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TALLRITE BLOG 
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November 2010


Flash ClocksVideo Clocks at WishAFriend.com

ISSUE #210 - November 2010 [306 + 3205 = 3511]

Daily poll on President Obama’s popularity; date is on the charts. (Click to get the latest version.)

Rasmussen Daily Poll - 11 November 2010

44% Total Approval as at 11 November 2010

Please Touch My Junk

A different way to deal with intimate airport security

If you touch my junk I'm going to have you arrested.” 

So said would-be airline passenger John Tyner earlier this month at San Diego airport, California, objecting to an intimate pat-down by pre-flight security officials . 

His self-made video of the incident quickly went viral on Youtube (minute 1:15):  

The exchange continued:

Mr Tyner: 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.
Mr Tyner: 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. 

The 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 traveller. 

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. 

Meanwhile, tune in and enjoy Danny Kristen and his new song, Don't Touch My Junk”.

Don't touch  Danny Kristensen's junkThe Lyrics:

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):

Subliminal PandaSubliminal Panda is an anonymous if self-confessed fat, gluttonous, smoking, drinking, foul-mouthed, bearded, middle-aged guy.   Who likes wearing (non-Scottish) kilts.  Always commando-style

You can't help liking him. 

He 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 electronic screening. 

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 panic. 

What an excellent alternative way to make a statement. 

Hat-tip: Jawa Report

I am reminded of what happened when a young woman late at night asked a Scotsman what he wore under his kilt. 

“Poot yer hund up and faind oot fer yerself”, he replied, so she did. 

“Ooooh, it's gruesome!” she screamed in horror. 

“Quick, poot it back.  It's grew some more.”

Back to List of Contents

Let the Green Goose Hiss - 13th November 2010

Give income tax payers their own parliamentary house

Sunday Times Think Tank, 28th November 2010The 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 - not hissing enoughPerhaps the 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 money. 

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.  

I 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 abolished.     

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 in the 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. 

The American revolution was founded on the battle cry “No taxation without representation!”.  The new Seanad’s motto should be the converse, “No representation without taxation representation!” 

So let the green goose hiss.  And let the UK, America and other countries also find a way to let their own geese be geese. 

Back to List of Contents

Irish Ministers in Unwelcome Global Photos - 13th November 2010

Irish ministers get too close to the cameras

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 nation. 

Brian Cowen after a night of, er, celebrationFirst, 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 drunken moron

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 memoirs (known as da buke”) sold almost no copies.  He now augments his salary as a member of parliament (€112,000 pa) plus pension as a past Taoiseach (€83,000 though he says 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. 

Bertie Ahern, advertising inside a cupboard

Then this month it was Ireland's beleaguered and incompetent health minister, Mary Harney, although in this case the unfortunate 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 Angola. 

Mary Harney splattered by red paintOn 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 filled with red paint. 

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 latter 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 year.

Bloody Mary buries Santa

Meanwhile, 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. 

Back to List of Contents

Three Disasters, Three Leaders, Two Winners

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

  • the Macondo 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. 

Macondo Blowout

After Katrina, 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 levels. 

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 Macondo 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 seabed. 

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 Government 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 that reads Miss me yet?”). 

Macondo has done him no good whatsoever. 

Late Note (21st November 2010):

Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal has written a new book, Leadership and Crisis,
in which he scathingly points out Mr Obama's dearth of leadership
over the Macondo oil spill, as summarised in this video.
 

 

Hungarian Sludge

Now let's have a look at that Hungarian sludge. 

On 4 October, 160 kilometres south-west of Budapest, the wall of a Soviet-era industrial waste reservoir 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 graphic Russian 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 of sludge. 

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.  The Global Post reports that the Environment 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 ecological tragedy 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 punished and that there would be “very severe” 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. 

  White/Pink = No opinion
Yellow =
Negative view

Pale blue =
Positive view

His grip on power and that of his party Fidesz tightened further when 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; apparentlythis 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, the 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 at all. 

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. 

Rescuer Manuel Gonzalez, last to leave the mine, bids farewell

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.  I am no hero, I am just one of the team”, he commented.  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 quickly 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 (including Ireland North and 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 Sernageomin, 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 likewise. 

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 result. 

Needless to say, the president's popularity soared among ordinary Chileans, with 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

  • competence

    • he hadn't a clue what to do, and

  • mindset

    • he surrendered to his innate anti-capitalism, pro-labor-unionism and anti-Americanism.

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. 

You absolutely must click here to listen (or on http://www.tinyurl.ie/1px). 

Back to List of Contents

Singapore's Penchant for Death

Singapore’s two-faced treatment of drugs and murder is deadly
– but only if you’re a nobody

Published in April 2010; banned in Singapore

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 here.

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 entrenched the People’s Action Party in permanent power, election after election, with never more than a handful of (tame) opposition MPs in parliament. 

