A debate has been raging in Ireland for the past couple of
years or so about the poor quality of the state-provided healthcare system.
Similar complaints are heard from the UK to Canada to France - litanies of
substandard service coupled with financial constraints. I am not going
to contribute to these tales of woe for the simple reason that on the very
few occasions I have had to avail of Ireland's public hospitals (and indeed,
many years ago, Britain's), I have been very happy with the experience.
But I have no doubt the negative stories are true - people
wouldn't routinely lie about such things.
In Ireland, much of the blame is laid at the door of the
“two tier” health system, that is the public system
and the privately insured system, which run side by side.
A recent tragic case involved a
40 year old mother who was sent by her GP for a colonoscopy but since
she was a public patient she had to wait seven months for it. It
eventually revealed she had bowel cancer which by then had become fatal.
She died last month. A man who was given a similar referral was
diagnosed within three days, received timely treatment and therefore
survived. The mother relied on the public system, the man was
In essence, private insurance not
only gives you a better bed in the hospital (to my mind a trivial gain) but
allows you to jump the queue of public patients to get attention of medical
consultants, specialist analyses and necessary treatment, faster.
There is a very simple explanation for this:
in the public system, sustained by a fixed budget from
state coffers, every patient is a cost and therefore undesirable,
in the private sector (insured or otherwise), every
patient brings in revenue and is therefore welcome.
If you can't afford insurance, this already feels unfair.
It is exacerbated when the same consultant works both in the public sector
(for a fixed stipend) and the private sector (for patient fees), the moreso
when private patients occupy beds in public hospitals. Public patients
end up feeling like second class citizens, which to some degree they in
practice are. But if, as they contemplate a seven-month waiting list,
they suddenly front up the money, they miraculously find they can see the
very same consultant tomorrow. Talk about an upgrade to business
For these kinds of reasons there is a large lobby, which
in the mantra of free healthcare for all regardless of means, calls for the
abolition of the two tier system, in favour of a single system of which
everyone from hobo to billionaire would avail depending solely on medical
need. Then, only then, would equity prevail with the poor no longer
dying young while the rich prance on to their dotage.
It is an appealing picture, but like all utopias
fundamentally flawed and intrinsically totalitarian because it prevents
people spending their own money as they might wish (eg on health). It
is, furthermore, designed to hide the defects responsible for the existing
poor performance of the public sector.
If you go to the supermarket, you are confronted with a
choice of dozens of types of bread for which you personally and unencumbered
can make your selection. Why, then, would anyone think that when it
comes to life and death issues - arguably of greater import than bread -
people should be permitted no choice at all? That the state alone
should be empowered to make such a choice and to choose in every instance
itself? For that is what the utopian one-tier system would entail.
Private healthcare gives better outcomes (and it certainly
does, otherwise no-one would use it) for the simple reason that it is
incentivised to do so. It is run as a business. Patients are
customers who pay (whether personally or via their insurance) for their
procedures. The bigger the number of sick patients, the more revenue.
The more revenue, the greater reinvestment and expansion, and the better
quality of care available. It's the simple capitalist mechanism.
When I put this to a very senior (very wealthy) doctor and
a medical journalist a couple of weeks ago, both haughtily told me that
healthcare was not a commodity like bread that could be bought and sold.
It is somehow above tacky trade. And the hobo-to-billionaire mantra
“death to the two-tier health system”.
But healthcare is a traded commodity.
Indeed, the doctor himself is a walking example. All his life he has
traded his undoubtedly excellent medical skills to the benefit of his
patients, for €uros he can now count in the millions. And it is a
thoroughly honourable exchange which benefits both him and his
customers patients. And he is not alone, for it
is a model replicated in the shape of every single employee of any health
system: each is a one-person capitalist system, trading skills for as much
filthy lucre as he/she can lay hands on.
All the evidence, not just in the supermarket, is that
where quality is rewarded, quality goes up. This is the source of the
great embarrassment caused to state health systems - which do not reward
quality - when they operate side by side with private ones that do.
But rather than the state trying to emulate the private one, and in fact
compete with it, many simply prefer to eliminate the private, so that care
is dumbed down for everyone and poor service is no longer embarrassing
because that's the only service there is.
If the state wants to provide free healthcare to some or
all of its citizens, that is no case whatsoever for it to own and run
hospitals. The state should simply buy such care on the open market,
obtaining the best value for money, making hospitals compete for lucrative
contracts, and giving public patients the power to choose between providers.
patients and insured patients would be shopping in the same pool,
receiving the same high-quality care as public patients, for the simple
reason that every patient will be a revenue earner.
currently get free healthcare would continue to do so.
Indeed, in Ireland this actually happens on a limited
scale, via a hugely successful body called the
Purchase Fund launched in 2002. If you are a public patient who
has been waiting more than three months for your operation, the NTPF will
pay for a private facility to do carry out your procedure - cataracts,
varicose veins, hernias, gall bladders, prostate operations, tonsils,
plastic surgery, cardiac surgery, hip and knee operations - you name it.
75,000 patients have been delighted with their treatment.
Yet the NTPF, far from being seen as a successful
role-model for an entire health system, is viewed with resentment and
suspicion by the public health service.
Extended to encompass all health care, something like the
NPTF would truly give rise to a single-tier system, but one reaching for the
the highest levels of care, not engaged in a race to the bottom. But,
for current employees of state-run institutions, it would also mean the end
unthreatened by redundancy or discipline, followed by
index-linked-defined-benefits pensions until death.
Each individual's salary, pension and
job-continuity would be determined solely by his/her skills and effort.
Just as it is within the private sector of health or of any other
enterprise which has to pay its own way by persuading satisfied
customers to part with their money.
And that is what is really behind the call
“death to the two-tier health system”,
because the existence of the private sector threatens the sinecures of those
hundreds of thousands who work in the public.
Reports of bad
news from Iraq are endemic. This is not to say that bad news itself is
endemic, only that the conventional print and TV media seem so singularly
loth to report good news that you could be forgiven for thinking that there
But sometimes you
do come across snippets of the positive, so I would like to share this
conservative radio jock Hugh Hewitt (minutes
10-12 in this audio clip), the White House recently reported the
following as of 18 October, with regard to a 93 sq km sector of north-west
Baghdad with a population of a million people, a sector controlled by the US
There has been 85% reduction in violence since May.
