice, Michael McDowell, had approved the use by Mr Bush's security contingent of guns, with immunity to be granted should they shoot anyone.  

    The scandalous idea of granting US agents immunity is simply a re-hash of a discredited rumour that did the rounds prior to Mr Bush's visit to London last November.  It is based on no fact or evidence, then or now.  

With anti-war hysteria rampaging through the Irish media for the past year, I was surprised that the majority of comments from the audience, phone-ins, e-mails and texts were supportive of the war and the forthcoming visit.  

One caller suggested that Mr Barrett organize a demonstration against Al Qaeda.  What an excellent anti-war idea.  

Late Note: My appearance on this show is commented on 
at the strictly Left-leaning Indymedia.ie.  Should I be glad or sad?
  

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Quote of the Week

Quote : From the Islamic viewpoint, any group which kills in the name of Islam is in fact the enemy of Islam.”  

Shahzad Ahmed, 
Executive of the Islamic Foundation of Ireland, 
an official national representative body for Muslims in Ireland, 
writing to the (subscription only) Irish Times on 18th March

Such examples of respected Muslim leaders
repudiating the acts of Islamist terrorists 
are to be welcomed, 
for they are all too rare

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ISSUE #70 - 14th March 2004

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Haïti - Old, Proud, Forlorn

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Madrid Massacre

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Coalition Troops in Iraq Are Legitimate Targets

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New Gadgets

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Where the Cockles Go

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Quotes of the Week

Haïti - Old, Proud, Forlorn

A week ago I attended a marvellous talk about Haïti by a Methodist minister called Derek Poole.  The Reverend, who showed up in leathers riding a massive Harley Davidson, had spent ten years there and maintains an ongoing interest. 

Christopher Columbus was the first white man to set foot on the island of Hispaniola (which he called Isla Espanola) when he landed at Mole St.  Nicholas in the north in 1492, populated then by native Arawak indians.  After Cuba, it is at 76,000 sq km the largest island in the Caribbean.   

Colonisers

By the 17th century the arch-colonisers of Britain, Holland, France and Spain had put their beady eyes upon the Caribbean islands, with their rich soil and good weather, and amid mutual battles gradually colonised them all. 

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Britain grabbed Antigua, Barbados and Nevis,

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Holland claimed Bonaire, Curacao, Saint Eustatius,

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France helped itself to Martinique and Guadeloupe and

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Spain grasped Hispaniola, though in 1697 ceded to France the western third, which later became Haïti. 

haiti.gif (24096 bytes)The colonisers all followed the same business plan : ignore the natives, import slaves from West Africa and start producing and exporting agricultural products. 

Typically, sugar (“brown gold”), sometimes partially distilled into molasses or tafia (a crude rum), plus tobacco, coffee, indigo, spices etc would be exported to the wealthy and voracious markets of Europe.  Cloth, weapons, hardware, beads, together with salt and rum would then be loaded on to the same ship to be exported southwards to West Africa.  There this merchandise was bartered for the most valuable commodity of all – slaves, crammed piteously to the gunwales of the ship, to work the Caribbean plantations. 

Thus was a highly lucrative triangular trading route established. 

Haïti, whose population burgeoned because of all those slaves, became France's single most profitable colony, which in the 18th century produced some 40% of the world's sugar and 60% of its coffee.  Needless to say, all profits were quickly siphoned off to the home country while the miserable African slaves lived, worked and died young in appalling conditions.  Indeed, high mortality helped feed the market for more slaves. 

Before the French arrived, the native inhabitants were Arawaq Indians.  Few in number they were of course quickly enslaved and as quickly died away, of exhaustion and foreign diseases such as smallpox.  But not before bequeathing the name Haïti, which in their language means “Land of the Mountains”, for it is mountainous indeed.   

Rebellion

During the late 18th century, however, a series of uprisings by slaves against the island colonisers who were their masters took place across the Caribbean.  In every case but one, these rebellions were brutally put down and “peace” of a sort resumed. 

The one exception was Haïti, and the reason was good organization.  On 22nd August 1791, its slaves rose as one during the night and simultaneously massacred their French owners, of whom only seven managed to escape.  Emerging as the newly liberated slaves’ leader was a mulatto, who because of his mixed blood had received some education.  His mellifluous name was Toussaint l’Ouverture, and he set about trying to establish a Napoleonesque republic modelled on post-revolutionary France’s.   

The French, of course, did not take kindly to this turn of events and the loss of very valuable land.  So a year later they dispatched a fleet, under Leger Sonthonax, to teach the slaves some manners.  They invaded successfully and began some heavy-handed rule.  But Toussaint and his fellow ex-slaves, overwhelmingly the majority population, simply melted into the mountains, making occasional raids until the French died of yellow fever and simply gave up.  Spanish invaders (in 1794) and British (1795) were similarly dispatched.   

Independence

Resulting from all these events, Toussaint with himself as President was able declare Haïti’s independence in 1800, only 24 years after the USA itself.  And three years later he managed to negotiate peace terms with Napoleon in return for his resignation.  However, Napoleon was so enraged that he lured Toussaint to France under a safe conduct only to have him arrested and thrown into jail where he quickly died of cold and starvation aged 60.  . 

