“I don't understand how a sexual assault can be made a
condition of my flying.”
Airport security officer:
“This is not considered a sexual assault.”
“It would be if you weren't the government ...”
Airport security officer:
“Upon buying your ticket, you gave up a lot of rights.”
As if to emphasise the last point,
Mr Tyner was, as was to be expected, eventually bumped off his
flight and now faces a
$10,000 fine for what appears
in essence to be the
crime of cheekiness.
witty response of infamous blonde polemicist Anne Coulter is to
propose similar security checking be conducted at the US Capitol in
Washingon DC as this is a more vulnerable, valuable and newsworthy
target for terrorist attack than a random flight out of a random
American airport. Under her plan each Congressmen and
Congresswomen would have to undergo intrusive frisking and/or nude
body scanning each time he/she reports for parliamentary duty, until
such time as the House deem such indiscriminate practices to be
unConstitutional, or something.
That's a solution for the big guns.
Mine is simpler and can be applied by every
For, unless you're not actually interested in catching
your flight, surely a more effective way to deal with these intimate
searches is not overtly to object to them as Mr Tyner did, but to
vociferously welcome them. They're going to do it anyway, so why
not try to get some mileage that just might make the airport security
officials think twice. They are, after all (and contrary to the
belief of many), human beings - and
very few will be openly gay.
Make sure you speak loudly enough - though without
shouting - for other people to hear, especially other passengers, and on
no account use bad language or an abusive or aggressive tone.
“Oooh, yes please, I love it when people fondle my
genitalia, pat my ass, stroke my breasts, especially other men/women
[as the case may be].
“I find it a real turn on, especially when it's done by
someone as good-looking and fit as you, and in a uniform - you'll
certainly notice my pleasure when you feel up my groin.
“I bet you enjoy it just as much as I do or else why would
you be doing such a job? And imagine you even get a salary for
doing it! Most of us would have to go to a seedy nightclub and
pay someone for the pleasure you get for free.
“So come on baby, make my day!”
Oh, and remember to leave your phone in record mode.
As Mr Tyner discovered, there is a big Youtube world out there.
I was flying out to DC with my frequent flier miles.
Usually when I make this trip, I'm greeted with sweet smiles.
I walked up on Security, shocked what they could see.
I asked for my alternates, he said 'Come along with me'.
He pat me down. He felt me up.
Don't touch my junk.
The airport man was shocked when I made my desperate plea.
He called for all his backup. They just won't let me leave.
But now I just want out of here. What do they want with me?
You can bring me down into such a funk.
Don't touch my junk.
I guess some people like it, but I know a lot that don't.
Strip-searched in the next room, I really wish you won't.
I feel your hands sliding down. I hope you're having fun.
I am not, and that's for sure. You're the only one.
I must be nervous, so that's why I'm shrunk.
Don't touch my junk.
Late Note (13 December 2009):
is an anonymous if self-confessed fat, gluttonous, smoking, drinking,
foul-mouthed, bearded, middle-aged guy. Who likes wearing
You can't help liking him.
had his own fun about this junk thing when he strolled in to catch a
flight at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina.
At the security check point he opted for a pat-down rather than
The purpose of this was to enjoy the
discomfiture of the young security agent designated to give him the
pat-down - in particular when the agent had to pat upwards along the
inner thigh of this hairy individual. The poor man had no idea he
would encounter the ghastly dangling bounty that met his latex gloved
hand, which he of course quickly withdrew in revulsion, or perhaps gay
What an excellent alternative way to make
Give income tax payers their own
The way any state works is that it collects money from
its citizens which it then redistributes as services – defence,
law-and-order, infrastructure, education, health, benefits, pensions etc
– in varying degrees of quantity, quality and ineptitude. Everyone
likes the second part of the transaction, but hates the first. Jean-Baptiste
Colbert, a finance minister under Louis XIV, once
likened taxation to plucking a live goose: the art is to
extract the maximum amount of feathers for the minimum amount of
hissing. In Obama’s America, we have just seen such an excess of
hissing by the Tea (“taxed enough already”) Party, that its
Congress has undergone a huge 65-seat switch from leftish Democrats to
rightish Republicans, the biggest turnover
in 62 years. The Tea Party wants fewer/smaller services (eg repeals
of Obamacare, of carbon cap-and-trade, of artificial stimuli), in
exchange for lower taxes.
In this country, with the Finance Ministry
having estimated that in 2010 the state will spend €58 billion but
take in only €36 billion, we are seeing a similar shift, though
strangely it is being imposed from on high by the Cabinet, by the EU, by
IMF fear, rather than by the people. Indeed the people are hissing at
the reductions of services that are inevitable if expenditure and
ultimately taxes are to be kept within long-term manageability. It is
as if the goose is demanding that even more feathers be extracted.
green goose of Ireland is on some kind of
medication. Maybe part of its body has been anaesthetised, so that when
a feather is plucked it causes a pleasant tickle rather than a sudden
nasty sting; it hisses only when feathers are yanked out from the untranquillised portion of its torso. Therefore the more of it that is
sedated, the more feathers can be calmly removed, without protest. Yet
ultimately a featherless goose, regardless of anaesthesia, is unable to
keep warm, fly or perform other goosely functions.
For 40% of the green goose is indeed oblivious to the
pain of having its feathers extracted – that is the proportion of
workers who pay not a cent of income tax, as the
OECD reports. And
the proportion is creeping up – a decade ago, before the Celtic Tiger
took off, it was “only” 25%. Indeed, Brian Lenihan, Ireland's respected
Finance Minister, has himself
told us on a
number of occasions that “about half of the workforce is
[already] outside the tax net”.