58 of 95
or neighbourhoods are now under
with 33 in
Murders are down from 161 per week a year ago to less
than five per this year.
IED and small arms attacks are down from 50 per week in
June to under five per by the end of August.
Vehicle-born IEDs are down by nearly 85%.
US forces are partnered by ten Iraqi army battalions and
two national police battalions across the security districts of Mansour and
Katayama. These areas are commanded by highly competent patriotic
Iraqi brigadier generals who are consistently demonstrating their
unbreakable will to deliver security, reconciliation and reconstruction to
But that is not to deny that dreadful news is happening in
parallel, most recently the
murder of 24 Iraqi police officers and recruits in Baquba, north-east of
I wish I had a better handle on the balance of positive
and negative news.
If you want to know why soccer seems,
to rugby enthusiasts, such a dreary game, have a look at these statistics.
Last year I, being a nerd, collected, calculated and analysed them for the
Soccer World Cup (and wrote a post,
- (Yawn) - Cup”).
In the table below, I compare the
results of these two sets of analyses in a world exclusive revelation.
They are divided into
the tournaments as a whole, ie including the group stages
which tend to be freer flowing and higher scoring, and
the knockout stages alone, which tend to produce fewer
scores but more nails bitten.
The thrill of these matches, at least
from the spectators' point of view, comes from making scores. In
soccer, that means goals - though obviously not penalty shoot-outs because
they're not football. In rugby it's mainly tries (five points), but to
a lesser extent penalty goals and drop-goals (three points). Of
course, near-misses and valiant defences can also exhilarate, but ultimately
it's actual scores we want to see. Moreover, near-misses occur in
roughly similar proportion to actual scores - so again, more scores mean
more near-misses mean in aggregate more fun.
Thus a good measure of the excitement
a game generates is how long you have to wait between scores. You can
see how soccer and rugby contrast with each other in this table showing what
happened in the 2006 and 2007 respective World Cups.
Entire World Cup Tournament
2006 ........ SOCCER
RUGBY ....... 2007
(net of penalty shoot-outs)
(tries + penalties + drop-goals)
Goals per game
Tries per game
Scores per game
Minutes Between Goals
Minutes Between Tries
Minutes Between Scores
Knockout Stages Only
Goals per game
Tries per game
Scores per game
Minutes Between Goals
Minutes Between Tries
Minutes Between Scores
As you can see from the Soccer summary -
64 soccer games were played in all
and 149 goals scored (excluding
24 penalty shoot-out goals).
That works out at just
2.3goals per game or
one goal per forty minutes.
And if you look only at the
knockout stages, the averages drop
to just two
goals per game or
one goal per miserable 51 minutes,
ie not even one per half.
Talk about a snoreathon.
In the Rugby summary, by contrast -
48 games were played, 296 tries
plus a further 235 assorted
goals to give a total of 531 scores.
That averages out
at a scintillating 6.2
tries per game (not
the penalty goals and drop-goals)
just seven minutes between
And looking only at the knockout
but to a
still respectable 3.3
and nine minutes
Not much chance for dozing off,
So in the final analysis, it's 51
minutes versus nine. You can therefore see how, broadly speaking, rugby
is five times more fun to watch than soccer.
So why is soccer not rugby the
world's most popular ball game, and by a mile? I have no idea.
It makes no sense to me at all.
Meanwhile, I await the next World Cup
with bated breath - the
Seven-a-Side Rugby World Cup, to be held in a single stadium over a
single long weekend in February 2009 in Dubai. In this fast, furious
and foreshortened version of the game, scores will mount up at an even more
astonishing rate, measured more in seconds than in minutes. Be there!
Neither letter published this week, despite
my usual witterings.
EU Reform Treaty Referendum - to the Irish Times The Reform Treaty is
“a vote for climate change, a
vote for environmental policies, a vote for the Common Agricultural
Policy, a vote for social Europe, that is a vote for the reform
says Bertie Ahern to convince the Irish to vote yes in a
referendum. This is of course the document which he has already
told us is 90% the same as ...
Dog-whistling Floor Space - to The Economist Yasser Arafat used to say one thing in Arabic to please his robust
Middle Eastern audiences and quite the opposite in English to
placate delicate Westerners. Some politicians prefer the
dog-whistle technique to speak different messages to different
listeners. Are you doing something similar over a Planned
Parenthood facility in Aurora ...
“There is a tendency ... to believe [the Iranian
regime] are as they are because we have provoked them and if we
left them alone they would leave us alone. I fear this is
mistaken. They have no intention of leaving us alone.”
Tony Blair, warmongering as ever,
earns four standing ovations from his Blairophilic American audience
“The US administration is like a madman
running around with a razor blade.”
President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, in
typically feisty form,
denounces America for demonising and imposing sanctions on Iran,
and wanting to erect an anti-Iran missile shield
in Poland and the Czech Republic
- - - - - - - - - - E U R O P E - - - - - - - -
“[It is] a vote for climate change, a vote for
environmental policies, a vote for the Common Agricultural Policy, a
vote for social Europe, that is a vote for the Reform Treaty.”
Bertie Ahern, Ireland's Taoiseach (prime
unwittingly lists all the reasons to vote against
the euphemistically re-named
to be euphemistically re-re-named the
It is of course, as Mr Ahern noted last June,
same as the
which was soundly rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
Fearful of further popular rejection,
no other state but Ireland will subject the latest version to a
Constitutionally, Ireland has no choice.
Poland's former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, one of the
pulls a gun on his rival Donald Tusk in a parliamentary corridor. Or
so Mr Tusk, in a pre-election TV debate, alleged occurred in the
Mr Tusk soundly defeated Mr Kaczsynski in the election last week.
But how does he know it wasn't Poland's president Lech Kaczynski
who brandished the gun?
“I hope you won't be giving grants to too many
one-legged Lithuanian lesbians.”