**[Oops! 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). 

Deadly Darshan Singh, a plump, jovial, bald grandfatherMr 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 foreign,

  • 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 executed “nobodies”:

  • 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 interviewed]
    ;

  • Vietnamese-Australian Nguyen Van Tuong whom the Australian government studiously ignored until it was too late;

  • 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 freedom. 

  • 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 reasons”.

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 thatSingapore’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 Singh. 

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.

He is not yet in prison, pending his appeal.

He also faces separate charges of criminal defamation,
which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a substantial fine.  

Singapore has a record of excessively punishing and intimidating its critics. 
If actually jailed, it will be a long time before its latest victim walks free
and may face financial ruination as well. 

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Halal and Kosher Slaughter

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 products. 

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 ...

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Obama Booked

A book today ... a shoe tomorrow?

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 stimuli, trillion-dollar Obamacare, 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 Columbia's newspaper, The Province

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 jokingly observe that it's a size 10? 

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Issue 210’s Comments to Cyberspace
Added to as the month progressed

  • 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 €3 billion 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 ...

  • Do you support the Government's plan to replace Fás with a new agency?
    Comment on an Irish Times poll question
    Yes but only if the replacement is a proper replacement. That means, in this order: (1) Shutting down the agency entirely and making every member of staff, top to bottom, redundant, (2) Setting out in public ...

  • 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 holding the three outstanding by-elections would damage the country's efforts to deal with the financial crisis?
    Comment on an Irish Times poll question
    No, definitely, because FF will lose all three which will (thankfully) lead to its downfall and hence a general election. Only a new government - ANY new government - can take the very harsh budgetary measures needed, which amount to ...

  • 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 ...

This will be added to as the month progresses. 

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Quotes for Issue 210
Added to as the month progresses [on November 3rd, 12th and 18th/19th]

Quote: (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 remarks
- though the statistical observation was not inaccurate -
and then had to resign

Quote (18 Nov): Well 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

Quote (18 Nov): 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, enthusiastically,
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 - - - - -

Quote (12 Nov): “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 risks.” 

Some words of common sense from Angela Merkel,
Germany frumpy but eminently sensible Chancellor,
at the G20 summit in Seoul, South Korea. 

She is much respected within her own countries
and increasingly feared in the rest of the the EU

Quote (12 Nov): The 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 presidents
each with his own mysterious portfolio (José Manuel Barroso
and
Yves Leterme 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 European countries
since they are to be abolished, or turned into counties or something.

 

I have never advocated the destruction of the EU,
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 language Dhivehi
the traditional wedding blessing reserved for pigs, apes and other infidels,
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 ten-year-old Elena,
who gave birth in Jerez, southern Spain to a 2.9kg baby girl Nicoletta,
thinks that's just fine.  The father is thirteen.

  The age of consent in Spain is 13,
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 - - - - -

Mario Sepulveda hails his rescuersQuote: 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 ordeal.

From the mine he brought with him a bag of rocks containing gold
and handed them out to rescuers in the moments after his release.
 

- - - - - N E T H E R L A N D S - - - - -

Quote: 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 popular party,
exults as snivelling prosecutors withdraw all charges against him
for inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims.
These had arisen out of his short movie
Fitna”, which provides
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 - - - - -

Quote: This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly failed.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally sees the light as she observes
her own country and most of the rest of
western Europe
going down under the tide of radical Islam
.

 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 about it?
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 - - - - -

Quote: Part 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. 

Yes, really!

Quote: I never asked President Obama for his endorsement ... he can take his endorsement and really shove it as far as I am concerned.

Frank Caprio, the Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island,
recognizes that an endorsement by his hugely despised Democratic president
would be toxic to his election campaign.

Quote: 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 conciliatory imagery
to persuade Hispanic voters to vote Democratic.

Quote: 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 speaker
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 - - - - -

Quote: 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 Kaukab Siddique,
a Pakistani professor of English and journalism
at Pennsylvania's Lincoln University

He later issued a clarification:
When I refer critically to the Jews
I am referring to the current leadership of the
state of Israel
and to their ma
jor supporters,
not to the Jewish race as a whole ... I am not anti-Semitic.

Yeh, right!

Or as Aesha Mohammed, his alleged wife once merrily remarked,
Jihad ... Jihad ... Jihad! Finish with the Jewish vermin once and forever!

Oh, and the professor is also a holocaust denier.
Of course.

Quote: 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.

Quote: 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 quietly ...

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 welcome.

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 - - - - -

Quote: 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 incompetence by
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.

Quote: “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 ...

I have a terrible life. I have a life which requires super-human efforts.  I work like nobody else does, until half past two at night ...

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 entertaining
Ruby, a 17-year-old Moroccan girl,
Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is, well,
Silvio Berlusconi - and Italian.

Hat-tip: Philip O'Sullivan

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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.

+++++

Other books here

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