He was replaced as head of state by Dessalines who crowned himself “James I, Emperor of Haïti”, but was murdered two years later in a coup by “King Henri Christophe I”, who behaved like a European monarch.  He built himself a grand palace, a mighty citadel for defence, he re-enslaved his own people, he murdered anyone whom he suspected of disloyalty.  There is a tale of him marching a troop of suspect soldiers off a 1000-foot cliff.  He lasted nine years until himself being killed in a coup. 

Over the next 100 years, Haïti was ruled by no fewer than 120 presidents, nearly all succumbing to coups and violent deaths. 

Through it all, a fierce pride in independence nevertheless developed, along with a national identity, most notably in language and religion. 

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Haïtian Creole, which is a mixture of French, English, Spanish and various African tongues, is unique to the country and spoken by everyone.  By contrast, even today only about 10% speak French and under 1% English.  

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Though Roman Catholicism was always the main religion, Voodoo of West African origin has been widespread since the early slave days.  It is still taken very seriously, even by the educated, such as today’s doctors and lawyers.  Voodoo, with its pantheon of 200 gods, is a religion of fear, zombies, rituals, sacrifices and spells.  Ceremonies involve drums, dancing and rum, and one of the worshippers will often become possessed by a particular god, a “LOA”, and start behaving like him.  For example, he may writhe like a snake or develop an insatiable appetite for rice.  It can be likened to the Catholic concept of being possessed by the Holy Spirit.  Haïtian law recognizes the voodoo condition as grounds for excusing a crime : “it was the LOA that did it, not me”. 

However, from its inception, Haïti’s economy, like its politics, has been in dire straits, its people getting ever poorer.  This was due to incompetent and corrupt leadership but also because it was eschewed by its former European trading partners, annoyed that it was “the one that got away”.   

Les Duvaliers

When in 1957 the physician François (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier assumed power with the help of the army, he was initially seen, and for a while behaved, as a saviour.  That he remained in power for 14 years was remarkable, and not least because he was the only President to have died in office of natural causes. 

Yet before long, he had elevated himself to “President à Vie” and instituted his own economically-illiterate tyranny of terror.  The terror was implemented through maintaining a dynamic balance of power and jealousy between the brutality of the combined army/police on the one hand and his dreaded secret police, the Tontons Macoutes on the other.  In Creole, “Tonton” means “Dear Uncle” and “Macoute” the shoulder bag that every Haïtian carries for his tools, machete, lunch.  Thus the Tontons Macoutes are the “dear uncles who stay very close to you”. 

Papa Doc was succeeded in 1971 by his wastrel 18-year-old son “Baby Doc”, whose main preoccupation was cars and women.  It’s true he was overwhelmingly elected as President for Life, but with ballot papers that simply read, “JC Duvalier – OUI”.  The only way to dissent was to cross out the OUI or to insert another name, but since the process was closely overseen by the Tontons Macoutes, very few voters were that brave or foolish. 

Baby Doc proved no more competent or humane a leader than his father, though he lasted a year longer, before popular demonstrations forced him in 1986 to flee to France, where he remains.     

Modern Era

His ouster was followed by a few years of military rule, but in 1990 properly democratic elections were organized by the Methodist Church, which was the only body in the country that had the faintest idea how to do it.  This brought to power Jean Bertrand Aristide, a priest of, ironically, the rival Catholic church, which however defrocked him for too much politicking. 

The popular new president started well, cleaning out a corrupt civil service, enforcing tax codes, fighting drug trafficking, and delivering services to its citizens.  But this was too much for the military which overthrew him the following year and re-instituted standard Haïtian terror.   

The UN imposed sanctions and in 1994, with the its and America’s military help, he was reinstated to complete his term.  But though Aristide quickly disbanded the army and police, he failed to remove their weapons first.  UN peacekeepers from Pakistan, with no French or Creole, were nigh powerless to deal with large numbers of armed, landless, jobless ex-soldiers.  So to provide security, villages formed their own vigilante groups, while Mr Aristide slipped into traditional dictatorial mode with scant attention to the needs of the people.  So it was only a matter of time in that lawless atmosphere before there would be yet another rebel uprising to overthrow the ruling president.   

And so once again the Americans, with the French, are back in Haïti trying to restore order.  However this time, the Americans did not protect Mr Aristide’s rule; instead they provided him with transport to exile in the Central African Republic.  He is claiming they kidnapped him, but there is a simple way to test this : offer to fly him back !    

It can be argued that military action in Haïti was deemed acceptable not because the international community will not tolerate the existence of a dictator, but because It won't tolerate the existence of an ineffective dictator.  (And this is why so many objected to the Iraq war - Saddam was an effective dictator.)

Nevertheless, during the past century, the USA has always shown a great interest in what’s happening in Haïti, and has been its leading provider of economic aid.  Moreover, apart from its direct interventions over the past decade, it invaded and occupied the country in the 1920s and 30s.  Though this brought some stability, it was deeply resented by the locals, not least for some of the Americans’ high-handed ways.  For example, it killed off all the native black pigs and replaced them with bigger fatter American pigs.  But they couldn’t take the climate and conditions and all died.  