Tory would-be prime minister David Cameron
sensitively suggests that lottery funds should be more carefully
“I thought we just have, haven't we?” Arts Council chairman Sir Christopher
Meanwhile, one-legged Lithuanian lesbians are
- - - - - - - - - - I R E L A N D - - - - - - - - - -
Quote: “That's bullshit. Nobody saw me. I had a
balaclava and gloves!”
Killer and serial thug Leigh Crowe,
on learning he had been identified when, at a house party in
Tipperary, he shot Owen Cahill in the face killing him, shot Mark Doolan in the arm, and assaulted Sharon Rossiter.
However, this rum defence did not stand up in
Happily, Mr Crowe was sentenced to life for
manslaughter (manslaughter? Why not murder? I don't know).
He also got 15 years for attempted murder (not attempted
manslaughter?) plus five years for the assault.
The murder/manslaughter law works in curious
do wish I did come to Dublin more often - to
evangelise the heathens.”
Rev Ian Paisley,
First Minister of Northern Ireland and rabid Protestant,
with tongue firmly in cheek, on a visit to the Historical Society of Trinity College Dublin,
in holy Catholic Ireland
- - - - - - - -
- - R U G B Y W O R L D C U P - - - - - - - - -
“The [England world cup rugby]
yesterday in recovery mode, the physios kept busy nursing bruises,
many of them caused by players pinching themselves.”
Daily Telegraph journalist Mick Cleary,
commenting on England's unbelievable [sic] progress to the World Cup
final, just after defeating France against all odds.
Quote (heard in a Sky News interview):
“Blimey, it can't happen to us, can it, what happened to
them [Australia and France]. Can it?”
England rugby coach Brian Ashton
tries to imagine what was going through the minds of South Africa
in the lead up to the World Cup Final between these two mighty
Whatever they were actually thinking, it
worked. South Africa are the new World Champions
“They say in politics a week is a long time,
but in rugby, I tell you, 80 minutes is a fantastic thing.”
Jake White, manager and coach of
the South Africa rugby team, reflects on the final against England
that won him the Rugby World Cup, the Webb Ellis Trophy.
exhilarated by the pictures of brave Burmese Buddhist
monks peacefully protesting fuel increases and other anti-Junta
grievances in the streets of Rangoon and other cities, and then
learnof the arrests, suppression, torture, killings and
secret cremations that followed, in the best traditions of
1989 Tiananmen Square as exemplified, advised and trained by the Chinese
The litany of Burmese grievances is familiar to us all; the fuel
price hike is just a symptom.
Since 1962, the country has been run as a tyrannical and
incompetent dictatorship under a military Junta, currently headed by
General Than Shwe.
All opposition is brutally crushed.
The media are all State run and controlled.
Internet access is severely restricted to impede access
to and communication with outside news sources.
A 1990 multi-party election was annulled because it was
overwhelmingly won by the National League for Democracy led by heroine
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under almost constant house-arrest ever since.
China, India and other states in the vicinity happily
plunder the country's abundant natural resources (timber, gems,
oil), with proceeds going
to the Junta whilst most people subsist on $1 a day.
Forced prison labourers/slaves are worked ten-hour days on roads and
infrastructure, for food only.
Ethnic minorities, particularly
the Karen and the Shan, are genocidally oppressed, forcing many of them to flee as refugees to
next-door Thailand and Bangladesh.
The Junta is a vile regime, whose only saving grace is
perhaps that it does not have aggressive designs on its neighbours.
The generals merely wish to consolidate and hold their own power in
perpetuity and thereby to continue pillaging the national treasure for their
individual personal enrichment and pleasure - as this wedding of Than Shwe's
The world community is outraged by the Junta's latest antics
against the monks, but outrage is pointless unless you also take action.
And there's the rub.
The US has imposed sanctions on Burma since 1990,
directed mainly at the individual generals, but they have had little
effect. The generals, few educated beyond primary school
level, are just not interested in foreign travel, so barring them from
shopping in New York doesn't do much. Meanwhile, China and India
have been delighted to carry on trading, and they have kept the regime
economically propped up. So the soldiers have remained ensconced
in power, Ms Suu Kyi locked up, and democracy a distant dream.
China has long been Burma's de-facto defender.
Stronger action by the Security Council has up to now
been firmly vetoed by China, egged on by (of course) Russia. For
obvious reasons, these two states are distinctly uncomfortable at the
thought of having to encourage democracy anywhere.
However, the latest crackdown has embarrassed even
China, to the extent that the UN Security Council at last, unanimously,
deplores[Burma's] use of violence against peaceful
does the UN Human Rights Council (the original text said “condemns”
but China and Russia negotiated this down to the weaker “deplores”).
However, the UN statements are pretty toothless. The two Councils urge the
Junta to fix
Burma's political, economic, humanitarian, and human rights
issues, talk to Ms Suu Kyi, blah, blah, blah, but with absolutely no
action to follow should the generals do nothing.
There is a brutal truth about Myanmar that few want to
Justice will only visit Burma once the generals are gone
from the scene forever. But they are never going to
voluntarily relinquish their power. It's going to have to be
prised from their clenched fingers, and there are only two ways to do this.
The obvious way is forcible regime-change, a
military option which, given that the thuggish Burmese soldiery have
never faced an adversary more formidable than an unarmed woman or
monk, would probably be quicker and easier than
even Saddam's overthrow. But only the west can or would do this and
that of course means America (again). It is a horrible
prospect, and might the democratic aftermath turn out to be just as
The only other way is to bring China in to play,
because it is China (and to a lesser extent India) that is keeping
Burma alive and the generals comfortable. China is,
effectively, the only country that can overturn the Junta peacefully,
simply by growling and turning off the cash spigot. But will the Chinese
dictatorship do it? Not if they can possibly avoid it.
Thus, the wider world needs to find the means to
encourage China to shunt the Junta aside, without bullets or bombs, so
as to allow the democracy to flower in Burma that it's people voted for
But China is such a massive and growing economic power,
whose economy is irretrievably linked through vast trade with the West
and the rest of the world, that it is hard to dream up non-trade ways to
encourage it to do what it has to do.
