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TALLRITE BLOG 
ARCHIVE

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

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

March 2005

ISSUE #96 - 14th March 2005 [260+880=1140]

Hong Kong - A Democratic Opportunity Let Slip

Back in 1997, following tumultuous negotiations between Margaret Thatcher and the Chinese politburo, the sovereignty and status of Hong Kong was changed from British Crown Colony to Special Administrative Region of China.  Wags referred to it as the Chinese Takeaway.  At a stroke, seven million people were delivered 

  • from a largely autonomous though essentially dictatorial regime presided over by a distant but genuine democracy that undoubtedly had the wellbeing of Hong Kong's citizens at heart, 

  • into the arms of a Communist dictatorship that, ever since it illegally seized power in 1949 from a democratically elected government (the Kuo Ming Tang), had unapologetically killed over fifty million of its own citizens, the most recent notorious example being the shooting of seven thousand peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989.   

To replace Chris Patten, the last British governor, China unilaterally appointed as Chief Executive a sympathetic Hong Konger, the shipping magnate Tung Chee Hwa.  Though a skilled and successful businessman, this China-loyalist (who, ironically, first entered Hong Kong as a refugee fleeing from Communist China where he was born) had no experience of politics, governance or the common touch.  This quickly showed, in examples such as his

  • fumbling of Hong Kong's economic collapse in 1997 (probably triggered by
    loss of confidence following the Chinese Takeaway),

Tourist ad for Hong Kong, featuring the main symptom of SARS

  • mishandling of the Asian bird flu crisis,

  • conspiring with Beijing to curtail civil liberties, 

  • rejecting attempts to widen democracy, 

  • clamping down on pro-Taiwan and pro-Tibet protestors, 

  • stifling anti-China debate in the media.

Unsurprisingly, he has remained steadfastly unpopular throughout his eight turbulent and incompetent years, even while Hong Kong's economy has perked up over the past year and a half.  

But now, at last, even China has lost patience and confidence in him.  Last week they booted him out of his job, under the face-saving figleaf of health reasons”. 

Meantime, the Middle East has been awash with excited talk and action about democracy, while the world's media fall over themselves to get shots for their front pages of what they variously call raven-haired “beauties”, “hotties”, “babes”, “totty”.  This follows similar people-power waves in Georgia and Ukraine last year.  

Fresh gusts of invigorating democracy are clearly in the air.  

You would think, therefore, that this would be an ideal opportunity to try and spread a little more democracy in Hong Kong, that tiny corner of the People's Republic. 

And who better to do this than Mr Tung's illustrious predecessor, the thoroughly competent Chris Patten, erstwhile EU Commissioner for external relations. If you doubt his competence, just read his book, East and West, about his service in Hong Kong.  But all he can now do is regret he didn't democratise faster when he had the chance, and mumble about hoping China would establish a realistic plan that would make Hong Kong more democratic, blah, blah, blah. Now that he is no longer involved in any big time job, he has no further need for diplomatic niceties. It is unfortunate therefore that he doesn't use his well-earned standing in the world and new found freedom to stick it right to the Chinese.  He should demand that they allow Mr Tung's successor to be elected by universal suffrage forthwith, rather than be appointed by their Politburo of tyrants, no matter how worthy - and indeed popular - their appointee Sir Donald Tsang may be. 

Similarly, I would have expected some leadership from George Bush, to back up his freedom and democracy rhetoric.  For if China - probably America's biggest military threat in a decade's time - is ever to become a democracy, and let us hope this happens before it sucks America into a war over Taiwan, it will be because of the benign example of its Semi-Autonomous Region, an increasingly democratic and ever successful Hong Kong.  Therefore it makes every sense for the US to encourage Hong Kong down the democratic route, especially in the current global climate of people-power momentum. 

As for the EU, since it's on the brink of belittling the thousands of massacred victims of Tiananmen Square by resuming weapons sales to the perpetrators, what better moment to demand as part of the quid pro quo that China allow Hong Kong's new chief executive to be democratically elected.  