Why this concern ? Not simply out of any humanitarian consideration or imperial ambition or fear of an Haïtian refugee influx or some perceived Al Qaeda threat.  It is mainly because the Windward Passage between Haïti and Cuba provides the only deepwater access to the Panama Canal.  The Americans therefore have a long-standing horror that should Haïti turn communist, it and Cuba could control the gateway to the canal by large ships.   

Grim Outlook

Meanwhile, as the Rev Poole sadly observed, the outlook for Haïti remains grim.  Conditions are worse than in the 1960s.  The UN sanctions have dried up its markets for sugar, coffee and rice.  T-shirts are almost the only legitimate export.  Smuggling from the Dominican Republic next-door, as well as drug-trafficking, have of course made a few even richer, but meanwhile the poor have got poorer.  There is widespread starvation, and many parents are reduced to feeding their children a mixture of clay and sugar.  

Despite good intentions by the international community, such as Koffi Annan's recent appeal for $35m and support over the long term, It is hard to see a happy ending for this proudly independent, but forlorn people.  

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Madrid Massacre

This unspeakably evil deed was perpetrated by means of ten bombs in three locations, detonated almost simultaneously, which killed 199 innocent civilians and injured a further 1,453

There is debate as to whether Basques of Batasuna/ETA or Islamic fascists belonging to an Al Qaeda cell did it.  I’ve tried to assemble and simplify the arguments in the table below. 

Make up your own mind.  I'm convinced it was Al Qaeda.  

 Terrorists

 Batasuna/ETA

 Al Qaeda

 Background

 

See also here

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Most Spanish bombings done by ETA 

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Often carry out attacks at election time 

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Police recently intercepted an ETA bombing party on its way to Madrid.

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Have already attacked Americans (9/11), Australians (Bali) and British (Istanbul).  

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Spain is the remaining big supporter of Bush’s War on Terror

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 90% of Spaniards oppose Spain’s support 

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AQ have been promising more attacks against crusaders 

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AQ hate elections 

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Many Islamists think Spain should still be Muslim, resenting that they were driven out 500 years ago

Environment

ETA violence has been going on for 30 years, claiming 800 lives

Spain includes a hive of Islamist groups, fuelled by North African immigrants

Claiming responsibility

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Usually claim responsibility 

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But for this bomb they specifically denied it

Usually claim responsibility, but usually circumspectly – as they have done on this occasion, despite doubt as to authenticity

Warning (none given)

Warning usually given

Warning never given

Number of bombs

Usually only one bomb

Multi-bomb attacks favoured – eg 9/11, Bali, Istanbul, Kerbala/Baghdad;. 

Target

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Usually soldiers, policemen, judges, councillors and other officials 

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Civilians only killed as collateral (though no special effort made to protect them)

Specialise in spectaculars aimed specifically at civilians, the more the better

Typical Casualties

Handful (eg less than 20)

Hundreds, if not thousands

Political leaning

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Anti-Spanish state 

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Pro Basque independence 

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Socialist

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Anti west 

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Anti democracy & freedom 

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Pro-fundamentalist Islam

Effect on General Election

ETA attack would favour the ruling conservatives, the party that is clearly anti-ETA and pro law & order

AQ attack would favour the Socialists (voters would reason that Spain is a target because of its support for the Iraq war)

Leadership

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Most leaders already in jail or under surveillance

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Largely rudderless 

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Diminishing numbers

AQ comprises numerous self-contained cells across the world with only loose spiritual guidance from the centre. 

Countries threatened

Spain only

Spain and the rest of Mr Bush's Coalition of the Willing” 

If you are still unconvinced about the wisdom of waging war against terror and that Iraq is part of that war, have a look at this recent, highly cogent speech by Tony Blair.  

Meanwhile, the Spanish electorate lost no time in electing a socialist government committed to fleeing from Iraq, which it did at the first opportunity. 

There can be no clearer, more craven example of appeasement to the Al Qaeda terrorists. 

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Coalition Troops in Iraq Are Legitimate Targets

Journalists John Pilger (from the Daily Mirror), Robert Fisk (the Guardian) and Michael Moore (USA) are three highly articulate opponents of the war on terror, George Bush and all his works.  They maintain they are driven by an agenda of humanitarian concern and respect for the law.  

But occasionally the mask slips and their incoherent love of dictators and murderers in the developing world, coupled with hatred of democratic Westerners, emerges.  

This exchange is from a recent interview with John Pilger on ABC TV in Australia

ABC TV : Can you approve ... the killing of American, British or Australian troops who are in the occupying forces ?” 

John Pilger : Well yes, they're legitimate targets. They're illegally occupying a country. And I would have thought from an Iraqi's point of view they are legitimate targets, they'd have to be, sure.” 

Huh ?  Let's think about this.  

Presumably, the occupation was illegal” because binding UN resolution 1441 with its “serious consequences” was deemed insufficient for war and there was no follow-up UN resolution.  This makes the foreign troops legitimate targets.  So had France, Germany etc signed up to that follow-up resolution, the war would have been “legal”.  