Ireland is not unique in its sizable and
growing class of non income tax payers. Though individual
percentages may vary, the story is the same in America, the UK and many
other Western countries.
Now many may ask what’s wrong with the arrangement. The
rich pay plenty, the poor pay nothing, which certainly intimates a
compassionate approach. But there are in fact two things wrong, one a
moral issue, the other a practical one.
Citizens who do not contribute to the state in which
they live are not participating fully in that society; they are in some
degree outcasts, which is morally unacceptable.
The practical issue is that a forty percent grouping of
people with a common interest can, with proper organization, become a
formidable constituency to be wooed by major parties, if not actually
forming one themselves. And obviously, a way to court them is to
promise prolonged income tax-free status, and the way to increase clout
is to add to their number. On present trends, compounded by rising
unemployment, they could exceed fifty percent in Ireland within a few
years. In other words, there is a real danger of an absurd situation
where those who pay no income tax vote for ever increasing taxes from
the dwindling hapless cohort that does pay income tax. That’s a
realistic consequence of the sacrosanct one-person-one-vote democratic
principle, even though such a system will self-evidently run out of
Just as democratic states build in safeguards
to prevent discrimination against minorities, so perhaps they need
safeguards to keep sizeable non income taxpaying minorities from
over-influencing how much tax to extract from the payers.
wrote about this subject last year, though without much of a
resolution. This time I have a suggestion.
Other than the incumbents, few people are much
enthused about Ireland's undemocratic Seanad (ie, its Senate, or upper
house, which is modelled on Britain's House of Lords). With members
appointed by the Taoiseach (prime minister) or else elected by elite
groupings, It is seen as an expensive vanity talking shop for aspiring
and failed politicians who have no real influence on parliamentary
affairs. Many are calling for it to be reformed or reduced. Fine Gael,
the main opposition party, wants it
Here is a better idea. Let it become a house
reserved for those who pay income tax, with Senators elected only by
income tax payers (as advised by the Revenue) for a single, fixed
five-year term. Let its primary function be the review of all
legislation with a taxation element, not solely “Money Bills” as defined
Constitution. It would have powers to amend or reject bills, which
could then be sent back to the Dáil, perhaps twice. Ultimate power
must, of course, remain within the Dáil with its universal suffrage, but
the latter should be forced to take into consideration the Seanad’s
viewpoints and to justify any disagreement.
This is not a perfect solution to the dilemma
of non income tax payers voting for higher income taxes, but does
introduce a restraining modicum of equity to the process.
What a cheery bunch of senior ministers Ireland appears
to have. Every month for the past quarter, there has been a
classic example of this with photos and recordings to enliven/enrage the
on 14th September, Taoiseach Brian Cowen gave an early-morning radio
interview when he was clearly still inebriated following a raucous night of
boozing and singing with party colleagues. The interview went
viral and within days America's talk-show comedian
Jay Leno had flashed up this flattering photo showing the leader behind
two, er, bars.
Mr Leno asked his audience whether they were looking at
a bartender, a politician or a comedian (they guessed correctly) and
then called the Taoiseach a
Then it was the turn of Mr Cowen's predecessor the
crooked Bertie Ahern, who has been shunned on the cash-laden lecture circuit,
where he hoped to lecture the world on how he turned Ireland into an
economic powerhouse (ha!), and whose recent
“da buke”) sold almost no copies. He now augments
his salary as a member of parliament (€112,000
plus pension as a past Taoiseach (€83,000 though he
he is foregoing this) by writing a football column for the Irish edition
of the News of the World. Last month he decided to demean himself
further - and the office of Taoiseach - by featuring himself drinking a
cup of tea inside a kitchen cupboard as part of an
advertisement for the newspaper. Some wag said it depicted him
in cabinet surrounded by vegetables.
Then this month it was Ireland's beleaguered and
incompetent health minister, Mary Harney, although in this case the
image that went round the world was not of her own making. Though
she is an Independent, she has been health minister in Fianna Fail led
coalitions for an astonishing six years - mainly because no other
politician wants to touch this particular poisoned ministerial chalice, nicknamed
1st November she showed up in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot to
ceremonially turn the first sod of a new mental health centre.
A Dublin county councillor, Louise Minihan, who is so
Marxist that she left Sinn Fein because it wasn't sufficently left wing, radical and
violent for her unpleaseant tastes, also showed up. With a balloon
As a protest against health cuts (or whatever), the
councillor threw the balloon at the minister leaving her splattered with
red paint, symbolising blood according to Ms Minihan. While the
ranted and raved, Ms Harney, to her credit, said nothing untoward and
proceeded with the sod-turning. But the picture on the right
made it to the
Washinton Post and around the world, further disgracing the image of
Ireland and its politicians.
Personally, however, I prefer the version below, with a
much more merry Mary, who reputedly has decided to cancel Christmas this
I look forward with relish to December's ministerial photographic episode; I wonder
which one it will be this time. There is a cabinet full of hapless
candidates, or perhaps I should say vegetables.
Three national leaders in crisis show how to lead - and how not to
In three different countries, three
massive industrial disasters took place in recent months, each
undoubtedly avoidable with proper engineering and operational practices.
One killed eleven and created an immense environmental spill, another
killed nine people and also created a huge environmental spill.
