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#87 : Miscellaneous
Posts During October 2004 
Bin Laden Springs Back to Life
I can only express my astonishment.
disappearing from view and sound since December 2001, Osama bin Laden (OBL) has
apparently sprung back into life with an authentic video recording whose
purpose seems to be push the terrorist line Anyone but Bush
. I have to eat humble pie. Since
September 2002, I have
OBL is either dead or so badly injured and
disfigured that he dare not show himself. Colunist Mark Steyn also
believed he was dead.
Well, regrettably, it
seems he is
not dead. He was perhaps badly injured, but if so has made an
excellent recovery over the intervening three years. Though the
video looks convincing to a non-expert like me, there are nevertheless
others who advance reasons for believing that the video is fake. For
that the video does not portray OBL's usual belligerent yet poetic way of
speaking Arabic. |
|He whines, un-Osama-like that he does not hate
and his remark that any
nation that does not attack us will not be attacked
smacks of desperation. |
|Moreover, the transcript
shows he makes but two passing references to
Allah, without even bothering to praise him, and this in holy month of Ramadan.
Not very Islamic. |
Coming as it does just ahead of the US
Presidential election, the video's purpose is clearly to influence the
vote (just as Al Qaeda's Madrid bombings did).
Whilst claiming glory for 9/11, OBL is trying - according to Islamic expert
Fahmy Howeidi - to convince people that, if
they do not vote for President Bush, they will be more
safe, more secure. OBL
accuses Mr Bush of telling lies, and mocks him for reading My
to children as the planes crashed into buildings, just as movie producer
Michael Moore does in Fahrenheit
In other words, OBL, like Mr Moore, is endorsing Senator
Kerry! What wonderful, vote-catching news for the Republicans. The world's
most notorious terrorist is afraid of Mr Bush. The indomitable Mark
Humphrys dug up this apposite slogan some weeks ago, which says it
So Mr bin Laden is alive and well, but not quite as sharp as he once was
and as he still thinks he is. He's a bit like England soccer captain David
Beckham bragging about his cleverness in deliberately earning a yellow
card, not realising his stupidity
in announcing his cleverness.
George Bush can thank, at least in part, OBL's latest video for the victory
he will earn on Tuesday.
to List of Contents
Challenge to Irish Left
I had another ding-dong earlier in October in the
letters page of the subscription-only Irish Times with Raymond Deane, the
accomplished professional musician who is also Chair (musical chair?) of the
left-wing Ireland Palestine
Mr Dean had complained
about Israel's incursions into Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket
attacks from Gaza aimed at (as usual) civilians in Israel. Apologists
for those who
consistently target civilians consider the correct Israeli response is,
well, to do nothing.
But his assertion, not for the first
time, that Israel only purports to be democratic
prompted me to hurl at him a challenge. I had plagiarised it from
Mark Humphrys in his exchange early this year with the Irish
Peace Society, another left-wing organisation which despite its name
avidly supports Palestinian terrorism.
to name any state in the Middle East other than
Israel with any
democratic legitimacy whatsoever, from universal suffrage to a free press
to an independent supreme court.
Or to name one with even the freedom to
establish bodies which are openly anti-government, or pro-gay, or
Again, Israel is the only such country.
a week later to my defence of Israel's actions in Gaza but dodged the
challenge, understandably because he can't counter it. So the next
day, the editor published a reiteration
of my challenge.
Simultaneously, Mark Humphys picked this up and restated
the challenge (which is originally his) at the end of his own lengthy
exchange with the Irish Peace Society.
We're both still waiting. The Left has no
answer, other than further defense of murderous tyrannical regimes, such
as that of the Palestinian Authority.
The imminent demise of Yasser Arafat at least now
affords the long-suffering Palestinians some chance for the future.
A promising sign is that former PA Prime Minister Abu Mazen, whom I once
described as a great
hope for the Palestinians, and whom Mr Arafat would
like to kill, is now apparently chairing
PA meetings in Mr Arafat's absence.
(I wonder what prompted President Jacques Chirac to
send the French Presidential jet to pick him up and bring him to Paris?)
to List of Contents
Giancarlo Casale explains
how the Unofficial Bird of the United States
got named after a Middle Eastern country
How did the turkey get its name? This seemingly harmless question popped into my head one
morning as I realized that the holidays were once again upon us.