In this circumstance, the Iraqi resistance and its expatriate bombers from Egypt and elsewhere would no doubt have said, 

Hey, these foreign infidel bastards invaded Iraq legally, the French and Germans approve, so unfortunately the soldiers are not legitimate targets even though we hate them.  

It would be against our humanitarian democratic law-abiding principles to shoot and blow them up, or their Iraqi collaborators or the UN offices in Baghdad.  Hell, we don't even have the right to massacre Shi'ites at their big religious festivals.  

So let's just go home.” 

It must be wonderful to be a pundit with wide readership, possessed of absolutely no responsibility for the idiocy or results of your words, with blithe unconcern for the deaths of other Westerners.  

Oh, and by the way, UN Resolution 1483 confirmed back in May 2003 that the Coalition Provisional Authority are in fact the legal occupiers.  Perhaps Mr Pilger should inform the Iraqi resistance of this awkward fact.  

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New Gadgets

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency hosted its annual Systems and Technology Symposium earlier this month in Anaheim, California, just down road from, appropriately, Disneyland.

It featured a host of clever gadgets and would-be gadgets aimed at meeting military needs, though some would be handy for us civilians.  A few examples.  

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The Phraselator is a brick-sized translation device.  You speak into it  or select a standard phrase (eg What time is it ?), and the machine converts this into the desired language and utters the translation via a built-in hi-fi speaker.  Unfortunately the machine translates in only one direction, so you won't understand the answer !

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So there will still be a need for the Rapid Tactical Language Training System.  This is essentially a video game, with plenty of interactivity, designed to teach conversational Arabic to American soldiers in just 80 hours of training.  He learns not just language skills but also non-linguistic cultural matters, like not offering around the pork scratchings.  

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The MicroAir Vehicle is a tiny, 100 gm battery-powered, remote-operated fixed-wing airplane with a 6-inch wings span and 3-inch propeller.  With a 2-gram video camera on board, it can fly 230 metres high at 50 kph at for 30 minutes at a range up to 1.8 km, all the while transmitting live color video to its base.

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Slightly larger is the Organic Air Vehicle, which looks like a domestic extractor fan and can hover in place with its camera. 

Future battlefields will include numerous unmanned aircraft like these swarming the skies, providing ubiquitous surveillance for commanders.  

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On a more personal note, the Lower Extremity Exoskeleton straps onto a soldier's legs like leg braces and moves in concert with them.  With a small hybrid power source, which delivers hydraulic power for locomotion and electrical power for the exoskeleton computer, it increases leg strength, helping him carry his 40-kilo backpack for longer faster before exhaustion takes over.   

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CoreControl helps physical training by cooling the human body down during exertion. That way you can train harder and so become fitter.  The current system acts on the hand to cool the blood, which then circulates back to the body's core to cool it.  Coming up will be cool combat boots.  Gives a new meaning to cold hands and cold feet.  

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Finally, mini-food packets (dubbed nutra-ceuticals) capable of sustaining a soldier for days or weeks are on the way, but have got not much further than the drawing board.  

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Where the Cockles Go

Cockle picking was in the news everywhere last month when eighteen Chinese immigrants in the UK were tragically drowned one night whilst collecting cockles in Morecambe Bay on England’s northwest coast.  

Cockles, are bivalve molluscs who live for 3-4 years, make their home in the top few centimetres of sediment and feed on food suspended in the water.   Each weighing only a few grams, they are abundant in the intertidal mudflats and sandflats of the Morecambe Bay area and are important as both a food resource for birds and a cash resource for businessmen.

The unfortunate Chinese had not been briefed by their gangmasters about tidal movements and found themselves isolated from the shore in the darkness when the tide suddenly rushed in faster than a man could run. 

There was much publicity about the gangmasters who were paying the pickers a pittance (£1 a day) while reaping big profits from this “lucrative trade”; accompanying photos showed big bags of the shellfish. 

But how big is this trade and who is buying them ?  

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The local MP talked of “£6 million worth of cockles just lying in the middle of Morecambe Bay on the beaches”.  

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Yet in the UK or Ireland, you hardly ever see cockles for sale in fishmongers or on the menus of seafood restaurants.  Mussels and scallops yes, but not cockles.  Long gone are the days when the Dublin streets rang with “Cockles and mussels, alive alive-oh”.  

Only some 10% is apparently consumed at home, at special places such as JJ's Cafe in Penclawdd in Wales.   Here Albert Horobin, an unapologetic British Rail chef in the dark days of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, lovingly prepares what he calls “Penclawdd breakfasts” every morning for his loyal regulars.  After the molluscs have spent four minutes at 98°C, he removes them from their shells and fries the plump, shiny flesh in bacon fat for a couple of minutes to heat it through.  He then serves the cockles with a generous puddle of unctuous, green laver, a couple of rashers of bacon and a fried slice of bread. (Aren’t you salivating !). 

Meantime, the remaining 90% of the British harvest is exported to the Netherlands for processing.  After a large part of the Dutch North Sea cockle fishery was closed down some five years ago by environmentalists who claimed that picking cockles was harmful to wildlife, they went about buying into the traditional, cottage-style British cockle industry.  They now dominate exports and thus control the price, typically paying around £10 for a 50 kg sack.  So the MP’s £6 million is equivalent to a massive 15,000 tonnes of  cockles. 

And where are the final eaters ?  These are all in Spain, the only European country with a palette refined enough to appreciate them.  Thus you often find - in restaurants, fish shops, tapas bars, hypermarkets -  delicious and succulent cockles and other small shellfish that are disdained by the European sophisticates further north.  

The Dutch control the Spanish import market and prices as well, so cockles are certainly a nice little earner for them. 

If you can ever get your hands on some, here is a simple recipe for Cockle Pie.  

Cook one quart of cockles in a cup of water. Line sides of a pie-dish with pastry thickly rolled. Put a layer of cockles in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions, then a layer of bacon cut dice size. Repeat these layers until the dish is full. Pour in the liquid in which the cockles were boiled, adding pepper. With strips of pastry make a criss-cross pattern on top of the pie.

Cook slowly until pastry is done. 

This pie is delicious served hot with new potatoes or cold with mixed salads and dressing. 

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Quotes of the Week

Quote : “Fortunately, ETA is weaker than ever, and I have no doubt about its final defeat. I say this quite serenely” .  

Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, 
on 2nd March 2004 
in a valedictory interview with the London Times

Quote : “No negotiation is possible or desirable with these assassins who so many times have sown death all around Spain.

Mr Aznar on 11th March, 
the infamous day of the Madrid Massacre

Quote : “This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader, and America's ally in its war against Islam ... The death squad of the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri has penetrated one of the pillars of the crusade alliance, Spain.

A claim of responsibility for the Madrid Massacre 
issued in the name of Al Qaeda 
to London's Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi 

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ISSUE #69 - 7th March 2004

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Bush Is Losing the Easy Challenges

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MEMRI's Arabic Mistranslations ?

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Psst - The Romans Did It

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From the British Newspapers

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Leap Year's Day - 29th February 2004

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World Cup Greens

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Quote of the Fortnight

Bush Is Losing the Easy Challenges

Readers will know that I have given unfettered support to the actions of George Bush in his war on terrorism. 

From that moment when an aide whispered in his ear about the attack on the Twin Towers as he sat in a class full of small children, he has acted instinctively and – in my view – wholly appropriately. 

He began with words – 

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words of comfort for the victims and bereaved, 

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words of admiration for the emergency services, 

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defiant words attributing the attack to Al Qaeda, 

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pledges that he would defeat the terrorism behind that terrible event, 

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words that spoke to the people of America, gave voice to their emotions and fears, 

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words that rallied them as one nation.  

He swiftly followed his words with action.  Not merely by visiting the site of the devastation in Manhattan and talking to sorrowing relatives and firemen, but in direct military action.  

Within months, with the help of his allies, he launched a war in Afghanistan, not against Afghans but against the Taliban regime that tyrannised them, because it was sheltering Osama bin Laden and his godless Al Qaeda.  Yes, there were civilian casualties, but the efforts made to minimise them were notable.  

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The Taliban and Al Qaida were both routed, 

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vast numbers of adherents killed or shipped to Guantanamo Bay, 

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their training camps destroyed.  

In place of the Taliban, via a traditional Afghan Loya Jurga, a pseudo-democratic regime was put in place, the first attempt at democracy in Afghanistan’s long history and a pre-cursor to full democracy.  The people were liberated and over two million refugees voted with their feet by flocking back to their homeland to rebuild their lives.  They are still there.  

Then a year ago, Mr Bush, having exhausted all avenues for securing further explicit support from the United Nations, ignored the bleatings of Old Europe and millions of other Saddam-loving “peaceniks” across the world.  With the help of Tony Blair and the rest of the “Coalition of the Willing”, he decided to implement the UN’s own binding Resolution 1441, passed unanimously just four months earlier.  This, you will recall, demanded that Saddam comply with a slew of previous resolutions dating back to the terms of the ceasefire that ended the 1991 Gulf War, by demonstrating he no longer possessed WMD.  The onus was on Saddam, not on the international community, to prove he had got rid of the weapons.  Resolution 1441’s penalty for non-compliance was “serious consequences” : only a fool or a knave would suggest that this euphemism meant more UN resolutions, more sanctions, more inspections, or more troops massed on Iraq’s borders with orders not to attack. 

So Mr Bush attacked and within a month, and with a minimum of civilian and Coalition casualties, ejected Saddam and his Ba’athist cohorts, most of whom were killed or captured in the months that followed.  It was a superb military victory, combining, as we now know, 

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shock-and-awe, 

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overt military might, 

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spying, 

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clandestine special-forces operations and 

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covert bribery of Iraqi commanders.   

The battle led to the long – and as it turns out painful – process of democratising a sovereign Iraq and giving its people a future. 

No doubt, elements of the war could have been executed even better, and certainly the post-war nation-building seems to have been very poorly thought-through. 

But looked at in its totality, I cannot find serious fault with the direction and execution of Mr Bush’s foreign policy. 

