This archive, organized into months, contains all issues published in
the Tallrite Blog (www.tallrite.com/blog.htm)
since inception on 14th July
You can write to blog-at-tallrite-dot-com
#72 - 28th March 2004 
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
his personal blessing to Reem [al-Rayashi's suicide] attack [at the Erez
border crossing] for which Israel will assassinate him.
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
British Home Secretary Jack
condemn [the killing]; it is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is
very unlikely to achieve its objectives),
foreign policy chief Javier Solana
very bad news for the peace process) and
Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, France
condemns the action against Sheikh Yassin ... such acts can only fuel
the cycle of violence.
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
Compared to other methods of stopping a terrorist, this pinpoint
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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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.
are called on to -
funds to compensate and support terrorist victims;
by June existing anti-terrorism decisions;
reinforce judicial and
law-enforcement co-operation, including
use of Europol and Eurojust, and
systematic collaboration between
police, security and intelligence services;
increase security in the
area of firearms, explosives, bomb-making equipment and
continue with strong
preventive action against the sources and flows of terrorist financing;
increase the exchange of
personal information (DNA, fingerprints and visa data) for the purpose
of combating terrorism;
incorporate biometric features
into passports and visas;
improve the regulation and
transparency of charities and alternative remittance systems, which
may be used by terrorists;
enhance co-operation with
third countries through technical assistance and political dialogue;
co-operate with UN measures;
up the capability to deal with the consequences of terrorist attack;
provide full support should any member be attacked;
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 doesnt seem to realise we're in a war
situation not a crime scene.
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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
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.
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.
Again when he hosted the disastrous Camp David talks in 2000 that
Yasser Arafat peremptorily walked out of
in order to launch the current
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
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
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
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
An interesting new study, Fighting
Poverty in the US and Europe : A World of Difference was
recently reported in the (subscription only) Economist.
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
are more racially diverse,
spend less on welfare though a lot more on private charity
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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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
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
The main evidence that specifically
bar workers are endangered by ETS comes from an authoritative if rather
limited California study,
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
It showed that
the ban reduced ETS exposure at work from 28 hours a week to two (no
74% of bar workers had respiratory symptoms before the ban, of whom 59%
were cured three months after the ban;
77% had sensory irritation symptoms before the ban, of whom 78%
were cured (click on the thumbnail below).
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
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 worlds
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
Watch this space for the outcome of
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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.
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.
John Kerry campaign
chose to get upset when he quipped,
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
happened on the commuter trains in Madrid was an affront not only to the
Spanish people, but to all right-thinking people everywhere.
Terrorism is not just undemocratic. It is
It is not just inhuman, it is an affront to
It runs counter to all the values on which the
European Union is founded.
President of the EU and Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie
at the EU terrorism summit
called in the wake of the Madrid Massacre
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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THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
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#71 - 21st March 2004
Pain, Risk and Inconvenience (PRI)
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.
Voting with Eyes Closed
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
If they tally
within a certain pre-agreed margin
of error, the electronic voting
be adopted for the future and paper voting
If not, the
paper vote would decide the
outcome of the particular election, and
the machines go
back to the manufacturer for repair/reprogramming.
straightforward, confidence-building verification is
seemingly too PRIful to implement (for perhaps the machines will fail the test).
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
The CEO of a
business would lose his job for such a cavalier attitude.
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
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.
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
continue to fail their pupils (hence private schools thrive and
universities lower their entrance requirements);
waiting lists are still growing;
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
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.
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.
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%).
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
costs in order to
taxes so that
compete for investment with UK/Ireland.
That's why they demand instead that the UK/Ireland, increase, or
their taxes. We are fortunate that the demands are being
Role of Governments
really have only five main roles, if they could only stick to them
security against external attack and internal crime;
to provide a
legal framework in which life and business can proceed with
essential infrastructure exists (transport, schools, hospitals
to provide a
minimum welfare safety net;
to get out of
the way of citizens and business.
A sixth could be
added : to copy the business practices of businesses.