However there is one point of weakness, and that of course
is the 2008 Olympic Games, to be hosted by Beijing, a project to which
the Chinese dictatorship attaches enormous prestige.
People have called for a boycott, or a threat of a
boycott, as a means to create pressure on China. But this is
fraught with its own difficulties.
America boycotted the Moscow games in 1980 in protest at the
Soviet Empire's invasion of Afghanistan. But
it was the only
the games went ahead,
America won no medals,
the USSR remained in
in retaliation the USSR boycotted the 1984 games in Los
Nothing was achieved except ill-will and a lot of very
unhappy athletes prevented from competing globally during the
five year long spat, not to mention millions of sports fans forcibly
precluded by American and Russian leaders from seeing a truly global
competition. Talk about punishing the innocent.
This time around, a boycott of Beijing will only be effective
if supported by large numbers of countries (ie EU plus USA). But who
can seriously see that happening? And again, innocent athletes will be
the main casualties, although in the unlikely event that a lot of Western
countries do indeed participate in the boycott, the would-be Olympians will
be joined in misery by the Burmese Junta.
But there is another way; another more democratic way
involving personal empowerment. Let the games go ahead. Let no
athletes be denied their chance to prove they're the world's best.
Instead, it is the spectators who should boycott the games.
No individual who believes that Burma ought to be liberated should attend
these games, or they should at least threaten not to. Banners and bumper sticks
“Free Burma”, are very nice but achieve zero. But here is a way
that regular folk can effect real change.
For, from the Chinese perspective, worse even than a few
countries not showing up in Beijing will be TV pictures, beamed across the
world, of empty stadiums whilst the contests proceed, and everyone knowing
why. This would be the ultimate, unthinkable humiliation for the
Communist dictatorship in China,
is such an important part of national culture, history and psyche. And
it would be made grimmer by the knowledge that no Government had done it;
just ordinary free people with honourable principles.
If we can all convince the Chinese leadership that a popular
boycott of the Beijing Olympics is really going to happen next year, they
will move heaven and earth to prevent it.
Or more particularly, they will move the Burmese Junta out
of Rangoon and into obscurity, to make way for Ms Suu Kyi or whomever the
beleaguered Burmese people elect to govern them.
Last week I had the dubious distinction of
being invited on Irish TV's weekly
and Answers programme to make a contribution from the floor about
importing Brazilian beef. This is a hot topic because Brazil with 200
million cows potentially represents a major threat to Ireland with only 6m.
So the agricultural lobby argues that Brazilian beef should be banned
because it is
being riddled with foot-and-mouth, mad-cow disease, blue-tongue and God
knows what else.
In May, the the Irish Farmers' Association visited Brazil
and reported back that there is unrestricted movement of infected cattle and a
lack of traceability, therefore Brazilian beef is not safe and should be banned from
However the European Commission promptly
rubbished their report, pointing out that the IFA had visited only two
States which are already banned from exporting beef to the EU, and a third which is
only partly authorised. In addition, the IFA did not visit any
slaughterhouses, laboratories or veterinary offices. Therefore, the
IFA have no basis for their conclusions.
is an old and familiar ploy designed to shut down discussion, but safety standards can be looked at
in two ways.
There are statutory standards designed to ensure
that food is disease-free, pest-free and fit for human consumption.
It's a bit like ensuring a plane will fly from
A to B without
while saying nothing about the pleasure or otherwise
But often there are additional standards imposed or
adopted within a given environment. For example, in Ireland,
following an admirable lead set by one of its
smaller chains, all supermarkets, very many butchers and even some
restaurants now provide DNA traceability of all indigenous meat back to
the originating animal.
In the aircraft analogy, this represents
business-class, or even
argument advanced by the Irish lobby places a lot of emphasis on
traceability and other qualities in the second category. But desirable
as such qualities are, they do not really make the difference as to whether
or not your fillet steak will make you sick or kill you. That's the
job of the first category. Meeting statutory minimum standards
(category 1) should not be confused with attaining maximum standards
The reason for objecting to the
importation of Brazilian beef boils down to a very familiar refrain:
protectionism, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with the
interests of the consumer and everything to do with those of the
agricultural community, though they number just 5% of the EU's population.
That's why I argued
(however ineptly) against a ban in that TV
programme, where no-one else mentioned the long-suffering consumers who make
up the other 95%.
Provided Brazilian beef meets the same
minimum (not maximum) standards required of any other beef import, and so
long as its country of origin is clearly labelled so customers can choose
whether they want to buy it or prefer more expensive and arguably better
Irish meat, there is no
case for banning such imports. To do so would have consumers
propelled into the wider trap of EU protectionism under the disastrous Common
Agricultural Policy, which
in extra tax from each EU family in CAP subsidies to farmers and
adds a further
€400 to each family's annual food bill because of higher prices,
poverty in the developing-world by penalising farmers - such as those in Brazil
- through denying them access to lucrative EU markets,
perniciously, turns EU farmers into social welfare recipients to the
tune of 60-80%
(minute 8) of income in the case of Irish farmers.
That's the vicious cycle EU citizens and politicians should be trying to
break in the interests not of the EU's 5% of population who are employed on
the 95% who are consumers.
Note: Those annual figures €400 + €400 per family (of four)
are calculated from
BBC estimates of CAP costs as at 2003 divided by the EU's 2003
José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, recently
that the CAP budget has long been reducing as a proportion of the EU budget
from 61% in 1988
to a projected
32% in 2013.
So this year it's at 35% - but this is still a whopping €45
billion out of the total EU budget of €126.5 bn. Moreover, Mr
are not really reductions at all as the table below shows, but merely
represent hefty increases in the EU's non-CAP budget.
There is only one solution for the CAP that is both
equitable to all parties and ethical, and that is for the EU to kill it off
in its entirety without further delay whilst opening up its food markets to
the developing world.