The third came within a hair's breadth of killing 33 people.
It is instructive to contrast how these catastrophes
were handled on the national level and the differences in leadership.
They were of course
blowout in the Gulf of Mexico,
the poisonous red sludge in
Hungary (which has still not been totally resolved), and
the mine collapse in Chile.
America's most destructive hurricane ever, struck New Orleans in 2005,
President Bush was rightly reviled for his lackadaisical response.
It took him a long time to recognize that this was a calamity of
national proportions and even then his interest and so-called remedial
measures gave the impression of being desultory at best. He just
didn't seem to care very much, and Americans were furious with him as a
result. Most vocal among his critics was an up and coming Junior
Senator from Illinois, one Barack Obama, whose national popularity began
to soar just as that of his nemesis crashed to unprecedentedly low
But in April of this year Nemesis came hunting for the
hubristic Mr Obama himself when, through slap-dash work practices and
inadequate engineering, BP lost control of its exploration well
in 1500 metres of water depth, 60 kilometres off the coast of Louisiana.
Eleven workers were killed, 17 injured, and a massive spill ensued as an
unmeasured volume of oil leaked into the sea from the well at the
BP then marshalled a very impressive army of world
experts, not only from within its own ranks but also, swallowing its
pride, from those of its competitors (eg Shell), its contractors and
assorted consultants. From that moment onwards, it was clear, as I
argued in a piece called
“BP's Brilliant Management of its Blowout”
that it put hardly a foot wrong, not just in the technical side of its
response, but also in the way it dealt:
with the oil spill -
booming, flaring, promising a complete clean-up,
with local fishermen -
it hired them all,
with the public relations aspects -
through extreme openness and
with demands for compensation -
promised to everyone.
President Obama however went into hysterical schoolgirl
mode. He made a few visits to beaches, but to his frustration was
unable to find a single
photo-opportunity that involved serious environmental damage or
wildlife harm. So he and his staff talked
Full of mistrust of BP's assurances, he strong-armed it into setting up
a $20 billion escrow account for compensation and clean-up purposes - an
extra-judicial shakedown slush-fund as some such as
Congressman Joe Barton understandably called it.
Meanwhile, ever mindful of his union backers, Mr Obama endorsed their
demand that foreign vessels be kept away under the provision of the 1920
Jones Act which prohibits non-American vessels from working in US
waters. Within three days of the blowout the Netherlands
offered to provide specialist ships outfitted with oil-skimming
booms, and a plan for building sand barriers to protect sensitive
marshlands. The Dutch have particular expertise and specialist equipment
in these areas which the Americans do not, yet the Obama administration
immediately rebuffed them; it was to be nearly two months before some
kind of grudging compromise allowed the Dutch to assist.
BP was clearly the enemy, more so
than the disaster itself, and Mr Obama's rhetoric and behaviour were
focused on this theme.
Nevertheless, in spite of
bureaucratic hostility and obstructionism, BP got on with fighting the
real enemy: the blowout and its catastrophic actual and potential
consequences. It eventually emerged victorious though a
combination of technical and operational brilliance that were so absent
when incident occurred in the first place. The dead men, sadly,
cannot be brought back, but all other traces will eventually be erased.
Oh, and meanwhile Mr Obama's
ratings went down and down, to the
lowest level of his presidency, deeper than the Macondo well itself.
The Americans rated his performance and leadership to have been even
more disastrous (59%
disapproval) than Mr Bush's after Katrina (57%).
Why, US News & World Report
tells us that 43% of Americans now say that Mr Obama has been a better
president than Mr Bush, but even more - 48% - say precisely the
opposite. (It reminds me of that memorable Minnesota billboard
Macondo has done him no good
Late Note (21st November 2010):
Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal has
written a new book,
in which he scathingly points out Mr Obama's dearth of leadership
over the Macondo oil spill, as summarised in
Now let's have a look at that
On 4 October, 160 kilometres
south-west of Budapest, the wall of a Soviet-era industrial waste
collapsed, freeing about a million cubic metres of poisonous caustic
(pH 13) red mud, which inundated 40 square kilometres of land including
several localities and townships. See these
images. At least nine people died, and 122 were injured with
chemical burns. Within three days the spill, flowing
via the Kolontar, Marcal and Raba tributaries where it devastated
river life, reached the Danube, Europe's second biggest river (after the
Volga in Russia). Meanwhile another reservoir wall was so weakened
it threatened to rupture and release a further half-million cubic metres
It is instructive to view the reaction
of prime minister Viktor Orban and his administration.
They quickly recognized the gravity of the event
and won early praise for how they handled the crisis.
Global Post reports that theEnvironment
Minister Zoltan Illes was among the first on the scene, with Mr Orban
hot on his heels. Mr Orban quickly declared the
disaster to be an
unprecedented in Hungary’s history”.
He surveyed damaged homes,
reassured victims that they will eventually receive adequate
compensation. He said that “human negligence” would be
and that there would be “very
consequences for anyone found responsible.
Acting on those words, he quickly
had Zoltan Bakonyi arrested for “criminal
negligence leading to a public catastrophe”. Now facing a
ten year sentence, he is the managing director of the Hungarian
Aluminium Production and Trade Company which ran the waste reservoir.
Concluding that the management was incompetent, Mr Orban promptly
nationalised the company, albeit on a temporary basis.
A clean up and acidification plan
was quickly implemented designed to minimise spread of the sludge and
neutralise its caustic nature and to get the reservoir walls repaired.