Even the UN could have made some democratic noises, albeit in the certainty that anything substantive would have been vetoed by China.  

Alas, however, this is all a pipe dream.  

No-one wants to offend the delicate sensibilities of the world's mightiest and wealthiest Communist regime.  Democracy is to be reserved for weaker targets; at least for now.  

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Sinn Fein/IRA : Crumble or Machiavelli?

Last week the IRA issued its bizarre three-page statement concerning the murder of Robert McCartney.  

How generous of the IRA to offer to shoot its own members in order to appease the bloodlust of the vengeful five sisters of Mr McCartney, who was butchered in a bar brawl over a woman.  However, the girls did not co-operate - they demanded instead that the culprits turn themselves in to the police and face criminal prosecution.  

But the offer is nevertheless curious in the extreme.  For did they mean it?  Would they have done it?  Why did they seek permission?  

If nothing else, it shows the IRA nervously biting its fingernails, uncertain what to do in the unfamiliar barrage of odium that the murder has generated from its core Sinn Féin/IRA constituency.  The old IRA would have done what it has always done - 

  • made up its own mind, 

  • asked no-one, 

  • acted decisively and 

  • not apologised now or ever. 

On this model, the killers would by now be firmly dead.   So why aren't they?  Has the IRA really lost the courage of its convictions?  It would be great news if this were so, because it would signal a crumbling of the organization, towards the irrelevance contemplated under the Good Friday Agreement, that most well-minded people desire.  

However an alternative interpretation of events is that everything the republican movement has done since the murder is but a Machiavellian sham.  

  • Declare publicly that you want justice for the McCartney sisters, 

  • condemn all murders and punishment beatings,  

  • provide assurances that witnesses are not going to be intimidated or threatened, 

  • order the perpetrators to subject themselves to the courts and speak the truth, 

  • offer to shoot them, 

  • assert that all this is a sign of Sinn Féin/IRA good faith.  

Whilst all the time in nod-and-wink-land, everyone who matters understands that these are no more than carefully crafted words designed to confuse and appease the ignorant masses in Ireland, UK and America, and their democratically-elected leaders.  The cognoscenti know that the words actually mean the precise opposite of what they say, and that if people should actually start running off to the police to truthfully explain what happened, they would do so at their immediate and mortal peril.  

Result: a moral victory for Sinn Féin and the IRA, for they can say they have done their utmostto achieve justice, whilst actually achieving precisely nothing.  Regrettably the crime is never solved; predictably the police are painted as a bunch of bumbling oafs.  And meanwhile the all-powerful Sinn Fein/IRA machine marches on towards its destiny.  

Personally, notwithstanding wishful thinking, I can't make my mind up which of these two theses to believe - the Crumbling or the Machiavellian.  

But I am sure there will be some sort of denouement within the month.  

Permalink

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Of EU Wealth, Subsidy and Blarney

The Economist recently wrote a long article about travails over the EU budget (Britain's rebate, France's CAP, impoverished new entrants etc).  But when it ended with this chart whose purpose is to illustrate who is paying for Britain's rebate, what caught my eye was the huge subsidy per head that Ireland gets out of the EU.   

So I decided to plot subsidies against GDP, on a per capita basis, and this is what I got.  

I know the Irish are famed for their blarney, but the other EU countries really need to sharpen up their negotiating skills.  It is ridiculous that Ireland, the club's richest country (after Austria) contributes zilch while running away with the biggest subsidy.  

By far.  

Permalink

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Fighting Spam

Two years ago, the various e-mail addresses I use were being targeted by around twenty spams a day, well manageable with the delete button.  But over this period, it has screamed up fifteenfold or more, requiring something more drastic.  For what it's worth, here is how I have solved the problem.  