Most of the massive savings should be returned to taxpayers
in tax cuts, but a goodly chunk should be set aside to re-train agricultural
workers in other, marketable skills and to help them find alternative
employment. This will enable them to regain their pride by generating their own wealth
whilst contributing to the EU's. At present most of them subtract from
It should then be up to each individual state to decide how
to manage and fund the maintenance of its countryside in accordance with
taxpayers' desires. That's not
Set in a leafy and expensive suburb of south Dublin, here's an extract.
Is it a page-turner, or what? The movie rights are available for the
Charlie Chawke, the popular and well-known landlord of
The Goat Grill pub and restaurant, left the building with a bag of
takings amounting to nearly fifty thousand €uro in cash and cheques.
As he was getting into his silver Mercedes he noticed,
in the driver's mirror, two men running towards him from a red
The man who got out of the driver's side had a shotgun
hanging from his shoulder on a strap and opened the driver's door of the
Mercedes with the gun pointing downwards and said,
“Give me the f**king
Mr Chawke saw an opportunity and dived
for the gun but missed and fell to the ground. The man said,
“You are a f**king smart
before he took aim from a distance of 12 inches and blew his knee away.
Despite the ministrations of a passer-by called Oliver MacDonald, five days later, the leg
had to be amputated above the knee.
Meanwhile, Garda Nigel Burke was in a patrol car
which happened to have
stopped at traffic lights outside The Goat Grill when he heard a load
bang. He saw a man - Frank Ward - running away from a person lying on
the ground beside a silver car.
Garda Burke ran after Ward who got into the driver's
seat of the red VW. But the Gard and grabbed him in a bear hug.
Ward then shouted
“shoot the c**t”
to his co-robber Larry Cummins who was in the passenger seat. When
Cummins pointed a gun at him, Garda Burke backed off.
The VW then fled the scene, but not before his
colleague Garda David Sweeney was able to break the rear window with his
They leapt back into their car, and with a third
officer, Sergeant Michelle Gettings, at the wheel, began a hot pursuit
of the red car through the Stillorgan area until it entered a cul-de-sac
at Stillorgan Heath. Cummins pointed a gun at the patrol car through the
broken window but no shots were fired.
The Gardaí stopped their vehicle some distance away as
the two men got out of the red Volkswagen. They both turned to face the
patrol car with shotguns raised. Ward fired at the patrol car,
shattering the front windscreen. Sgt Gettings saw a spark
in front of her face when the pellets hit the windscreen and ducked down
in fear for her life.
Both fugitives then ran down a laneway. Garda
Burke and Garda Sweeney chased them along the lane, meeting a group of
screaming schoolgirls running away, and a man on a bicycle.
Garda Sweeney took the bike off the man and continued
the chase. He saw the men pushing the shotguns through a fence and when
he rounded a corner he saw them standing in bushes. He arrested the men
with the assistance of Garda Burke and the cyclist, and handcuffed them
Four long years later, Cummins and Ward were convicted of injuring Mr Chawke,
stealing €48,652 from The Goat Grill and various firearms charges.
Mr Cummins got fifteen years; Ward is awaiting his own hefty sentence.
Two weeks later, after it
emerged that Mr Ward was a long-time career armed robber with a
shooting convictions dating back to 1981, he was sentenced to life
As he was marched out of the
court to begin his miserable decades of incarceration, he
shouted“A pox be upon you and all your houses!”
shooting incident, Oliver McDonald, the passer-by who had kindly
given first-aid to Mr Chawke, suffered such a severe case of
post-traumatic stress disorder, including nightmares, that he
lost his business.
As a result, he travelled to
Prague (as one does), met up with a Czech lady who put him in touch
with a compatriot back in Ireland called Susanna. So he
contacted her and then set himself up as a pimp making her services
available to clients in room 212 of the
Tullamore Court Hotel. (I presume this is a typical
cure for PTSD - or else a symptom.)
Word got around, and outside
the hotel one day, the Gardaí mounted a stake-out. After
watching no fewer than six customers go in, they raided the room at
midnight. There they found Susanna and a client, both naked,
as well as her takings of €520 for the evening's work (who said
Ireland was expensive?).
after Mr Ward was marched away, Mr McDonald was sentenced to four
months in the slammer for living off the proceeds of prostitution.
Except that this rattling yarn's not mine and not fantasy and I've not written
a crime novel.
It's entirely (save the last seven
culled from evidence given by the
now one-legged Mr Chawke, Garda Burke and
Sgt Gettings at the trial last week of Frank Ward. But the tale is so
thrilling, it belongs in the realm of fiction not fact.
Don't you love the bit about the screaming schoolgirls and the
commandeered bicycle? You couldn't make it up.
Two letters; one published. The Sunday Times wrote to
say they would publish the other one, but in the end didn't. Maybe
it's too off-message.
US Optimism on Iraq ConflictP! - to the Irish Times
millionth brave American soldier passes through Shannon, you can
almost taste the despair in Brendan Butler's letter on having read some rare positive tidings from Iraq, namely
that Al Qaeda seems to be on the retreat. Harking back to George Bush's (in)famous visit in 2003 to an
aircraft-carrier which flew a banner saying
Just Stop the Attacks - to the Sunday Times Brenda Power is perfectly correct when she points out that if criminals
in Ireland want to stop getting shot and harassed by the Gardaí they
should simply stop breaking the law. This same principle contains
the seed of a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict. All that is
required is that the Palestinians stop attacking Israel and that war is
over, and both sides can live in peace. It's that simple.
Unfortunately, it won't work the other way round.
“As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against
them and that Islam is not against them - so long as they do not
wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them
and drive them out of their homes.”
write to the Pope and other Christian leaders,
pleading that the two religions
“come together ... on the common essentials”.
bona-fides would have been more convincing
without the implied threat,
had they provided even a single
example of Christians
“wag[ing] war against Muslims
on account of their religion”
(there are plenty of
examples of the converse - 9/11 for one),
disavowal of the Koranic injunction to
“slay [infidels] wherever ye shall find them”
9:5, :29, :41),
“I can't think of a worse fate for me and my
constituents than being handed over to the weak and ineffective
Palestinian Authority right now ... If there was a referendum here,
no one would vote to join the Palestinian Authority.”