After all, I thought, theres nothing more American than a
turkey. Their meat saved the
pilgrims from starvation during their first winter in New England.
Out of gratitude, if you can call it that, we eat them for
Thanksgiving dinner, and again at Christmas, and gobble them up in
sandwiches all year long. Every
fourth grader can tell you that Benjamin Franklin was particularly fond of
the wild turkey, and even campaigned to make it, and not the bald eagle,
the national symbol. So how
did such a creature end up taking its name from a medium sized country in
the Middle East? Was it just
a coincidence? I wondered.
The next day I mentioned my musings to my landlord,
whose wife is from Brazil. Thats
funny, he said, In Portuguese the word for turkey is peru.
Same bird, different country. Hmm.
With my curiosity piqued, I decided to go straight to
the source. That very
afternoon I found myself a Turk and asked him how to say turkey in
Turkish. Turkey? he
said. Well, we call turkeys hindi, which means,
you know, from India. India? This
was getting weird.
I spent the next few days finding out the word for
turkey in as many languages as I could think of, and the more I found out,
the weirder things got. In
Arabic, for instance, the word for turkey is Ethiopian bird,
while in Greek it is gallapoula or French girl.
The Persians, meanwhile, call them buchalamun which means,
appropriately enough, chameleon.
In Italian, on the other hand, the word for turkey is
tacchino which, my Italian relatives assured me, means
nothing but the bird. tacchino
also means peacock;
moreover turkey also translates as pollo
they added still on matters Italian, it reminds us of something else.
In Italy we call corn, which as everybody knows comes from America,
grano turcoTurkish grain.
So here we were
back to Turkey again!
And as if things werent already confusing enough,
a further consultation with my Turkish informant revealed that the Turks
call corn misir which is also their word for Egypt!
By this point, things were clearly getting out of
hand. But I persevered
nonetheless, and just as I was about to give up hope, a pattern finally
seemed to emerge from this bewildering labyrinth.
In French, it turns out, the word for turkey is dinde,
meaning from India, just like in Turkish.
The words in both German and Russian had similar meanings, so I was
clearly on to something. The
key, I reasoned, was to find out what turkeys are called in India, so I
called up my high school friends wife, who is from an old Bengali
family, and popped her the question.
Oh, she said, We dont have
turkeys in India. They come
from America. Everybody knows
Yes, I insisted, but what do you
Well, we dont have them! she said.
She wasnt being very helpful.
Still, I persisted:
Look, you must have a word for them.
Say you were watching an American movie translated from English and
the actors were all talking about turkeys.
What would they say?
Well ... I suppose in that case they would just
say the American word, turkey. Like I said, we dont have
So there I was, at a dead end. I began to realize only too late that I had unwittingly
stumbled upon a problem whose solution lay far beyond the capacity of my
own limited resources. Obviously
I needed serious professional assistance.
So the next morning I scheduled an appointment with Prof.
Şinasi Tekin of Harvard University, a world-renowned philologist
and expert on Turkic languages. If
anyone could help me, I figured it would be Professor Tekin.
As I walked into his office on the following Tuesday,
I knew I would not be disappointed. Prof.
Tekin had a wizened, grandfatherly face, a white, bushy,
knowledgeable beard, and was surrounded by stack upon stack of just the
sort of hefty, authoritative books which were sure to contain a solution
to my vexing Turkish mystery. I
introduced myself, sat down, and eagerly awaited a dose of Prof.
You see, he said, In the Turkish
countryside there is a kind of bird, which is called a çulluk.
It looks like a turkey but it is much smaller, and its meat is very
delicious. Long before the
discovery of America, English merchants had already discovered the
delicious çulluk, and began exporting it back to England, where it became
very popular, and was known as a Turkey bird or simply a turkey.
Then, when the English came to America, they mistook the birds here for
and so they began calling them turkey also.
But other peoples werent so easily fooled.
They knew that these new birds came from America, and so they
called them things like India birds, Peruvian birds,
or Ethiopian birds. You see, India, Peru
and Ethiopia were all common names for the New World in the
early centuries, both because people had a hazier understanding of
geography, and because it took a while for the name America
to catch on.
Anyway, since that time Americans have begun
exporting their birds everywhere, and even in Turkey people have started
eating them, and have forgotten all about their delicious çulluk. This is a shame, because çulluk meat is really much, much
seemed genuinely sad as he explained all this to me.