  • Yahoo.com have very good built-in spam filters, so I diverted my most heavily bombarded addresses to my yahoo address.  Yahoo is currently removing about a hundred spams a day, and the remaining ten or so that still get through are a tolerable if irritating number.  

  • On the suggestion (though not recommendation) of my web-hoster, I signed up to Spam Arrest to catch the spams heading for my remaining addresses, and this has been remarkably successful.  

    Every message from an unauthorised address is put on hold for a week while a reply is sent inviting the sender to a particular webpage.  There the sender is told he can authorise his address simply by typing in a code that appears in faint type that cannot be scanned.  Thus only a human being can fill in the code; machine generated spams are flummoxed and so remain unauthorised. After a week, they're deleted.  

    I can review the unauthorised e-mails at any time and authorise them manually if I wish.  I can also authorise or block particular addresses in advance; ditto with domain names.  Spamarrest also allows me to deal with my e-mail from internet cafes etc.  The system is brilliant and at $35 per year not expensive, plus you can sign up for a months free trial.  

As a result of these two measures, I no longer have a spam problem.  

Permalink

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Ukraine for Eurovision 2005

Last year, the Ukraine's Ruslana won the Eurovision song contest for the first time, largely bolstered by votes from its ex-master Russia and from its brother-nations of the ex-Soviet Union.  That was of course before it got carried away with all that people-power democratic nonsense and freed itself from its Kremlin-loving, Kremlin-controlled leaders.  Therefore it will only win this year if the lost Soviet votes are replaced by sympathetic EU votes. 

As always, the competition will be decided not on the merits of the songs sung (which are always identical, and the same year in year out), but on the politics of the singers' countries, for instance - 

  • co-operating countries vote for each other (eg Scandinavia), 

  • diasporas vote for the homeland, 

  • you vote nul point if you don't like a country's foreign policy (Iraq anyone?).

As reigning champion, the Ukraine gets to stage this May's competition in Kiev, in this the fiftieth year of the event.   

So what's their entry to be?  

Well they've selected a group called Greenjolly (er, jolly good name - environmentally friendly and cheerful) and it'll be singing Razom Nas Bahato!”, which translates as Together We Are Many.  It turns out this was the anthem adopted by the pro-Yuschenko orange-revolutionaries, which absolutely confirms they'll be getting nul point from the Russians.  

You might enjoy the catchy lyrics.  A summary ... 

Together we are many
We cannot be defeated.

Falsifications - no!
Machinations - no!
Unwritten rules - no!
No to lies!
Yushchenko - yes!
Is our president - yes, yes!

We aren't beasts of burden
We aren't goats
We are of Ukraine
Sons and daughters
It's now or never! 

Oh yes, I can see us all cheerfully humming along with these merry words.  Just the thing for Eurovision.  Can't wait.  

Not. 

Permalink

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Idiots Cause Heart Attacks

Well, here's a surprise.  According to a reputable university in Sweden, as reported in Weekly World News, just as much stress and hence heart attacks are caused in the office by idiotic co-workers as by more familiar causes such as cigarettes, caffeine and greasy food.  

Out of five hundred heart attack victims, the researching doctor found nearly two-thirds were free of the conventional vices and attributed their stress to stupid work colleagues.  Many of them had keeled over clutching their chests within about  twelve hours of a particularly annoying episode in the office - for example, someone fed vital papers into the shredder instead of the copier.  

It seems the underlying problem is that while you can control your own habits (give up smoking, say), you are forced to tolerate the behaviour of the dolts.  

So isn't this a much more satisfactory way of dispatching your boss to the sanitarium.  

  • Get lost wandering around the office, 

  • use correction fluid on your PC monitor, 

  • delete all important documents, 

  • add salt to the coffee.  

Pretty soon he'll be gone.  Or you will be.  