As a result of such timely action under the prime minister's leadership,
serious downstream damage to the Danube seems to have been averted as
well as the risk of a second wave.
Mr Orban assumed office only last
May with a handsome majority and within a month had achieved a 63%
popularity rating, far ahead of his rivals - see below.
Negative view Pale blue
His grip on power and that of his party Fidesztightened
overwhelming victory in municipal elections was declared on,
coincidentally, the very day of the sludge leak.
It might have been expected,
therefore, that a national calamity must surely dent his appeal.
Far from it. His rapid, hands-on, populist, tough-guy, autocratic
approach to the disaster seems only have to enhanced his standing;
apparently “this is what local people want”. Moreover,
this seems be trumping any criticism that lax regulatory oversight might
have contributed to the spill.
According to Krisztian Szabados, an
analyst from the consulting firm Political Capital,
government's reaction was fast and very disciplined, which is why the
public's reaction to its handling of the issue is very positive”.
Mr Orban is still a very popular
leader, despite what many view as his autocratic even imperialistic
instincts, and his performance over the sludge incident has done him no harm
Chilean Trapped Miners
And so to the San José copper-gold mine
incident in Copiapó in northern Chile, which some wags dubbed “the
major miner miracle”.
We were all enthralled, heart-in-mouth, at the
drawn-out drama in Chile which concluded with the almost
miraculous rescue of the 33 miners trapped 622 metres underground for
over two months.
For me, the unsung hero is Manuel Gonzales, the mining
engineer who, at the start of the evacuation, voluntarily went down into
the mine to join the miners and help load them, one by one, into Fénix (Phoenix)
the aptly named capsule. The 33 miners were all trapped
involuntarily; he went there willingly. His was truly a step into the unknown,
the human breakthrough that enabled the long rescue operation to be
concluded. He stepped forward without knowing whether the eventual
outcome would be successful; all he knew was that if it were not, he
would be one of the casualties trapped, and likely to die, in that awful
subterranean version of Hades.
He was also the last one out.
Imagine that, being left all alone 622 metres underground, anxiously
awaiting the return of the Phoenix into which he had to strap himself.
no hero, I am just one of the team”,
Tough, unassuming guy.
The initial cave-in
occurred on 5th August. On the 6th, Chile's mining
minister Laurence Golborne cut short a visit to Ecuador and flew back to
join the rescue effort in Copiapo. The following day,
President Sebastian Piñera (a billionaire entrepreneur who assumed
office only in March 2010) aborted an official trip to Colombia and returned to
Chile to be with family members of the trapped miners at a temporary
camp, later named Esperanza, set up outside the mine. The
president and minister remained on site for the duration of the rescue.
Finding the mine’s owners, Compañía Minera San Esteban,
overwhelmed by Chile’s worst mining accident in decades, the president
ordered his government to take charge and called in experts from
Codelco, a big state-owned copper producer. Codelco probes located
the miners within days. Then, in order to drill three separate
rescue shafts while keeping the prisoners physically and mentally
healthy, it immediately mobilised contractors, equipment, the
Chilean Navy, NASA and other specialists, from around the world
South for drill bits), all with the full support of the government.
Unlike Mr Obama's administration over Macondo, Mr Piñera's showed no
interest in ridiculous notions of protecting Chile's national
sovereignty. Nor did he allow either cost or punishment to become
a distracting issue. Solving the emergency was (rightly) deemed to
be far more important than any such extraneous factors.
Nevertheless, to preserve the integrity of the rest of
Chile's huge mining industry, the president did sack the head of
the national mining regulator, which monitors mine safety, and he vowed
a major overhaul of the body. The San José mine had had a
history of instability that had led to previous accidents, including
one death. Moreover, its owners have a notorious danger record,
with eight deaths in twelve years and 42 fines in six years for safety
breaches. Clearly Mr Piñera believed the regulator had been asleep
at the wheel. No doubt sanctions against Compañía Minera San
Esteban would follow, but not until the emergency was resolved for fear
that such action would merely exacerbate the rescue operation.
When the 33 were eventually freed, one at a time over a
period of 23 long hours, President Piñera stood in the biting cold at
the wellhead and greeted each one warmly in turn, behaving to each as if
he were the only one to have been rescued. Minister Golborne did
All of that was was an object lesson of leadership in
action. It will doubtless feature as a case study in global
business schools for years to come.
When I lecture on industrial safety management, I always
emphasise that the most important single ingredient in fostering safe
practices and a safety culture is visible management commitment.
If the top woman or man is not absolutely committed to safety, if she/he
does not demonstrate this through personal daily actions and behaviour
which the workforce can clearly see, then you can hardly blame the
workforce for not taking safety seriously. And conversely.
Starting at a time when failure looked highly likely, Mr
Piñera most definitely demonstrated his own presidential commitment
to the successful outcome of the rescue effort, on a most personal and
steadfast level, and made sure that everyone knew it; as did Mr Golborne. This
undoubtedly was a major contributory factor to the eventual happy
Needless to say, the president's popularity soared among ordinary
approval ratings jumping from 50% to 70%. The minister became even more popular at 86%.
In the wider world Chile has attracted nothing but praise.
Winners and Loser
To conclude, there were three national disasters for
which three national leaders took responsibility. When they were
all over, two leaders receive adulation at home (as well as abroad); one
attracted only disdain.
The difference? The successful ones were
single-minded in their determination to get the problem solved to the
exclusion of all other considerations.