Nabil Gheit, mayor of Ras Hamis,
a Palestinian neighbourhood on the eastern fringe of Jerusalem,
on hearing that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has
handing over Ras Hamis and other parts of Jerusalem
to the Palestinian Authority to turn into
the capital of a new Palestinian State.
“The [Irish] anti-war movement [is]
not a peace movement but a strident anti-American one ... Rather
than an organisation which wishes to see the peaceful resolution of
conflicts around the world through discussion and compromise, it is
a collection of misty-eyed old Soviet Union sympathisers who have
now befriended Islamic fundamentalists.”
Alan Shatter, opposition member of the Irish
to the outrage of the anti-war movement
which wanted to invite a member of Hizbollah
to address one of its meetings.
Thankfully, a visa was denied on
Quote: “Right now, I could
kill George Bush. No, I don't mean that. How could you
nonviolently kill somebody? I would love to be able to do that.”
Betty Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize
for work in Northern Ireland, has evidently,
now she's got her prize money of 650,000 Swedish Kroners,
concluded that peaceful solutions are only for wimps.
It's the second time she has publicly
that she wants to
“kill George Bush”;
the first time was to children.
- - - - - - - - - - E N T E R T A I N M E N T - - - - - - - - - -
(Hat tip Graham in Perth)
I like an animal. Hairy back, hairy everywhere. I don’t understand
why a woman would want to be with a hairless man. If I was going to
go for someone smooth, I may as well be a lesbian.”
TV cook Nigella Lawson, daughter of British
former chancellor Nigel,
and her non-food predilections
like to thank the press from the heart of my bottom.”
forward Nick Easter pays tribute to the media,
after England knocked Australia out of the Rugby World Cup
in a surprise win totally at odds with
its abject performance at the tournament up to then.
The media had been
consistently (and understandably
pouring scorn on the England team.
Limerick is home to
Hunt Museum, which houses over two thousand wonderful artefacts,
antiquities and paintings accumulated over the lifetimes of Irish immigrants
and Gertrude Hunt. The art-dealing, art-collecting couple first moved to
Ireland in 1940 where they remained until their deaths in 1976 and 1995,
when they generously bequeathed their entire collection of treasures to
their adopted nation. John was an Englishman, his wife a Jewess
who in fear of Nazis fled Germany for Britain in the early 1930s.
Nearly four years ago, out of the blue,
the Paris office of an outfit
known as the SWC, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (named after the famed
Nazi-hunter), issued a withering
letter to Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland inferring -
Hunts had fostered Nazi connections, including personal ties to Adolf
Mahr, head of the Nazi Party in Ireland
members of the “English Fascist
had indulged in
anti-British espionage activity during WW2,
in intimate business relationships with notorious dealers in art looted
by the Nazis,
that the museum contained
artifacts looted from Jews by the Nazis,
The SWC demanded that the Museum's pieces be displayed on the
internet so that Holocaust families could reclaim them, and that the
president withdraw a recent award.
assault, addressed with stunning impertinence to an elected head of state,
was quickly picked up by the world's media and received international
publicity, much to the detriment of the museum and the memory of the Hunts.
The Hunt Museum
was convinced the allegations were false and malicious. Nevertheless,
it felt obliged to refute them. For its part, the SWC - which has
no expertise in the restitution of looted art - refused to divulge
and evidence of its egregious allegations, or to co-operate with any
The museum set
up a number of independent committees to investigate, which turned out not
to be very satisfactory. So it eventually appointed, under the
auspices of the Royal Irish
Academy, an internationally renowned expert on art looted by the Nazis,
Lynn H Nicholas.
Within weeks of
the original story breaking, however, this blog - which was privy to
impeccable sources - published the true facts of the case, in two posts:
never belonged to the “English
Fascist Party” for the simple reason it
The SWC has nothing to do with (the now deceased) Simon
Wiesenthal other than renting his name. It is merely a private
Jewish lobbying outfit headquartered in Los Angeles, but with
international offices, and often at loggerheads with other Jewish groups
(such as the
World Jewish Congress,
The SWC relied on three “independent
scholars” but on closer examination only
charlatans were behind it.
The first such scholar was a respected
historical author, Judith Hill, who had drafted an unpublished essay
about the Hunts. She is innocent of any malpractice, but her
essay was without her permission leaked, plagiarised and misquoted
by Irish Times journalist Arthur Beesley to
dishonestly make the Hunts appear to be part of a network of dealers
in looted artwork.
Then there wasCiarán MacGonigal, the Museum's former Curator
whose three-year appointment had been opposed by John Hunt's son,
which no doubt created tensions. Mr MacGonigal accused the
Hunts of belonging to the “English
There was no evidence for the
ludicrous idea that the Hunts were Fascists.
recent survey reveals that
there is no
reference to the Hunts in the British Fascist files at the
National Archives in Kew.
Moreover, the Hunts went out of their way to help wartime Jews
where they could - hardly the behaviour of Fascist zealots.
Finally, there was
Erin Gibbons, pictured below, an archaeologist who told the SWC that the Hunts
were linked to looted art merely because an acquaintance, later
identified as Alexander von Frey, is known to have trafficked in
As journalist Paul Cullen
writes in the (subscription-only) Irish Times,
“just because the Hunts knew people who knew
people who traded with the Nazis was not reason enough for
assuming they shared a political viewpoint or participated in
overwhelming evidence all pointed
in precisely the opposite direction: the Hunts were never Nazis or Nazi
sympathisers - in fact the reverse - and they never (knowingly) dealt in
Last month, the Royal Irish Academy at
last published Ms Nicholas'
which is concise (21 pages) and to the point. And I've read it so you
don't need to.
She vindicates pretty much everything
that was revealed in my earlier two posts. But she adds another
A further source of the scurrilous,
kite-flying exercise undertaken by the SWC turns out to have been a file,
with reference nbr G2/4371, on
Gertrude Hunt put together by Irish military intelligence during wartime because she
was a German, which by inference was said to reveal the Hunts' Nazi predilections.
In fact it does nothing of the sort.