Permalink

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Quotes of Week 96

Quote : Bush, we don't want your democracy 

Banner televised in a pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut.  
The authors evidently did not appreciate the irony 
of using a typical democratic freedom-to-demonstrate, 
in order to demonstrate that they don’t want democratic freedom

Quote : The IRA knows the identity of all these men ... The IRA representatives detailed [to the McCartney family] the outcome of the internal disciplinary proceedings thus far, and stated in clear terms that the IRA was prepared to shoot the people directly involved in the killing of Robert McCartney.” 

The IRA, in an extraordinary official statement, 
offers to murder the IRA murderers of Robert McCartney.  
Yet clearly has not the courage to do so 
without seeking permission.  

Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland 
has no doubt the IRA meant it would kill the men

Quote : “Ireland's failure to stick to its millennium target of giving 0.7% of GNP in aid by 2007 is a disgrace ... and its excuse is a nonsense

Bob Geldof excoriates the Irish Government.  

Ireland's chief excuse appears to be the non-sequitur 
that it is unable to meet the target
because of its rising prosperity 

Quote: Aer Lingus's loss is BA's gain.” 

Ryanair's abrasive chief executive Michael O'Leary 
in response to the appointment 
of former Aer Lingus CEO Willie Walsh 
as the new CEO of British Airways.  

Mr O'Leary once described Aer Lingus as 
a
crap service with poor punctuality, 
high rates of lost bags and 
far [too many] cancellations
” 

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

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ISSUE #95 - 7th March 2005 [260]

The Passionate Left and Logical Right

Passionate Left vs Logical RightA couple of issues ago, I wrote a post questioning why the Palestinians refugees, for whom a right of return is sought, are still refugees.  Based on a letter of mine published in the Irish Times, I answered that it was because of

(a) Israel's refusal to massacre them in the 1948 war launched by Arab armies, as it could have (who doubts that the Jews would have been massacred had they lost?), 

followed by

(b) the steadfast refusal of disdainful fellow-Arabs to absorb the refugees into their respective countries ever since.

I mentioned that my letter elicited some anonymous phone calls of a generally threatening nature, from people who from their words were clearly Left-leaning.  

This got me to thinking.  

What is the common thread when (apart from football hooligans) you see, here in the West, demonstrations, marches, violence, threats concerning this or that?  With the exception of a few neo-Nazi groups, they always seem to come from the Left, the harder the Left the wilder the behaviour.  

During the build-up to the Iraq war, as a centrepoint to the Left's passionate campaign against it, tens of thousands poured into the streets of Europe's capitals for Not In Our Name marches.  And why not, they were expressing their views in a public manner.  

Yet is it not odd that Right-leaning supporters of the war did not also stage demonstrations under banners such as Free the Iraqi People”?  After all, which slogan sounds more honourable?  

People who object to multinationals such as MacDonald's or Shell under the rubric of anti-Capitalism, are the ones who see fit to smash up their premises, with widespread approval from many of their peers.  Why don't Rightists similarly smash up icons of Leftism such as trade union offices? I know there have been exceptions such as the French secret service sinking a Greenpeace boat in New Zealand in 1985, but they are few and far between and not popularly driven.  

Individual threats of physical harm are invariably directed - and delivered - against Right-leaning individuals.  Rarely do you hear that, for example, raging Lefties like George Galloway need bodyguards, except for perhaps intrusion by the press or paparazzi.  The Left know they can express their views without fear of intimidation from their opponents, which cannot be said for the pro-Capitalism camp.  

In terms of 20th century politics, the right-wing Franco, Mussolini and Hitler were responsible for perhaps 10 million non-combat deaths.  Yet they are vilified far more than the Soviet Communists Lenin, Stalin and successors whose tally was around 36 million, which I've tabulated here and illustrated in the chart below.  

So in history, as today, the Left seems to be more violently inclined than the Right.  Of course it is quite wrong to suggest that modern Lefties should be compared with those evil, blood-drenched Soviet or Chinese tyrants, other than in aspects of ideology.  But on a street level, the Left does seem more inclined to direct action than the Right. 