Mr Obama did not. This naive young man, who has
had no preparation whatsoever for the momentous post he holds, was
completely out of his depth, in terms of both
hadn't a clue what to do, and
surrendered to his innate anti-capitalism, pro-labor-unionism
America continues to pay the price - at least until the
elections of 2nd November!
But hey, let's brighten up!
On a lighter note, Joe O'Connor, Ireland's self-styled
most depressed poet, mused on what might have ensued had the trapped
miners been Irish.
Singapore’s two-faced treatment
of drugs and murder is deadly
– but only if you’re a nobody
Passing mention in a newspaper that a
journalist had been detained in Singapore over a book about executions,
which had been banned, was enough for me to seek it out and order it.
Published in April 2010, it's called “Once a Jolly Hangman”, by a
septuagenarian British investigative journalist, Alan Shadrake. Not
available on Amazon, I searched unsuccessfully in Malaysia and other
East Asian countries, and eventually sourced it at
MaryMartin.com which, interestingly, is a site based in Singapore
itself. Evidently the banning order had not yet reached online
suppliers at the time I placed my order or the ban does not extend to
exports. Other sources are listed
Firstly, it is a book that badly needs
an editor. There are multiple typos, though interestingly no actual
spelling mistakes – the author clearly used a spell-checker but did not
check meaning and context of the software’s corrections. And there’s no
index, which makes it hard to study (and review).
Each chapter appears to have had a
prior life as a stand-alone newspaper column. These columns have then
seemingly been pasted together without regard to any flow between them
or attention to chronology, and a wilful disregard of repetition and
sometimes even contradiction. This makes it a somewhat tiresome read,
which is pity because it is packed with shocking revelations about the
harsher end of Singapore's penal system, both how it is applied and –
just as controversially – how it isn't. A properly edited document
would be even more hard-hitting and attract a wider audience.
Singapore is famed for its law-abiding
civic-spirited population coupled with the rectitude of its almost
crime-free public life within a rigid, paternalistic legal framework and
a free-trade capitalistic ethos. These arrangements have brought
immense prosperity to its
4.7 million people despite a complete absence of natural resources
and a tiny surface area of just 700 square kilometres (192nd
in the world). Since independence from Britain in 1965**,
annual GDP per
capita has screamed up a hundredfold from
$500 to today’s
$52,000, which represents an extraordinary rate of growth
approaching 11% pa for 45 dogged years and has made Singaporeans
the eighth richest in the world (ahead even of the USA). It’s
little wonder, therefore, that in general its citizens seem content,
notwithstanding their constrained political freedoms that have
People’s Action Party in permanent power, election after election,
with never more than a handful of (tame) opposition MPs in parliament.
John Harrington kindly points out that
Singapore gained independence from Britain in 1963.
1965 was the year Singapore was ejected from the Union with Malaysia]
Singapore has a reputation for being
tough in the exercise of its law but scrupulously fair and impartial,
whether punishing miscreants for defying the chewing gum ban, caning
vandals on their backside or hanging drug-dealers.
But the piercing light that Alan
Shadrake’s book shines into Singapore’s penchant for executions has
tarnished dreadfully that reputation. That’s why it’s banned.
With some 25 executions per year,
Singapore has the dubious distinction of the highest execution rate per
head of population in the world, higher than
that of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, USA. (This does not,
however, include state assassinations – for example Russia is believed
to have engineered the deaths of
52 journalists for exposing embarrassing state information; the
figure in Mexico is at least
30 in four years).
Mr Shadrake begins his book with a
long drawn out tale of how he managed to secure a unique interview with
a plump, jovial, bald grandfather who, wearing only a pair of shorts,
answers the ring at the door of his tenth-floor apartment and invites in
the author. Darshan Singh is the book’s eponymous “jolly hangman”,
possibly history’s most prolific ever exponent of his art, having
dispatched during his 50-year career around a thousand unfortunates “to
a better place” as he informs each one before opening the
trap-door. The interview reveals very little, other than that the man
is not a sadist but simply, as he sees it, someone who does his job and
thereby helps to maintain Singapore a safe and agreeable place. Mr
Singh’s activity, gruesome as it is, is not the scandal.
The scandal is the way in which the
death penalty, which is mandatory for drugs and for murder, is imposed
only on those who are poor, unconnected, uneducated, unnoticed. In
other words nobodies, whom no-one much cares about. The vast majority
of executions are perpetrated on
“nobodies” who are mules,
minor dealers, penniless addicts, bottom of the social scale – and
rather than the drug barons made
wealthy through organising the trade,
or drug-takers/dealers (or indeed murderers) in the
privileged social, political, diplomatic, financial or security
echelons of Singapore.
The author details numerous examples of
Flor Contempacion, a Filipina
maid, whose slave-labour conditions and 18 hours a day 7 days a week
work schedule drove her to a breakdown;
Indian Vignes Mourthi, a lowly
freight-packer who was the subject of a drugs sting by two
policemen, who were themselves under investigation for rape, sodomy
and corruption (and later jailed). But the lawyers and judge,
who had been in the know, kept
this secret until the policemen’s (otherwise unassailable) sworn
testimony had hanged Mr Mourthi
[seven years later his heartbroken family is
Vietnamese-Australian Nguyen Van
Tuong whom the Australian government studiously ignored until it was
Nigerian soccer player Amara
Tuochi whose judge admitted there was no evidence that he knew he
was carrying drugs - but put on the black hat anyway.