Compared to similar surveillance
files hundreds of pages long, the Hunts' file comprises just 30 sheets,
and the only
is three letters exchanged with Mr von Frey in Switzerland, who
is known to have been involved in the trading of confiscated art during
World War 2. This is what Erin Gibbons had been coyly
But the letters are mainly of a personal nature with no
reference to art deals. Later examination of Mr von Frey's illicit
activities - which were extensively investigated by US intelligence
among others - revealed absolutely no business links with the Hunts.
It is interesting that the Irish military intelligence file
first came to light during an Irish museums seminar in 2006, when a
member of the audience, Eamonn Kelly, pictured, piped up from the floor. But Mr Kelly turns
out to be not only the so-called
“Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum”,
but the husband of Ms Gibbons, and a known leftist activist, aspects
which Ms Nicholas does not allude to.
Ms Nicholas calls for further research of the museum's
pieces, most of which are undocumented, but then this applies to most
artefacts in most museums in the world.
(Meantime, the museum has put all its collection on display on the
She castigates the performance of
various committees set up to investigate the original allegations as well as
the Irish government for providing insufficient support.
But she reserves her main ire for the
SWC's Dr Shimon Samuels, left, who signed the original letter, has fronted the
anti-Hunts campaign ever since and has refused to co-operate with any
attempt to verify or refute his allegations.
“The sensational and calculated manner in which Dr Samuels
announced his suspicions in an open letter containing serious personal
allegations and implied criticism of the wartime actions of the Republic
of Ireland, then holding the Presidency of the EU, was both undiplomatic
“The decision to challenge the Irish authorities in a sort of
blackmail game was unprofessional in the extreme.
He of course does not accept these criticisms, won't
apologise and vows to continue the fight.
“The show is not over”,
says. But it clearly is.
Ms Nicholas concludes her report tellingly:
“Research provides no proof whatsoever that the Hunts
were Nazis, that they were involved in any kind of espionage, or that
they were traffickers in looted art.”
“There has been much talk about moral obligation during this
inquiry. It is, of course, important to recover and return items
unlawfully taken during World War II, but it is equally obligatory, in
the pursuit of justice, to protect people and institutions from unproven
In other words, John and Gertrude Hunt
and the Hunt Museum are fully vindicated from the Nazi slurs - as this blog
illustrated three years ago. I'm disappointed not to see it listed in
the references: Ms Nicholas might have saved herself some legwork!
In the meantime, one might expect that
the charlatan trio - Arthur Beesley,
Ciarán MacGonigal and Erin Gibbons
- who aided and abetted Shimon Samuels, would hang their heads in shame.
Last month, Al Qaeda issues a
minute video (10 Gb) of a long rambling speech by someone in Islamic
robes and a big black beard, identified as Osama bin Laden. Much of
the speech, transcribed
here, is devoted to berating America for not fleeing Iraq despite having
elected a Democrat Congress and Senate, and for various other sins such as
not obeying Kyoto, not listening to Noam Chomsky, too-heavy taxes and
interest rates, the genocide of Red Indians and Japanese.
There have been acres of print and internet comment, but I
have to wonder whether anyone has actually watched the video (which does
take some forbearance).
During the first few minutes, the man's mouth moves (though
barely perceptibly), he nods his head a few times, he raises his right arm a
couple of inches once or twice, some fingers occasionally twitch, his right
hand sets aside a sheet of paper from his script (note that Osama is/was
left-handed). Then, around the two-minute mark, all movement
ceases until the 13th minute when a bit of minor gesturing and page-turning
by the right hand resumes for another couple of minutes, along with some
lip-movement. Then all movement stops - totally - for the rest of the
tedious performance. The speech itself is delivered as a droning
monologue, with even less inflexion and emphasis than if you select the
View/ReadOutLoud option for a PDF document using Adobe Reader.
The last video authenticated by the US State Department was
made public in
December 2001, just after the invasion of Afghanistan. True, a
video surfaced in October 2004 in which a supposed (right-handed) Osama
in effect advised the Americans to vote for John Kerry, and one or two
others since. But they have all been blurry, or stills or virtually
motionless or historic footage; none truly authenticable. Likewise,
several audio tapes have also been released by Al Qaeda, all of them
scratchy to listen to and discern, which is why everyone relies on
transcripts and translations.
Why are these
fifteen recordings of such poor technical quality? For years, now,
anyone with a laptop, microphone and webcam can record audio and video of
almost professional quality, undreamt of just a decade ago. But with
OBL recordings so few and far between, it is inconceivable that these
productions would be other than of the highest calibre, designed to frighten
the infidels and inspire the faithful.
There is only one explanation: Osama bin Laden is dead.
His ideas may live on, but he is never coming back, ever. In late
2001, he met his maker and no doubt 72 virgins in Tora Bora, either
vaporised by one of Rumsfeld's infamous bunker-busters or else a victim of
illness - either kidney failure (Pakistan's
assessment) or lung disease (Egypt's)
or both. No other rationale makes any sense whatsoever.
since 2001 are fabrications, as I (and many others) have long argued.
The man in the latest video, hidden behind his bushy, improbably black
beard, no doubt with a bit of judicious make-up and face sculpting, could be
anyone - except the dead OBL. Face analysis is just one
demonstration of this. The careless oversight of the actor's
obvious right-handedness is but another. Moreover, the Arab world is
doubtless as replete as the West with skilled impersonators of the ilk of
Rory Bremner, well able to fake OBL's voice, though
evidently not his rhetorical flourishes. Electronic voice
identification systems are up to
1% inaccurate, which leaves plenty of scope to find a suitable mimic and
still fool the experts.
Why the US government chooses to
perpetrate the myth of OBL's continued existence is a mystery to me.
Surely they don't think that's a prerequisite to motivate the troops or get
the American public to back the war?
Nevertheless rest assured, Osama bin
Laden is long gone. His
“recordings” are irrelevant.