  • Is it just that Lefties are more sure of themselves, more courageous, more outspoken, more correct, and thus prepared to be more physically assertive?  

  • Whilst Righties can do no more than cower in the corner, whispering their views in a fog of shame?  

Or is there something deeper at work?  

There are some who maintain that the atheistic Left lacks the constraints of a more Christian Right and those tiresome Ten Commandments.  

But my own (albeit jaundiced) view is rather more prosaic.  

Logic is overwhelmingly on the side of the Right.  For example, it is logical that 

  • if you give people the freedom to improve themselves, that is what they will generally do;  

  • if you give them the freedom to chose their own leaders, they'll generally select ones who have their constituents' best interests in mind;

  • if everyone has such freedoms, then society as a whole will improve;  

  • if you enforce people's property rights and contracts, and protect them from crime, they will be even better able to improve themselves; 

  • if you provide rewards for particular behaviour, you will get more of it, whether it is 

    • desirable (think of low taxes and hard work) or 

    • less desirable (such as welfare payments for long-term 
      unemployment);

  • if you provide services or benefits completely free of charge and without regard to their costs (eg medical, schooling, subsidies), you will get unlimited demand and unlimited complaint.  

Thus it is very difficult for the Left to develop a coherent basis for countering policies that are guided by such flights of reason.  That is why it must resort to waffly arguments such as what is “fair”, what is “compassionate”, what is “hurtful”, the implication being that everything of the Right represents the heartless side of these adjectives.  

But such terms are intrinsically emotional while presenting no logic.  Therefore to push them you have to put your own emotion into play, your passion.  This in turn leads to the shouting and the demos, and for some the threats and violence.  

Pitting right-wing logic against left-wing passion is a contest that no side can really win on an intellectual or physical basis, because neither can comprehend the other, nor wants to.  

But on an individual level, I never met or heard of anyone who did not want personal freedom for himself/herself to pursue his/her own dreams.  It is only other people's freedoms that some, particularly on the Left, would like to curtail.  

Even the greatest Leftist of them all, Mao Tse Tung, relished his own personal freedom to pursue his own personal dream of killing as many of his countrymen as possible, being over 50 million souls - see my chart above.  (Actually, this delight in personal freedom is a hallmark of every tyrant throughout history.)

But I would maintain that to be truly compassionate for others, in the sense that you would like to see them making the most of their efforts, abilities and lives - as well as not getting murdered, you would have to advocate the Rightist policies of freedom not the Leftist ones of control.  

Thus it is that the application of logic to the Palestinian question can evoke violent thoughts in the minds of the Left, as I experienced.  Like a frustrated child stamping his foot in rage.  

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Dammed Greenhouse Gases

An extraordinary (to me) story, entitled Hydroelectric power's dirty secret revealed caught my eye in a recent issue of the (subscription-only) New Scientist, which is reproduced here.  

Industry groups, and the public generally, have usually regarded hydroelectric dams as climate-friendly because they produce no emissions.  By contrast, electricity generating installations powered by fossil fuels emit large amounts of the air pollutants and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.  

But this is apparently wrong.  Dams actually produce copious quantities of both carbon dioxide and methane, and in some cases more climate-damage per kilowatt-hour than do those much-disparaged coal and fuel-oil plants.  

It seems that large amounts of carbon tied up in trees and other vegetation are released as CO2 when the reservoir is initially flooded and the plant matter rots.  Then much of it settles on the bottom where it decomposes further but since there is no oxygen it produces methane (CH4), which is 21 times more damaging to the climate than CO2.  Seasonal changes in water level then provide an ongoing supply of decaying material.  The process works fastest in the hotter parts of the world, home to many large dams, and the larger the dammed area, the bigger the gas releases.   

Country
in size order

Area Dammed
million hectares

And indeed huge tracts have been dammed as this table of seven out of eight of the world's biggest countries shows - their total dammed area (36m hectares) adds up to the size of Germany.  