I did my best to comfort him, and tried to express my regret at
hearing of the unfairly cruel fate of the delicious çulluk. Deep down, however, I was ecstatic. I finally had a solution to this holiday problem, and knew I
would be able once again to enjoy the main course of my traditional
Thanksgiving dinner without reservation.
Now if I could just figure out why they call those
little teeny dogs Chihuahuas....
To summarise ...
Brazil / Portuguese
Iran / Persian
Corn = Grano turco
= Turkish grain
Corn = Misir
Late Note (2011):
On 19th December 2006, The Economist
kindly published a letter from me
based on this post.
response pointed out
one of the strangest names for a turkey of all.
In Japanese a turkey is apparently
to List of Contents
bureaucratic blunder has left Wales off a map of Europe on the cover of
the 2004 edition of the prestigious Eurostat Statistical Compendium (price
50), which contains all the facts and figures on Europe.
All EU member states, and the rest of Britain, are accurately
represented on the cover. But Wales has disappeared and been
replaced by water. (Few are shedding tears.)
Wales has been sliced off along a line from Chester to the Severn
Estuary, roughly along the English border, which is now just a beach, with
to the west nothing but sea until you reach Ireland.
Daily Mail understands perfectly ...
Meanwhile, those negligent EUrocrats seem to be so
emb- arrassed that they've taken down the report from their web page.
to be here,
or in French here,
but it isn't.
Internet Commentator points
out that the Welsh don't care if their country disappears provided
other EU citizens' tax money continues to flow into their
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Now, for a little [Light Relief]
Cuddly Teddy Bears
looking for a home
Click for details
Neda Agha Soltan;
shot dead in Teheran
by Basij militia
Good to report that as at
14th September 2009
he is at least
FREED AT LAST,
ON 18th OCTOBER 2011,
GAUNT BUT OTHERWISE REASONABLY HEALTHY
Atlantic Blog (defunct)
Broom of Anger
Cox and Forkum
Carey / GUBU
Thinking Man's Guide
Victor Davis Hanson
Tales from Warri
Graham's Sporting Wk
My Columns in the
What I've recently
“The Lemon Tree”, by Sandy
is a delightful novel-style history of modern Israel and Palestine told
through the eyes of a thoughtful protagonist from either side, with a
household lemon tree as their unifying theme.
But it's not
entirely honest in its subtle pro-Palestinian bias, and therefore needs
to be read in conjunction with an antidote, such as
This examines events which led to BP's 2010 Macondo blowout in
the Gulf of Mexico.
BP's ambitious CEO John Browne expanded it through adventurous
acquisitions, aggressive offshore exploration, and relentless
cost-reduction that trumped everything else, even safety and long-term
Thus mistakes accumulated, leading to terrifying and deadly accidents in
refineries, pipelines and offshore operations, and business disaster in
The Macondo blowout was but an inevitable outcome of a BP culture that
had become poisonous and incompetent.
However the book is gravely compromised by a
litany of over 40 technical and stupid
errors that display the author's ignorance and
It would be better
to wait for the second (properly edited) edition before buying.
As for BP, only a
wholesale rebuilding of a new, professional, ethical culture will
prevent further such tragedies and the eventual destruction of a once
mighty corporation with a long and generally honourable history.
Note: I wrote
my own reports on Macondo
A horrific account
how the death
penalty is administered and, er, executed in Singapore,
the corruption of
Singapore's legal system, and
enthusiastic embrace of Burma's drug-fuelled military dictatorship
More details on my
nonagenarian Alistair Urquhart’s
incredible story of survival in the Far
East during World War II.
After recounting a
childhood of convention and simple pleasures in working-class Aberdeen,
Mr Urquhart is conscripted within days of Chamberlain declaring war on
Germany in 1939.
From then until the
Japanese are deservedly nuked into surrendering six years later, Mr
Urquhart’s tale is one of first discomfort but then following the fall
of Singapore of ever-increasing, unmitigated horror.