Others have written
with much greater eloquence and insight than I can muster about the dreadful disappearance of little
And few can doubt the truthfulness of her distraught parents, Gerry and
Kate, when they say their little girl disappeared during the evening of 3rd May
last, whilst they were dining not a hundred metres away in a resort in Praia da
But I want to talk about the brilliance of the Portuguese
Paradoxically, their incompetence has been stunning to behold. Their response to the disappearance was
desultory at best - until the world's media descended on Praia da Luz,
forcing them to put up a semblance of investigation and search.
They hauled in
some unfortunate interpreter, declared him a suspect, interrogated him
for hours, more or less ruined his life and business prospects.
They failed to
seal off the apartment from which the child was abducted for forensic
examined a car the McCanns had hired three weeks after the
abduction, declared it contained some unspecified bodily fluids from
Madeleine and a dog-detected odour of death, then released it back to
the McCanns rather than impounding it as evidence.
These are just some of the more remarkable activities of the police that
we know about.
And the more the
“investigation” continued, under the scrutiny of the
international media, the more a laughing stock the Portuguese police
became. And the more the Portuguese tourist industry - and not
just in Praia da Luz - was damaged.
It all became too much, so finally the police
executed a master stroke.
Chief Inspector Goncalo
Amaral, they declared both Gerry and Kate as formal
suspects for having killed Madeleine, using the Portuguese legal term “arguida”,
and subjected each of them to days of intensive interrogation, seeking
Mr Amaral was not so fortunate as when he tried the
same stunt with
Leonor Cipriano, mother of little Joana, who like Madeleine
suddenly disappeared, in 2004 from nearby Figuera. Ms Cipriano
confessed to murder, but not until she sustained heavy bruising having
“fallen down the stairs” in the police station during 48 hours of
continual interrogation. Though she retracted her forced
confession next day, she was nevertheless convicted and is currently
serving 16 years for murder of her (unfound) daughter. But then
she is a penniless single-mum with half a dozen children from as many
fathers and no connections. An easy target.
Nevertheless, the pressure on the McCanns was
finally more than they could bear, so they reluctantly left Praia da Luz
and returned home to Britain with their other two children. And
the beauty of the
status is that they are forbidden under Portuguese law from speaking
publicly about the case.
So from the Portuguese position, the McCanns are
gone, unlikely ever to return and cause further embarrassment to the
Portuguese tourist industry. And they are gagged.
Mr Amaral has since been
demoted to inspector and taken off the case because of the bad
publicity arising from the Cipriano case, but the
he has sown will flourish without him.
The police in Priaia da Luz will continue with
for years into the future, never of course getting anywhere, and the
will be forced to remain dumb.
A brilliant, if heartless manoeuvre, driven purely
by the desire of the Portuguese police to hide their own undoubted
Just the one letter, on an Irish issue, which
was published (for the first time in two months). There has been
uproar in the west of Ireland because Aer Lingus, recently privatised but
for 25% retained by the State, has decided to replace its Shannon/Heathrow
route with a new Belfast/Heathrow route.
Controversy over ShannonP! - to the Irish Times
Instead of incessantly bleating that "Government", in the
best traditions of a Communist state, should solve its Shannon-Heathrow
problem, Tony Kinnane, Chairman of the Shannon Action Group, should
actually take some, er, action. He and his colleagues are all
businessmen so they should know something about business. Aer Lingus has
gone: nothing is going to change that. So get one or more competitors
in. That's what businessmen do when faced with a supply shortage. Find
“We may differ with our American friends about tactics …
But my message to them is one of appreciation and gratitude. To them
I say, you have liberated a people, brought them into the modern
world … We used to be decimated and killed like locusts in Saddam's
endless wars, and we have now come into the light.”
Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq,
eloquently sums up America's contribution
to the liberation of his country.
This quote is taken from a superb essay by
The foul dictator Saddam Hussein is gone,
all-out civil war has been avoided,
democracy accepted and
life goes on despite the bloodshed,
which anyway is now principally criminal in nature,
according to Mr Bull.
- - - - - - - - - - L O O T E D A R
T - - - - - - - - - -
“Research provides no proof whatsoever that the
Hunts [an art-collecting immigrant couple in Ireland] were
Nazis, that they were involved in any kind of espionage, or that
they were traffickers in looted art.”
Lynn Nicholas, an internationally recognised expert
on Nazi-looted art during World War 2,
summarily debunks scurrilous claims made four years ago
by a private Jewish lobby group in America,
the Simon Wiesenthal Centre
(which is nothing to do with famed Nazi hunter, whose name it
Italian finance minister Tommaso
Padoa Schioppa describes
59% of Italians between the ages of 18 and 34,
including 34% of males over 30,
who refuse to move out of their mamas' home.
Bambini means babies; bamboccioni means big overgrown babies.
It's one reason there is a dearth of real babies,
and a demographic death-spiral birth rate of just
1.23 per woman
from which it can never recover.
- - - - - - - - - - S P O R T - - - - - - - - - -
“Australia will get over
[it]. New Zealand
won't. In Australia, rugby union is a side dish. It isn't in
New Zealand. Rugby is the country's heart and soul, its identity.
The All Blacks' brand is No.1. The land of the long white cloud is
now the land of the long black cloud. New Zealand is in mourning.”
on the ejection of the Australia Wallabies and
favourites New Zealand All Blacks
from the 2007 Rugby World Cup in the quarter-finals,
in their worst-ever World Cup results.
decisions were right and we are quite happy with the situation we
have ... I think we had a blip.”
Philip Browne, chief executive of the Irish
Rugby Football Union,
reflects smugly on his decision
not to fire Eddie O'Sullivan as Ireland's head coach
despite Ireland's ignominious ejection from the Rugby World Cup,
in its own worst-ever performance in the tournament's history.
The chief executive has since acquired the
Quote (subscription only):
“Ireland represents nothing to me. If they are out of the
World Cup I don't care. I'm just happy that we won the four matches
and we are still in the World Cup.”
Patricio Albacete, one of the Argentina team which defeated Ireland,
is not impressed by the Irish performance.
Nor are the Irish fans.
Quote (Hattip - Graham in Perth):
“I would love to gather all the fans together to say
goodbye for the last time but they would crush me with their love.”
Ex-manager of Chelsea, José
laments the impracticality of departing as he would wish
“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