Because of these findings, moves are afoot to include dams in global warming calculations under conventions such as the Kyoto Protocol.  

As you can imagine, this is bad news for the seven huge nations, so we should not expect action any time soon.  

Russia

7.96

Canada

6.5

USA

6.98

China

5.8

Brazil

3.98

India

4.57

 Total

35.79

But it explains the article's ominous title.  

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Carvings Uncovered by Tsunami

Three carved structures, including a granite lion, which were exposed by sands receding after the tsunamiIt's hard to imagine any good having been perpetrated by the Indian Ocean Tsunami.  So for those who might have missed the story, its receding sands exposed part of what is believed to have been a 1200 year old small seaport city on the south coast of India.  This includes these incredible two-metre high carvings half-buried in sand, fashioned in the same ornate style as a famous, rock-hewn, 7th-century temple nearby.  Elsewhere a sculpted elephant has been exposed.  In 2002, a diving expedition found extensive ruins stretching over several square kilometres submerged just offshore, including monuments of a lion and also an elephant's foot.  The two finds appear to be natural extensions of each other.  

The BBC provides more details here and here.  

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PC-Commissioning Travails

I have lost about three weeks of my life (and two issues of this blog) trying to commission a new Fujitsu-Siemens computer with Windows XP and all the latest bells and whistles.  It replaces my previous, Windows 98 machine which was overloaded and weary and used to crash at least a dozen times a day.  

It might help someone out there if I share some of the things learnt during my weeks of frustration.  

Hard Drive Reformatting

In the twenty continuous years I have been using PCs, I have never ever had to reformat my hard drive.  But with my new machine, I had to do it no fewer than five times.  Here's why.  

Microsoft Works (I wish)

Apparently a poorboy” version of Microsoft office, Microsoft Works came pre-installed.  But when I then loaded Microsoft Office 2000, the machine crashed fatally and only a reformat would resurrect it.  This happened twice before I twigged that Microsoft Works was the culprit.  Nothing on msn.com warns you of this lethal incompatibility.  

Conclusion: Throw all copies of Microsoft Works in the bin.

Roxio CD Creator 

For the past two or three years, I have been burning CDs using (a legally purchased copy of) Roxio CD Creator Platinum Version 5.  But when I loaded it onto my new machine, it fatally crashed requiring a format.  Again, I did this twice before I diagnosed the culprit.  

Conclusion: Reserve this software for Windows 98, because it is incompatible with XP; otherwise bin or upgrade it.

Hijack

Despite the few times I actually managed to connect with the internet, I still found myself riddled with viruses, bugs, spyware and worms of a nature I had never encountered with my old machine.  With professional advice, I cleared most of them using these five freeware packages: 

  • AVG Anti-Virus, self-explanatory, downloadable here

  • Spybot for spyware and nasty cookies, downloadable from here 

  • Ad-Aware for removing various data-mining, aggressive 
    advertising, parasites, scumware, keyloggers, trojans, 
    dialers, malware.  Its executable file aawsepersonal.exe 
    is available here 

  • Winsock, which restores registry keys that may have become 
    corrupt, whose executable file winsockxpfix.exe is 
    downloadable here 

  • Hijackthis, which lists all installed browser add-on, buttons, 
    startup items and allows you to remove questionable ones, 
    is downloadable here

However, the biggest single problem was that within a minute or two of connecting to the internet, I found myself hijacked to a mysterious webpage called “http://*h-1.us*/*cream.html”, which itself never properly loaded (I've inserted three asterisks to ensure you don't inadvertently click on it).  From that moment on, my internet speed dropped to just 5% of normal, which meant it took an hour to download a few e-mails and made meaningful surfing impossible.  None of the above fixes nor countless other wheezes saved me, and therefore I was reduced to the nuclear option of a reformat for yet a fifth (and final) time.  

Conclusion: Keep your machine clean at all times

Measuring Connection Speed

In my travails, I was put in touch with a great little diagnostic page, put up by a private individual. It simply measures your connection speed and compares it with what it should be.  Just click here, and then add it to your Favorites/Bookmarks.  