On the other side of the coin are
party-girl and narcotics-dealer Julia Bohl caught during a drug-fuelled party at her home, whose charges
were dramatically downgraded to avoid the death penalty when her
native German Government threatened trade reprisals.
Or Englishman Mike McCrea, a
millionaire financier and drug-dealer who strangled his chauffeur and
girlfriend in Singapore then fled to Australia: Singapore agreed to
spare his life in exchange for his extradition.
Or high-society Tunisian cocaine
traffiker Guiga Lyes Ben Laroussi, who was rich and well-connected
enough to bribe and blackmail his way out of death and into
Or Filipina maid Guen Aguila whose
act of murder was scaled back to manslaughter so as not to execute
her because the Filipino state went berserk in light of the earlier
hanging of Ms Contemplacion.
Capital cases are heard by one judge
with no jury. Trials are usually swift, appeals summarily dismissed,
pleas for clemency to the President fall on deaf ears, and execution
follows soon afterwards.
Judges are appointed by
the Chief Justice who himself is a
political appointee; thus they
must probably remain cognizant of the party in power (ie the PAP). On
occasion they can show a cavalier disregard for due judicial process, as
in the case of Amara Tuochi. Even the Chief Justice himself, Yong Pung How,
after rejecting the formal appeal of Vignes Mourthi against his death
sentence declared, with outrageous equanimity, that
“yes, an innocent can be hanged for procedural
One wonders, therefore, how
Transparency International can have ranked Singapore as joint first, on
93% with Denmark and New Zealand, in its 2010
Corruption Perceptions Index. “Corruption” obviously does
not include judicial corruption.
As far as illegal drugs are concerned,
it is clear that Singapore’s objective is persecution of the weak.
Otherwise it would surely put all its efforts into catching the big fish
who control the business and not the small fry whose execution does
nothing to stem the trade.
As if all this were not bad enough –
the arbitrariness of the life-and-death judicial process often subject
to whims, fancies and outside pressure – the Singapore state itself is
up to its neck in the illegal drug business (and associated crimes),
from which it derives considerable revenue.
It does this through its close links
with and enthusiastic backing of Burma’s illegal military regime, whose
own survival very much depends on the lucrative income stream from opium
and heroin, which is second only to Afghanistan’s. Burma, in effect a
narco-dictatorship, is at the centre of South East Asia’s famed
Golden Triangle of opium production.
In the thick of this are Lo Hsing Han,
his son Tun Myint Naing and Singaporean daughter-in-law Cecilia Ng,
centred in Burma, who run the biggest and most heavily-armed heroin
operation in South East Asia. The Singapore state has made huge
investments in this family’s businesses in Burma, for example in its
hotel and other enterprises and it in turn has poured money into
Singapore. Its legitimate businesses are largely fronts for drug
operations. Assorted private Singapore businesses are also
injecting $900 billion a year into Burma. Mya Maung, a Burmese
economist in Boston,
says that “Singapore’s economic linkage with
Burma is one of the most vital factors for the survival of Burma’s
military regime. This link is also central to the expansion of the
heroin trade.” It is truly Burma’s foremost business partner.
Meantime, the mega-drug-dealing Mr Lo
and his family merrily trip in and out of Singapore whenever they like
and are never arrested and executed as Singapore law demands. That
grim fate is reserved solely for Flor Contemplacion and other nobodies her ilk.
“Once a Jolly Hangman” is truly an eye-opener of
a book, and not jolly at all.
Late Note (14th November):
The author is, predictably, in trouble
with the law in Singapore
where he has been arrested and charged with various crimes -
disparaging the government, questioning the judiciary's impartiality,
breaking the Official Secrets Act over his interview with the eponymous Mr
In November the Economist
reported on the ongoing case
but hasn't yet dared review the actual book.
Later Note (26th November):
Mr Shadrake has been
found guilty of contempt of court
for questioning the impartiality of the Singapore judiciary in his book,
sentenced to six weeks jail, fined S$20,000 (= US$15,000)
and made liable for S$55,000 in costs.
Still a cruel and ugly practice that few are prepared to condemn
I have previously
written about the wanton cruelty involved in the slaughter of farm
animals by Halal and Kosher methods. Cows, sheep, goats and
poultry are killed by having their throats cut and then leaving them to
bleed to death in enormous distress over a period of several minutes.
The Sunday Times kindly published
an article by me in which I pointed out the hypocrisy of animal
rights campaigners who wage violent campaigns against the limited
practice of animal testing, yet are deafeningly silent when it comes to
millions upon millions of large sentient animals being ritually tortured
to death every day by Halal and Kosher methods.
Though there is much to dislike about the British
National Party, it is not all bad. For one thing, it addresses
issues that the mainstream parties are terrified to touch (eg excessive
immigration, Islamicisation, erosion of national identity). It has
recently produced this graphic Youtube video which describes and shows
the cruelty of Halal slaughter, another no-go area for stereotypical
Western politicians. If you don't want to witness such practices,
then don't on click it.
What is additionally shocking is the number of major
food outlets that routinely, in the UK at least, sell Halal products -
Tesco, Marks & Spencer, MacDonalds among others, as well as every kebab
shop in town - and they apparently do not always inform their customers.
It is bad enough that
Halal and Kosher meat is sold to adherents of the respective religions.
But on no account should non-Muslims and non-Jews be expected to help
fund the squalid, barbaric practice by inadvertently buying such
I am going to start
asking the outlets where I buy meat whether it is Halal or Kosher.
If it is, I will certainly boycott such merchandise but also try to
embarrass the establishments. Watch this space ...
How times can change in just a couple of years or less.
Obama used to be The Sacred One whom no-one could lampoon or even
criticise, least of all in the lickspittle Irish media. Unlike his
predecessor who is fair game for any kind of ridicule, to this day.
Yet on a dull Tuesday in October, there was the
Metro-Herald, Ireland's mild, anodyne, a-political give-away daily
newspaper, with a casual photo of The Sacred One while some protester
has slung a book in the general direction of his head.
Disparaging Obama, it seems, has at last become
mainstream. The Macondo blowout is only one of many reasons.
(There are also trillion-dollar go-nowhere
9.2% unemployment, threatened yet unspecified tax-rises, to name but
a few others.)
You can find more on this incident, including a video clip (@23 secs) in British
I wonder how long before one of his disenchanted
groupies decides to upgrade from a book and emulate
Muntazer al-Zaidi by
hurling a shoe? And will Mr Obama nimbly dodge it and
observe that it's a size 10?
Bank of Ireland's works of art Letter to the Irish Times on 6th
November So long as the Bank of Ireland is in hock to
the Irish taxpayers to the tune of
plus the State guarantee, and the State itself is on the
brink of insolvency, the bank has absolutely no right to donate its
paintings and sculptures to ...
Should Metro North survive the cutbacks? Comment on an article by Green minister
Ciaran Cuffe championing a costly Metro in Dublin There's NO F**KING MONEY! What part of that does Mr Cuffe not
understand? Revenue is taking in €37 billion per year; the State is
spending €58 billion. This has to halt ...
Do you think the rise of the far-right
threatens the stability of the European Union? Comment on an Irish Times poll question I certainly hope so! The term is anyway a misnomer. Most so-called
"far right" parties are in fact deeply left-wing, calling for all kinds
of state subsidies and control of free market capitalism. They earn the
moniker solely because they hold the outrageous belief that a country
should belong to its natives rather than to ...
EU Targets Irish Corporation Tax Letter to the Irish Times
Slowly the mask slips. Those of us who viewed
the Lisbon treaty with horror foresaw that, notwithstanding vehement
denials, the EU would inevitably target Ireland's low corporation tax.
This was/is for the simple reason that our 12.5 per cent puts unwelcome
(19 Nov): “The forecast
of 100,000 public sector job losses a year is within the margin of
error in the context of the 30 million-strong job sector.”
Lord Young, business and entreprise
adviser to David Cameron
and once a minister under Margaret Thatcher,
offends everyone by stating the bleedin' obvious,
that a loss of just 0.3% in the nation's jobs is negligible
(though obviously tough for the individuals).
He was forced to apologise for
“insensitive and inaccurate”
- though the statistical observation was not inaccurate -
and then had to
now we know the truth. The white flag has been raised, the towel has
been thrown in and like the
prowler waves off the west coast, they
[the EU, the European Central Bank and the
IMF] are coming on Thursday [18th November]”
Enda Kenny the leader Fine Gael,
Ireland's main opposition,
tells the Daíl (parliament) what the Government will not:
that an effectively bankrupt Ireland
is about to lose its economic sovereignty
to become a vassal of extra-national bodies
“Some years down the pike, we're going to get the real
solution, which is going to be a combination of death panels and
sales taxes ... the eventual resolution of the deficit problem both
will and should rely on
‘death panels and sales taxes’.”
Paul Krugman, renowned
Nobel-prize winning economist
of the distinctly Left-leaning persuasion,
thinks it's a good idea to let government committees,
under President Obama's health care plan,
decide whether individual citizens are worth
the drugs and medical attention that will keep them alive,
as this will help get the US debt crisis under control.
Well why not?
The Left have long supported,
the termination of babies before they're born,
so why not encourage the same at the other end of the spectrum:
the termination of expensive old folks?
Especially since the gray demographic voted overwhelmingly
against the Obama agenda at the mid-term elections.
- - - - - E U - - - - -
“We cannot keep constantly explaining to our voters and our
citizens why the taxpayer should bear the cost of certain risks and
not those people who have earned a lot of money from taking those
Some words of common sense from
Germany frumpy but eminently sensible Chancellor,
at the G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea.
She is much respected within her own
and increasingly feared in the rest of the the EU
time of the homogeneous nation state is over ... The idea that a
country can survive alone is not merely an illusion, it is a lie!”
Herman Van Rompuy, one of the EU's many
each with his own mysterious portfolio (José Manuel Barroso
are two others),
exposes the raw imperialistic anti-democratic urges that beat
within the heart of the EU aristocracy.
According to him that'll be the end of
since they are to be abolished, or turned into counties or something.
I have never advocated the destruction of the
but if Mr van Rompuy is speaking authoritatively, then I do now.
- - - - - M A L D I V E S - -
- - -
Quote (3 Nov):
“You are swine. The children that you bear from this
marriage will all be bastard swine. Your marriage is not a
valid one. You are not the kind of people who can have a valid
marriage. One of you is an infidel. The other, too, is
an infidel and, we have reason to believe, an atheist, who does not
even believe in an infidel religion ... Worms may come from
the tip of your penis.”
On the sun-kissed shingle of the
Vilu Reef Beach & Spa Resort in the Maldives,
Hussein Didi, the hotel's marriage celebrant, chants in his local
the traditional wedding blessing reserved for pigs, apes and other
while the starry-eyed newly-weds blush with delight
at his tender if incomprehensible words.