After a wretched
journey Eastward, he finds himself part of Singapore’s big but useless
Taken prisoner when Singapore falls in
1941, he is, successively,
part of a death march to Thailand,
a slave labourer on the Siam/Burma
railway (one man died for every sleeper laid),
regularly beaten and tortured,
racked by starvation, gaping ulcers
and disease including cholera,
a slave labourer stevedoring at
shipped to Japan in a stinking,
closed, airless hold with 900 other sick and dying men,
torpedoed by the Americans and left
drifting alone for five days before being picked up,
a slave-labourer in Nagasaki until
blessed liberation thanks to the Americans’ “Fat Boy” atomic
distraught and traumatised on return to Aberdeen yet disdained by the
British Army, he slowly reconstructs a life. Only in his late 80s
is he able finally to recount his dreadful experiences in this
There are very few
first-person eye-witness accounts of the the horrors of Japanese
brutality during WW2. As such this book is an invaluable historical
“Culture of Corruption:
Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies”
This is a rattling good tale of the web
of corruption within which the American president and his cronies
operate. It's written by blogger Michele Malkin who, because she's both
a woman and half-Asian, is curiously immune to the charges of racism and
sexism this book would provoke if written by a typical Republican WASP.
With 75 page of notes to back up - in
best blogger tradition - every shocking and in most cases money-grubbing
allegation, she excoriates one Obama crony after another, starting with
the incumbent himself and his equally tricky wife.
Joe Biden, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarett,
Tim Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Steven Rattner, both Clintons, Chris
Dodd: they all star as crooks in this venomous but credible book.
ACORN, Mr Obama's favourite community
organising outfit, is also exposed for the crooked vote-rigging machine
This much trumpeted sequel to
Freakonomics is a bit of disappointment.
It is really just
a collation of amusing
little tales about surprising human (and occasionally animal) behaviour
and situations. For example:
Drunk walking kills more people per
kilometer than drunk driving.
People aren't really altruistic -
they always expect a return of some sort for good deeds.
Child seats are a waste of money as
they are no safer for children than adult seatbelts.
Though doctors have known for
centuries they must wash their hands to avoid spreading infection,
they still often fail to do so.
Monkeys can be taught to use washers
as cash to buy tit-bits - and even sex.
The book has no real
message other than don't be surprised how humans sometimes behave and
try to look for simple rather than complex solutions.
And with a final
anecdote (monkeys, cash and sex), the book suddenly just stops dead in
its tracks. Weird.
A remarkable, coherent attempt by Financial Times economist Alan Beattie
to understand and explain world history through the prism of economics.
It's chapters are
organised around provocative questions such as
Why does asparagus come from Peru?
Why are pandas so useless?
Why are oil and diamonds more trouble
than they are worth?
Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
It's central thesis
is that economic development continues to be impeded in different
countries for different historical reasons, even when the original
rationale for those impediments no longer obtains. For instance:
Argentina protects its now largely
foreign landowners (eg George Soros)
Russia its military-owned
businesses, such as counterfeit DVDs
The US its cotton industry
comprising only 1% of GDP and 2% of its workforce
The author writes
in a very chatty, light-hearted matter which makes the book easy to
However it would
benefit from a few charts to illustrate some of the many quantitative
points put forward, as well as sub-chaptering every few pages to provide
natural break-points for the reader.
This is a thrilling book of derring-do behind enemy lines in the jungles
of north-east Burma in 1942-44 during the Japanese occupation.
The author was
a member of Britain's V Force, a forerunner of the SAS. Its remit was to
harass Japanese lines of
command, patrol their occupied territory, carryout sabotage and provide
intelligence, with the overall objective of keeping the enemy out of
is admirably yet brutally frank, in his
descriptions of deathly battles with the Japs, his execution of a
prisoner, dodging falling bags of rice dropped by the RAF, or collapsing
in floods of tears through accumulated stress, fear and loneliness.
He also provides some fascinating insights into the mentality of
Japanese soldiery and why it failed against the flexibility and devolved
authority of the British.
The book amounts to
a very human and exhilarating tale.
Oh, and Irwin
describes the death in 1943 of his colleague my uncle, Major PF
Click for an account of this momentous,
of March 2009
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the Rugby World Cup
scores, points and rankings.
crackling, compelling, captivating games, the new World Champions are,
England get the Silver,
Argentina the Bronze. Fourth is host nation France.
No-one can argue with
the justice of the outcomes
Over the competition,
points per game = 52,
tries per game = 6.2,
minutes per try =
Click on the logo
to get a table with
the final World Cup
scores, points, rankings and goal-statistics