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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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
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.
suicide-bombers are told repeatedly that they will die as a Shahid
(Martyr) and as such receive numerous heavenly rewards, including 70 Dark
Maidens (or Virgins) of Paradise.
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.
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.
valedictory note to his co-terrorists, Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11
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
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.
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.
this is true, maybe not.
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
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 ?
many lives would have been saved as a result ?
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.
Note (29th March)
just read a report
in the (subscription-only) Irish Times that illustrates my
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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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.
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
Sadly however, it
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
suspended jail sentence,
a course of
compensation for the bearded one.
terrorists (and terrorist look-alikes).
You are not safe in France.
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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.
Daily Times tells us that Saint Amir Ghazi Babas shrine has been
inundated with people suffering from toothache.
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 dont bother consulting dentists
and prefer coming here.
the history of the shrine is still unclear, local Murad Ali, who claims to
have seen the saint in his dreams, is convinced hes the best dentist in
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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
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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Debate on George Bush's Visit to Ireland
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.
been invited by RTÉ, the national broadcaster, to join a TV debate on its
and Answers programme on Monday evening 22nd March, on the
pro-visit side. I'll report back.
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
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
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.
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
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.)
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
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
One caller suggested that Mr Barrett organize a
demonstration against Al Qaeda. What an excellent anti-war idea.
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
the Islamic viewpoint, any group which kills in the name of Islam is in
fact the enemy of Islam.
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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#70 - 14th March 2004
- 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
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.
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.
Antigua, Barbados and Nevis,
Bonaire, Curacao, Saint Eustatius,
France helped itself
to Martinique and Guadeloupe and
Hispaniola, though in 1697 ceded to France the western third, which
later became Haïti.
colonisers all followed the same business plan : ignore the natives,
import slaves from West Africa and start producing and exporting
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.
whose population burgeoned because of all those slaves, became France's
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.
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.
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
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 lOuverture, and he set about
trying to establish a Napoleonesque republic modelled on
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
from all these events, Toussaint with himself as President was able
declare Haïtis 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
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. .
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.
next 100 years, Haïti was ruled by no fewer than 120 presidents, nearly
all succumbing to coups and violent deaths.
all, a fierce pride in independence nevertheless developed, along with a
national identity, most notably in language and religion.
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
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
todays 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.
from its inception, Haïtis 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.
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
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.
Its 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.
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.
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
a priest of, ironically, the rival Catholic church, which however
defrocked him for too much politicking.
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 Americas 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 Aristides rule;
instead they provided him with transport to exile in the Central African
He is claiming they kidnapped him, but there is a simple way to
test this : offer to fly him back !
It can be argued
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.)
past century, the USA has always shown a great interest in whats
happening in Haïti, and has been its leading provider of economic aid.
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 couldnt take the climate and conditions and all died.
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
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.
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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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
or Islamic fascists belonging to an Al Qaeda cell did it.
Ive tried to assemble and simplify the arguments in the table
Make up your own mind.
I'm convinced it was Al Qaeda.
See also here
Spanish bombings done by ETA
carry out attacks at election time
recently intercepted an ETA bombing party on its way to Madrid.
already attacked Americans (9/11), Australians (Bali) and
is the remaining big supporter of Bushs War on Terror
of Spaniards oppose Spains support
have been promising more attacks against crusaders
Islamists think Spain should still be Muslim, resenting that
they were driven out 500 years ago
violence has been going on for 30 years, claiming 800 lives
includes a hive of Islamist groups, fuelled by North African
Usually claim responsibility
But for this bomb they specifically denied it
claim responsibility, but usually circumspectly as they have
done on this occasion, despite doubt
as to authenticity
only one bomb
attacks favoured eg 9/11, Bali, Istanbul, Kerbala/Baghdad;.
soldiers, policemen, judges, councillors and other
only killed as collateral (though no special effort made to
in spectaculars aimed specifically at civilians, the more the better
(eg less than 20)
if not thousands
democracy & freedom
on General Election
attack would favour the ruling conservatives, the party that is
clearly anti-ETA and pro law & order
attack would favour the Socialists (voters would reason that Spain
is a target because of its support for the Iraq war)
leaders already in jail or under surveillance
comprises numerous self-contained cells across the world with only
loose spiritual guidance from the centre.