A guest records the touching scene
and posts it on Youtube.
Someone translates it into English.
The Vilu Reef apologises (for getting caught).
- - - - - S P A I N - - - - -
Quote (3 Nov)
“We're very happy,
for us it's not a drama. Girls get married at ten so we don't
understand why people are so surprised.”
Olimpia, the Romanian Roma mother of
who gave birth in Jerez, southern Spain to a 2.9kg baby girl
thinks that's just fine. The father is thirteen.
The age of consent in Spain is
while 14-year-olds are allowed to marry with a judge's permission.
So what will the law do about this
spot of mutual paedophilia?
- - - - - C H I L E - - - - -
“I’ve been near God but I’ve also been near the
devil. They fought but God won.”
Mario Sepulveda, right, the second Chilean miner to be rescued,
whose Christian faith helped sustain him throughout his 69 day
From the mine he brought with him a bag of rocks containing gold
handed them out to rescuers in the moments after his release.
- - - - - N E T H E R L A N D S - - - - -
“I do not insult, I do not incite to
hatred, I do not discriminate. The only thing I do and will continue
to do is to speak the truth.”
Gert Wilders, leader of Holland's third most
exults as snivelling prosecutors withdraw all charges against him
for inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims.
These had arisen out of his short movie
Koranic justification for the 9-11 attacks and other atrocities.
They finally realised that
they were on a disreputable, ridiculous and losing wicket.
- - - - - G E R M A N Y - - - - -
“This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly
She means that allowing people of
different cultural backgrounds
to live side by side without integrating
has not worked in a country that is home to four million Muslims.
She is of course right, but what will she do
Her country is in an irreversible demographic death spiral,
so how will it manage without immigrants?
- - - - - O B A M A ' s U S A - - - - -
of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts
and science and argument does
[sic] not seem to be winning the day all
the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly
when we’re scared. And the country is scared.”
President Obama explains
to a select audience in Massachusetts that the reason Americans are flocking
from the Democrats to the Republicans
is because they are deranged.
“I never asked President Obama for his endorsement ... he
can take his endorsement and really shove it as far as I am
Frank Caprio, the Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island,
recognizes that an endorsement by his hugely despised Democratic
would be toxic to his election campaign.
“We're gonna punish our enemies
and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that
are important to us.”
Mr Obama uses his customary
to persuade Hispanic voters to vote Democratic.
“If you want to create jobs, the quickest way to do it is
to provide more funding for more food stamps.”
Nancy Pelosi, the evidently unhinged Democratic
of the US House of Representatives,
thinks the way to solve poverty is to encourage more of it,
just as the way to eliminate debt is to borrow more.
- - - - I S L A M I S M - - - - -
“We must stand united to defeat, to destroy, to dismantle
Israel – if possible by peaceful means ...
For the Jews, I would say, ‘See what could happen to you if the
Muslims wake up.’
And I say to the ‘Muslims, Dear brothers and sisters – unite and
rise up against this hydra-headed monster which calls itself Zionism’.”
A merry bit of knockabout anti-Semitism by
a Pakistani professor of English and journalism
at Pennsylvania's Lincoln University
He later issued
I refer critically to the
I am referring to the current leadership of the
and to their major
not to the Jewish race as a whole ... I am not anti-Semitic.”
Or as Aesha
Mohammed, his alleged wife once merrily
... Jihad ... Jihad! Finish with the Jewish vermin once and forever!”
Oh, and the
professor is also a holocaust denier.
“Go and read the speech of Iran's president to the
United Nations just days ago here in New York, and tell me that is
someone you want with a nuclear bomb.”
Tony Blair spells out home truths in a speech
in New York
to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Pity he didn't do so when he was in office and
thus in a position
to follow up such ideas with - what's the word, ah yes - action.
“How can they ever understand us? They have this
relatively huge country. Everything is green. They don’t have to
bother about water. They don’t have any enemy around them that wants
to eliminate them. The Irish people have no fears; they can live
“We are surrounded by 22 Arab countries, some of them very
hostile. Look at Israel compared to the whole Muslim world – its
seven million people compared to more than one billion. We are
trying to survive in a neighbourhood in which we are not very
Mrs Boaz Mordai, wife of the new Israeli
ambassador to Ireland,
muses on why most Irish are so hostile towards her country.
- - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - -
“I wish I had known the importance of keeping tight control
over financial institutions when I was Taoiseach. This is
fundamental. If I had known this before 2008, Ireland wouldn’t have
suffered. I can blame only myself”
Finally, an admission of personal gross
Bertie Ahern, Ireland's former and crooked money-grubbing
self-aggrandizing Taoiseach (prime minister).
No wonder he is (rightly) despised the length
and breadth of the land.
But with extraordinary and characteristic
chutzpah he then says,
“I wonder about running in the presidential elections.”
“I am very proud of my ability to be
a host, a rather rare, perhaps unique host. I am a playful
person, full of life. I love life, I love women ...
have a terrible life. I have a life which requires super-human
efforts. I work like nobody else does, until half past two at
“If every now and then,
I feel the need for a relaxed evening, to tell some jokes, for
mental therapy, to clear my brain from all these worries, I think
that is part of my personality and at my age, no one can make me
change my way of life.”
Accused of improperly
Ruby, a 17-year-old Moroccan girl,
Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is, well,
Silvio Berlusconi - and Italian.
“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.
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’sincredible 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