Nor, evidently, could a great deal of his countrymen when they voted in mid-term elections in November 2002 and gave him convincing Republican victories in the Senate (51-48), Congress (226-205) and Governorships (26-24).  For the first time in fifty years Republicans now controlled the White House, Congress and the Senate.  An opportunity, at last, to push through a true Conservative agenda – low taxes, low spending, minimum Government interference, personal liberty. 

But what’s happened ?  His first acts were indeed to push through a series of tax cuts as he had promised, as well as other positive moves such as standing up to China when it buzzed US fighter planes and abrogating the pernicious, unratifiable Kyoto protocol.  

But since his landslide and his war-success, he’s suddenly going crazy. 

He’s pumped up steel and agricultural subsidies, punishing 293 million American consumers  with higher prices, solely in order to continue pampering two inefficient industries ensuring they will remain uncompetitive, industries that comprise not even a million workers – there are just 160,000 in steel and 795,000 in agriculture.  The punishment these subsidies deliver to the developing world is even worse. 

He’s gone on to direct pork at Medicare and virtually every other interest group (10,000 of them) he can think of, sending the deficit out of control.  In his three short years, he has turned the record surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, ie 2.4% of GDP, into a record deficit of $521 billion or 4.3%.  Of this, $380 billion is for the War on Terror and part is unavoidable Social Security outlays, while the tax cuts have (for now) reduced revenue.  

But Mr Bush has bumped up the rest, the discretionary non-military spending, to some $360 bn.  This is simply an avoidable, profligate, most unConservative spending splurge.  

They say that power corrupts, but that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Mr Bush’s absolute power since winning both houses is pushing him to absolute corruption, albeit not for personal gain as far as we know.  The lesson for Americans seems to be that they should elect different parties to the White House and Congress.  This ensures permanent gridlock and thus no agreement on frivolous spending increases.  

His other big, unConservative thing is to propose a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and anything that faintly smells of it. It is beyond me why he, or for that matter religious fundamentalists, feel they have to get steamed up about two grown-up gays committing to each other for life or what they do in their bedroom.  Compared with widespread divorce, cohabiting couples and single parenthood as a lifestyle choice, how on earth can a pair of gays be undermining the sanctity of any heterosexual's marriage ?  

But what I find really puzzling is why he is bothering to take this controversial and divisive action.  It will certainly appease his religious right, but that's a waste of time as they're never going to vote Democrat anyway.  However it will drive straight into John Kerry's embrace the moderate middle-of-the-roaders, the feisty free-minded under-30s, and of course every gay in the country.  That probably adds up to swing-voters in their millions.  

And the amendment can never be passed anyway.  It needs a two-third majority in each house, which will take years.  Meanwhile, like Israeli settlements in the West Bank, gay marriages in New York, Massachusetts, California and New Mexico are creating facts on the ground that will be increasingly difficult to reverse.  That's exactly what Bill Frist, majority leader of the US Senate, feared when he declared, Same-sex marriage is likely to spread through all fifty states in the coming years. It is becoming increasingly clear that Congress must act.  

To sum up, Mr Bush has addressed three major challenges in his presidency - 

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Terrorism - this is by far the toughest, and he has passed it with flying colours.  One shudders to think how Bill Clinton, Al Gore or John Kerry would have dealt with a post-9/11 world.    (And of course deposing two tyrannies and liberating two countries completely trumps Mr Kerry's Vietnam heroics.)    

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The Economy - having introduced his tax cuts, all he had to do was copy his predecessor in keeping a tight rein on spending.  But he's flunking this spectacularly, building up huge debts for the next generation, and for no good reason.

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Gay Marriage - he's picked a pointless and unnecessary fight, escalated it to a constitutional issue that can only fail, and alienated those millions of swing voters. 

To get the hard stuff right and the easy stuff wrong is a paradox.  It may well lose him the presidency.  

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MEMRI's Arabic Mistranslations ?

Last week, Kevin Myers, a popular right-minded columnist in the (subscription-only) Irish Times, wrote a piece which, inter alia, criticised the Palestinian Authority for its anti-Semitism, glorification of suicide-bombing and psychopathic leader Yasser Arafat.  He quoted as a source the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI. 

This provoked a furious response from Ali Halimeh, who is the Delegate General of Palestine in Ireland.  He accused Mr Myers of racist ranting and being naïve in his use of MEMRI, because MEMRI was co-founded by an Israeli-born US academic and a former head of Israeli military intelligence.  He failed however to point to any factual errors.  

Mr Halimeh is probably right that both founders have a pro-Israeli agenda.

Nevertheless, the only material that MEMRI publishes on its extensive website is English translations of articles printed in Arabic by the Arabic press for Arab readers (as well as in Farsi for Iranians).  It expresses no editorial opinion; Its only comment is to say where the article appeared and what event or context it might be referring to.  I've found MEMRI helpful and have used it from time to time for this blog (eg here).    

Of course, MEMRI may well select articles that tend to show Arab equivocation or perfidy, but without services such as MEMRI it would be almost impossible for non-Arabists to know what the Arab world is saying privately.  Because it quickly becomes apparent that many leaders will sometimes say one thing in Arabic and the opposite in English.  Yasser Arafat is a prime exponent of this double-speak.  

I have no idea about the accuracy of the translations.  But I have challenged several critics of MEMRI, most recently Mr Halimeh, to point out even one wrongly translated article, with the promise of publishing the correct version on this blog.  It would be most interesting to embarrass MEMRI in this way.  

So far no-one has taken me up.  Perhaps Mr Halimeh will.

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Psst – The Romans Did It

There has been a host of passionate reviews of Mel Gibson's film “The Passion of the Christ”, some extolling its religious significance, others calling it sadistic pornography, still others decrying it for anti-Semitism.  I haven’t seen it, and perhaps won’t because I don’t like the thought of witnessing a 20-minute flogging (but naturally that won't stop me commenting).  

The sadistic pornography charge arises from the graphic and violent detail of the  torture and crucifixion scenes, which apparently make Quentin Tarrantino's Reservoir Dogs look tame.  But if it tries to show what actually happened two thousand years ago, I find would find it hard to complain.  

In fact, I have a general complaint about violence as depicted on cinema and TV - it's not violent enough.  

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The victims always exhibit extraordinary resilience to repeated blows, 

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the injuries are too gentle, just a matter of ketchup and mascara, never swelling, broken bones or severed limbs and 

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death is mostly painless and instantaneous.  

In real life, one or two good thumps with a fist, a chair or a bottle and the fight's over, there's blood everywhere, hands and jaws are smashed and hospital treatment follows.  

By sanitising violence, it appears less dangerous to the viewer, more acceptable.  And I am sure people as a result feel more inclined to practice what they see,  than if they witnessed the true horror and aftermath of bombs, bullets and blows. 

The film's anti-Semitism charge arises from two sources : that Jews are depicted as hook-nosed stereotypes, and that they are shown as responsible for the torture and execution of Jesus Christ. 

In a previous blog about the violence of religions, I remarked that  Judaism used to be “a pretty brutal faith that didn't hesitate to torture Jesus to death for disobeying its rules”. Within a few hours I received an angry e-mail from a reader in Israel who reminded me - Psst - it was the Romans that did it.  I amended my story in red to correct this error. 

For it was an error.  

The source of Mr Gibson's movie is apparently the four Gospels, written by Jesus’ own apostles who were witnesses to the events.  They make clear that the Jews’ role in the death of Jesus was confined to arresting him, handing him over to the Romans, then baying for his crucifixion.  

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The Romans were the occupying power, as the Americans are in Iraq, 

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they alone had the force of law in their gift, 

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they forbad Jews from implementing the death penalty.  

Jesus was tried before Pontius Pilate; by all accounts he was a ditherer and his wife frightened him with her dreams, but he was still the anointed Jerry Bremer of his day.  Though Jesus’ innocence was obvious to him, the baying mob intimidated him, and eventually he agreed to flog and then crucify the prisoner.  His fear, vacillation and hand-washing in no way exonerate him or the Romans for these acts.  At best, all you can say is that the Romans appointed an unsuitable man to the Governorship.   

The main point is that the Jews, most emphatically, did not crucify Christ, much as they would have wanted to.  The Romans did, as the gospels make abundantly clear.   

There seem to be three early sources for saying the Jews did it  :

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St Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians (2:14-15) during the first century wrote bluntly that, “the Jews … killed … the Lord Jesus”;  

Outside the Lovingway United Pentecostal Church at Colorado and Mississippi

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Origen said in 230, “And therefore the blood of Jesus falls not only on the Jews of that time, but on all generations of Jews up to the end of the world”; while  

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St Augustine proclaimed in 425, “The Jews are dispersed through all nations as witnesses to their iniquity and of our truth.”  

These were the great thinkers, theologians and interpreters of the early Church, the Ayatollahs of the time.  But what material were they working with ?  They hadn’t witnessed what had actually happened, so they had to rely on what had been written.  St Paul was a prolific author and though he doubtless read the gospels it was he who started the lie.  The others presumably just copied him, preferring to believe the word of one non-witness over that of four witnesses.  But why did St Paul blame the Jews when he knew it was false ?  Presumably because it was easier than trying to pin it on the almighty Romans.  I can think of no other rational explanation. 

The Jews have played a terrible price at the hands of Christians ever since.  It is a double iniquity – first that the Jews were not guilty in the first place, and second that their descendants, who didn't live in those times and thus never laid a finger on Jesus, have had to shoulder the burden of accusation.  

Is the movie anti-Semitic ?  Not if it follows the Gospels (apart perhaps from those hook noses).  

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What has been anti-Semitic is the behaviour until recent times of Christians through the centuries in exploiting an evil lie.  

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While simultaneously teaching the contradictory lesson that it is we sinners who are responsible for the death of Christ.   

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From the British Newspapers

Reader Eileen sent me these (thanks).  I couldn't find links, but they're worth sharing anyway !

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Commenting on a complaint from a Mr Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, “We agree it was rather high for the time of year.  It’s possible Mr Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house.” (The Daily Telegraph)

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Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because they cannot issue a description.  It’s a Special Branch vehicle and they don’t want the public to know what it looks like.  (The Guardian)

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A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster.  A coastguard spokesman commented, “This sort of thing is all too common”.  (The Times)

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At the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a coastguard on the spot and asked him to estimate the wind speed.  He replied he was sorry, but he didn’t have a gauge.  However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land Rover off the cliff.  (Aberdeen Evening Express)

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Police reveal that a woman arrested for shoplifting had a whole salami in her knickers.  When asked why, she said it was because she was missing her Italian boyfriend.  (The Manchester Evening News)

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Mrs  Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue, Boscombe, delighted the audience with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each week to do her garden.  He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she recalled “He’d always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out ‘Heil Hitler’ ”. (Bournemouth Evening Echo)

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Leap Year's Day - 29th February 2004

Thirty days hath September 
April, June and November,
All the rest have thirty-one,
Save February, she alone 
Hath eight days and a score,
and leap year gives her one day
more

That's the handy little rhyme we learned at school to help us remember the number of days in the months, but we never really knew why there were differences or why we had a Leap Year.

Leap Year occurs every four years. Every year that is divisible by four is a leap year, but every year divisible by 100 is not a leap year, unless the year is also divisible by 400.  Got it ?  That's why there was a Leap Year in the millennium year 2000. 

The leap year is necessary so that the calendar is in alignment with the earth's motion around the sun. It's a long story that begins with the the calendar invented in Egypt five thousand years ago. From it, and the ancient Roman calendar, Julius Caesar developed a better one.

Leap Year's day, 29th February (ie today), was added by Caesar in 46 BC to keep the seasons in check. However, because the priests in charge of computing the calendar had been adding Leap Years every three years instead of every four, it was calculated that the Julian calendar was 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long.

This was an error of about one day every 128 years, but nothing was done about it for 800 years.

But finally, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII made a few changes to the Julian calendar, including reducing the frequency of Leap Years from three-yearly to four-yearly.  Thus began the Gregorian calendar, which is the civil calendar in use today.

The solar year of the Gregorian calendar consist of 365 days, except in a Leap Year, which has 366 days and occurs every year into which you can divide four.  Except, as noted, every 400 years when it doesn't.  

Using a calendar with only 365 days a year would result in an error of 6 hours per year.  After 100 years, this calendar would be more than 24 days ahead of the seasons, with Easter falling in December !

As legend would have it, the tradition in Ireland in those olden times was for ladies to propose to the men they loved on Leap Years Day. It is believed that Saint Bridget started the tradition back in the 5th century.

She complained to Saint Patrick that women had to wait too long for men to propose, so St Patrick decided to allow the yearning females to propose on this one day in February during the Leap Year, and if the man refused he would be fined.

According to ancient folklore, St Bridget herself proposed to St Patrick and he said no.  We presume she made him pay up.  

English law had it that, seeing as the Leap Year existed in the first place to fix a problem in the calendar, it could also be used to fix the problem of only men being allowed to propose marriage. 

So, my advice to guys, especially single ones, is to take cover today.  Stay at home with the curtains drawn. 

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World Cup Greens

Brazil win the football World Cup (again!), in a far away country.  They return home and parade it around different cities in Brazil to delirious fans.  There is a huge victory parade in the capital; honours are showered on the players and managers. They go on to play and defeat convincingly a number of other powerful teams in nearby countries, demonstrating with fluid skill and unerring focus just why they are the world champions.  It is 4½ years and 22 games since they were last defeated.  

Then at last, four months after winning the World Cup, they are able to go back to their home ground in Rio de Janeiro to play their first international game since becoming world champions, against a small unfancied country and in front of their adoring fans. Before the game, they take the opportunity to show off their World Cup trophy in a parade in front of the cheering crowd. They then prepare to to give a master class in soccer to the visiting team.  

But what happens ? They find themselves outplayed in every respect, in attack, in defence, in strategy, in tactics. They are made to look like rank amateurs. The visitors soundly defeat them.  

Impossible ?

Not if you swap soccer for rugby and Brazil for England. For that is what happened last Saturday near London at Twickenham, revered home ground of the world champions.  

In their “homecoming victory game”, they went down ignominiously to underdogs Ireland, 19-13.  Sometimes there is no justice !

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Quote of the Fortnight

Quote : “Banning the headscarves in France is in line with burning villages with its inhabitants in Afghanistan, bringing houses down on the heads of sleeping Palestinians, with killing children in Iraq and robbing their oil using false pretexts…[and] torturing [Muslims] in the cells of Guantanamo.”

Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant, 
an Egyptian-born doctor, 
thought to be in hiding along with bin Laden (if he's still alive) 
in the mountains of Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan.

Also believed to be the architect 
behind the suicide bombings in Baghdad and Kerbala 
that killed some 200 people, mostly Shi'ites

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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:

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

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the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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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,

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part of a death march to Thailand,

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

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regularly beaten and tortured,

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racked by starvation, gaping ulcers and disease including cholera,

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a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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

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

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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:

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Drunk walking kills more people per kilometer than drunk driving.

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

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

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

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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

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Why does asparagus come from Peru?

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Why are pandas so useless?

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

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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:

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

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Russia its military-owned businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs

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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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After 48 crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are, deservedly,
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England get the Silver,
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No-one can argue with
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