Minesweeper

Finally, a little serendipity.  

When I get writer's block (often!), one of my diversions is to play Minesweeper (how sad can you get), which comes free with Windows, so I have become quite adept and fast.  You have a choice of Beginners, Intermediate and Expert.  Whilst it took me something like two years to get my Expert speed down below 200 seconds, and my record on my old machine eventually reached 180 seconds, it was rare that I could ever complete it in less than about 250, in fact unusual if I could complete it at all.    

On the new machine under XP, Minesweeper looks and feels nicer, but I am convinced it is also easier.  For within only three days I was down below 200.  

Anybody have similar/different views?  Are we seeing expertise inflation?   Has the Evil Empire downgraded Minesweeper, like exam papers, to make us all feel cleverer?

Other tips added subsequently (May 2005)

 

Internet Connection

If in trouble making an internet connection, and the connection itself is OK, the problem lies with XP, which is not allowing Internet Explorer (or Mozilla Firefox) to access the connection.  Typically, this happens after removing spyware using Adaware or Spybot. referred to above under Hijack.  

Fix the problem with winsockxpfix.exe (also referred to above under Hijack), which is described here, from which it can also be downloaded.  It certainly got me out of this trouble recently.  

 

New Hard Drive

If having difficulty getting your Internet Explorer to recognize a new hard drive, then perform this routine.  

  • Start

  • Control Panel

  • Administrative Tools

  • Computer Management

  • Disk Management

  • Look for Disk

  • Click left and right

  • Reformat etc

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Tribute to a New Nonagenarian

Born in the early part of the First World War, a couple of months after the famous football matches between British and German soldiers that so infuriated their respective, bloodthirsty officers, Walter grew up to 

  • become a dental surgeon, 

  • marry Margaret until death [did them] part” after 63 years,

  • produce four children, 

  • serve with the RAF throughout the Second World War, taking part in the Normandy invasion,

  • create Hong Kong's public dental health service, which thrives to this day,

  • found (in 1950) what is now the 1500-strong Hong Kong Dental Association

  • practice for two decades in Ireland, 

  • edit the Irish Dental Journal for years on end, and 

  • serve for a long period on the board of the Irish Dental Association.  

Walter Allwright celebrates his 90th birthday on 28th February 2005
Last week he turned ninety, sprightly in mind and body as always, and shows no signs of slowing down, other than no longer refereeing rugby.  

Happy Birthday, Dad.  

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Quotes of Week 95

Quotes

  • There's not a snowball's chance in hell that I would even involve myself in an incident like that. I totally refute that allegation ... I'm as much a victim of circumstances as everybody else.

Gerard Jock Davison, a senior IRA republican, 
denying involvement in the lynch-style butchering and murder 
of Belfast  Sinn Féin supporter, Catholic Robert McCartney, 
after a bar room brawl over a woman
 

  • He seems very keen to exonerate himself. The best way to do that is in court, not in a newspaper.  He ... knows what happened from start to finish.

The response of McCartney's sister Catherine

Quote : “Sure we got the bounce of the ball and a couple of decisions but, when you get days like that, you just have to jump on the back of them.”

Brian O'Driscoll, captain of Ireland's rugby team, 
commenting on its 19-13 victory over England on 27th February, 
while England's coach Andy Robinson just whinged

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 What I've recently
been reading

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

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

See detailed review

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

A horrific account of:

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

  • the corruption of Singapore's legal system, and

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

More details on my blog here.

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

  • part of a death march to Thailand,

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

  • regularly beaten and tortured,

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

  • a slave labourer stevedoring at Singapore’s docks,

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++++

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

It's chapters are organised around provocative questions such as

  • Why does asparagus come from Peru?

  • Why are pandas so useless?

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

  • Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

The book amounts to a  very human and exhilarating tale.

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

+++++

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