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.
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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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
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
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.
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.
let's just go home.
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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The US Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency hosted its annual Systems and Technology Symposium
earlier this month in Anaheim, California, just down road from,
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.
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
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
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.
Slightly larger is the
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
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
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
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 Englands 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.
how big is this trade and who is buying them ?
The local MP talked
of £6 million worth
of cockles just lying in the middle of Morecambe Bay on the beaches.
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.
some 10% is apparently consumed at home, at special places such as
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.
(Arent you salivating !).
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 MPs £6 million
is equivalent to a massive 15,000 tonnes of cockles.
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.
Dutch control the Spanish import market and prices as well, so cockles are
certainly a nice
little earner for them.
can ever get your hands on some, here is a simple recipe for
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.
slowly until pastry is done.
pie is delicious served hot with new potatoes or cold with mixed salads
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Quotes of the Week
: 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
on 2nd March 2004
in a valedictory interview with the London Times
: 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
: 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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THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
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#69 - 7th March 2004
Is Losing the Easy Challenges
Readers will know that I
have given unfettered support to the actions of George Bush in his war on
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
words of comfort for
the victims and bereaved,
words of admiration
for the emergency services,
defiant words attributing the attack to Al
pledges that he would
defeat the terrorism behind that terrible event,
words that spoke to
the people of America, gave voice to their emotions and fears,
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.
The Taliban and Al
Qaida were both routed,
vast numbers of
adherents killed or shipped to Guantanamo Bay,
their training camps
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 Afghanistans 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 UNs 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 1441s 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 Iraqs 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 Baathist cohorts, most of whom were killed or
captured in the months that followed.
It was a superb military victory, combining, as we now know,
overt military might,
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 Bushs 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
But whats 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, hes suddenly going crazy.
Hes 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.
Hes 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,
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 Bushs 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
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 -
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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
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Arabic Mistranslations ?
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.
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
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
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.
to List of Contents
The Romans Did It
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
havent seen it, and perhaps wont because I dont like the thought
of witnessing a 20-minute flogging (but naturally that won't stop me
sadistic pornography charge arises from the graphic and violent detail of the
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
fact, I have a general complaint about violence as depicted on cinema and
TV - it's not violent enough.
victims always exhibit extraordinary resilience to repeated
injuries are too gentle, just a matter of ketchup and mascara, never
swelling, broken bones or severed limbs and
is mostly painless and instantaneous.
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.
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
The Romans were the occupying power, as the Americans are in
they alone had the force of law in their gift,
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 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
St Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians (2:14-15) during
the first century wrote bluntly that, the Jews
the Lord Jesus;
United Pentecostal Church at Colorado and Mississippi
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
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 hadnt 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
Is the movie anti-Semitic ? Not
if it follows the Gospels (apart perhaps from those hook noses).
What has been anti-Semitic is the behaviour until recent times of
Christians through the centuries in exploiting an evil lie.
While simultaneously teaching the
contradictory lesson that it
is we sinners who are responsible for the death of Christ.
to List of Contents
From the British Newspapers
Reader Eileen sent me these (thanks). I couldn't find links, but
they're worth sharing anyway !
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.
Its possible Mr Purdey has been charged for the gas used up
during the explosion that destroyed his house. (The Daily
Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van,
because they cannot issue a description.
Its a Special Branch vehicle and they dont want the
public to know what it looks like.
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
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 didnt have a gauge.
However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land
Rover off the cliff. (Aberdeen
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)
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 Hed
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
was an error of about one day every 128 years, but nothing was done about
it for 800 years.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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.
to ancient folklore, St Bridget herself proposed to St Patrick and he said
no. We presume she made him pay up.
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.
my advice to guys, especially single ones, is to take cover today. Stay
at home with the curtains drawn.
to List of Contents
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.
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 !
to List of Contents
Quote of the Fortnight
: 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
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.
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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THE ARCHIVE and LINKS BARS AT TOP LEFT and RIGHT, FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
to Top of Page
to Tallrite Blog
Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics