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To find an archived article, simply click on Index and scroll the subject titles, or do a Ctrl-F search
Unpublished and Published [P!] 
Letters to the Press in 2006
For letters and cybercomments in other years, click on
2007 or 2008 or 2008 or 2009 or 2010 or 2011 or 2012 or 2013

December 2006
bulletFrench Riots
bulletPinochet and Castro P!
bulletA Bird's Tale P! P!
bulletPersonal Breathalysers
bulletThe Americans' Lawful Mission in Iraq
bullet Israel and the Palestinians: Disputed vs Occupied Land

November 2006
bulletRumsfeld's Unknown Unknowns
bulletDeath Penalty on Saddam Hussein
bulletRichard Dawkins Confronted
bulletLeft-wing BBC
bulletShannon Airport's Contribution to Iraq
bulletMothers Excused P!
bulletThe Dingle Plebiscite
bulletAnti-War Movement Seems Pro-War

October 2006
bulletVeiled Anonymity
bullet Call for Boycott on Israel P
bulletProtests of Mayo Pipeline P!

September 2006
bulletCourt Ruling on Transfusion
bulletResigning a Commission
bulletAcademics Call for Ban on Israel
bulletPower and Equality  P!
bullet A Load of Old Goebbels  P!
bulletPoaching' of Academic Staff P!

August 2006
bulletFree-loading Quakers
bulletReligion and the Roots of Terror
bulletJaw-Jaw vs War-War
bulletLuas and Israel
bulletCuban Health Care P!
bulletIsrael and the Geneva Conventions
bulletIrish Computer Systems for Weapons
bulletStateless Palestinians
bulletIsrael's Disproportionate Response P!

July 2006
bulletWar Against Hezbollah and Hamas

Self-Defence by Israel


Civilian Deaths in Israel/Gaza/Lebanon Conflict P!


Enforce the Alcohol Limit


Israeli Policy in Palestinian Area

June 2006

Irish Support for the Iraq War


Iran's Nuclear Programme


Cuba Killings


Apology over Easter Mass P!


Not Knowing the Limits

May 2006

Promoting Books


Hunger Strikers in St Patrick's Cathedral


No aid for Palestinians who vote for Hamas


Rejoice at Drink-Driving Arrests

bulletIreland is a Success (not a Failure as Fintan O'Toole would have it)

April 2006
bulletPD Tax-Cutting Promises P!

The Probing Sue Lawley P!


Easter Mass in Drogheda P!


Diageo's Enlightened Self-Interest


Kurdish Refugees


Farmers and Subsidies P!


Frightening MRSA Deaths P!


A Venue for the Munster/Leinster Semi-Final

March 2006
bulletKyoto Money Wasting
bulletHow Will Trócaire Alleviate Child Labour?
bulletMichael Neary's Hysterectomies 
bulletBlinkered View of the PDs P!

February 2006
bulletControversy Over Cartoons (again) P!
bulletControversy Over Cartoons P!
bulletIraqi Kurdish Refugees
bulletRandom Breath-Testing and Civil Liberties P!
bulletReligion vs Race P!
bulletRacist Offense to Europeans and Danes
bulletTariq Ali

January 2006
bulletHamas's “Iranian Agenda” and EU Aid
bulletSpread of Nuclear Arms P!
bulletOne Finger Equals Two Lives?
bulletChopping Bits Off Babies
bulletLeft free to harass
bulletExasperating Pinochet
bulletLicensing of Stringfellow's Club
bulletRisk Equalisation in Health Insurance
bulletThe Word that Dare Not ... 

December 2006
To the Irish Times on 27th December 2006

French Riots

Madam, - Minister Seamus Brennan is right to emphasis the importance of integrating immigrants into Irish society and that the responsibility for this lies equally with both the native population and the incomers (Ireland, December 27th).

But he is wrong to raise the spectre of what is now widely regarded as the French initifada, with its hundred car-burnings per night, year round.  This is an Islamic phenomenon provoked and sustained by Islamic extremists among immigrants, who have created no-go areas in the banlieus where only Sharia law, implemented by imams, prevails and more moderate Muslims have to keep their heads down.

The obvious way to forestall such an outcome here is to restrict Muslim immigration. - Yours etc

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Published in the Irish Times on 21st December 2006

Pinochet and Castro P!

Madam, - The denunciation, by Amnesty International's Sean Love, of Augusto Pinochet's 17-year reign of terror, which killed or "disappeared" over 3,000 people and imprisoned and tortured many more, is admirable (December 19th). 

I would hope he reserves even greater vituperation for Fidel Castro who in his 47 years of power has killed 70,000 people(*) so far in his prison state, jailed and tortured many more and wrecked Cuba's economy.  At least Pinochet's capitalistic policies left Chile the strongest economy in South America. - Yours etc

(*) Source of the 70,000 figure is Professor J Rummel's tabulation entitled Lesser Murdering States, Quasi-States, and Groups - Estimates, Sources and Calculations, Go to Line 848; the actual figure is 73,000.

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Published in the (subscription-only) Economist, 19th December 2006

A Bird's Tale P!

Sir, - Only in English is my home country named after poultry. Its proper name is Turkiye, meaning the land of the Turks, says Naile Berna Kovuk (Letters, November 30th). He's got it back-to-front. It is the poultry of that name which is named after his country.

Long before Europeans discovered America, English merchants in Turkey had discovered the çulluk, a most delicious bird to eat and exported. They 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 noticed large edible birds which looked like big versions of çulluks, so they called them ‘turkey’ also, which has stuck to this day.

Yet there are odd names for a turkey in other languages as well, where the bird always seems to have come from somewhere else. In Turkey itself it is known as hindi (meaning from India); in France dinde (also from India); in Italy tacchino (peacock) or pollo d'India (India again); in Brazil it's peru; in Greece gallapoula (French girl); in Arabic an Ethiopian bird; in Persian it's buchalamun (a chameleon). And in India, it's a turkey. Yours etc,

My original letter is shown with the editor's deletions.  As published, my letter is sandwiched between two others on the same subject, which roughly cover the points deleted. 

The letter is based on a post I wrote in October 2004 entitled Talking Turkey”. 


A very similar letter was also published in Mark Steyn's Mailbox during Christmas week 2006, ranked 14th on the list (down from third and first place over the past year or so!). 

Re: Talking turkey
You've got the turkey's etymology wrong. You write that "The bird that supplanted the bustard was introduced to Europe early in the 16th century by one of Sebastian Cabot's men who brought it from ... Mexico".

In fact, long before Europeans discovered America, English merchants in Turkey had discovered the çulluk, a most delicious bird to eat.  They 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 noticed large edible birds which looked like big versions of çulluks, so they called them “turkey” also, which has stuck to this day. 

Yet there are odd names for a turkey in other languages as well, where the bird always seems to have come from somewhere else.  In Turkey itself it is known as hindi (meaning from India); in France dinde (also from India); in Italy tacchino (peacock) or pollo d'India (India again); in Brazil and Portugal it's peru; in Greece gallapoula (French girl); in Arabic an Ethiopian bird; in Persian it's buchalamun (a chameleon).  And in India, it's a turkey. 

By the way, the December 19th issue of the Economist seems to agree with my version. 

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To the Irish Times on 1st December 2006

Personal Breathalysers

Madam, - You don't have to pay €120 for your own (clunky) breathalyser as John Mugan suggests (Letters, December 14th). Over the internet, you can buy from the UK a tiny one that fits neatly in the palm of your hand or your top pocket or purse for only £21 (around €40 including delivery to Ireland). It is more than accurate enough for determining whether you are well within the legal limit, and is ideal for carrying with you at all times. Without your own device, it is like trying to keep to the speed limit without a speedometer.

Moreover, for little cost, pubs, clubs and restaurants could fit coin-operated wall-mounted breathalysers (also available over the internet), to enable customers to measure themselves. In Australia, such machines have long been widespread and provide an additional revenue stream. - Yours etc,

This letter is drawn from a post,
Measure Yourself Before Drink Driving,
which I wrote in November 2006

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To the Irish Times on 1st December 2006

Israel and the Palestinians: Disputed vs Occupied Land

Madam, - I don't know where Raymond Deane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign keeps getting the idea that the land disputed with Israel is not disputed but  occupied.  (Letters, December 1st).

It remains under dispute for the sole reason that every time the Palestinians have been offered it as a Palestinian state their leaders have turned it down - in 1937, 1948, 1967 and 2000.  As such, it is no more Palestinian land than it is Israeli land.

You can therefore as readily conclude it is "occupied" by the Palestinians as by the Israelis. - Yours, etc.

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To The Economist, 1st December 2006

The Americans' Lawful Mission in Iraq

Sir, - Your leader (The test in Afghanistan, November 25th) contains a glaring and uncharacteristic error, which reads, In Afghanistan, as distinct from Iraq, there should be no quarrel about the lawfulness of the mission.  NATO is in the country under a UN mandate, operating in defence and at the behest of an elected government”. 

So is the American-led coalition in Iraq. - Yours etc,

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November 2006
To the Irish Times on 28th November 2006

Rumsfeld's Unknown Unknowns

Madam, - Frank Golden betrays himself when he joins the chorus that likes to mock what he calls Donald Rumsfeld's illogical unknown unknowns (Letters, November 28th). When Mr Rumsfeld uttered this in June 2002, his central point was that in war you need at least to allow for the existence of bad things happening that you haven't thought of.

But the same concept applies in many business contexts as well. For example, the oil industry talks about :

bulletknown reserves (oil that they know is there and how much),
bulletunknown reserves (oil that they know is there but don't know how much) and
bulletundiscovered oil (oil that they don't know is there but from experience may be there if they look hard enough).

Inasmuch as an oil company's long-term future depends on continually finding new oil - hence oil exploration - it is essential that how to deal with undiscovered oil (unknown unknowns in Mr Rumsfeld's lexicon) should constitute a strong element in strategic planning.

Furthermore, no responsible company will fail to have plans in place for tackling other unknown unknowns such as future undreamt-of business catastrophes.

It seems that many people listening to Mr Rumsfeld were hearing about the concept of different types of knowns and unknowns for the first time, were finding it complex (it is) and couldn't understand it. Therefore, they would conclude, it must be something bad and deserving of mockery. - Yours etc, 

This letter is drawn from a post I wrote back in August 2002.

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To the Irish Times on 23rd November 2006

Death Penalty on Saddam Hussein

Madam, - Anthony Redmond quotes the Vatican in support of his contention that Saddam Hussein should be spared the death penalty (Letters, November 23rd). The Vatican, in its inexplicable endeavours to keep the tyrant Pope John Paul shakes the bloodied hand of tyrant Saddam's deputy, Tariq Aziz, in February 2003Saddam in power, has no credibility in this matter and should be ignored. Who can forget the photo of the late Pope disgracefully shaking the bloodied hand of Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy, just before the invasion? Even today, Cardinal Renato Martino seems to continue to regret Saddam's removal.

As for the trial itself, whatever its flaws, both the prosecution and defence were able to put their cases in open court and a guilty verdict on the Dujail massacre was reached, which no-one could claim is unjust. Iraqis tried an Iraqi in Iraq for crimes against Iraqis. This was in marked contrast to the fiasco of a trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. This dragged on for four long years, without an outcome, and then Milosevic died - the court couldn't even keep him alive.

As for the death sentence, the court acted under the auspices of the sovereign Iraqi government freely elected last December by an astonishing 77%** of the adult population, pursuant to a constitution ratified by the Iraqi people two months earlier. The Coalition forces are not, as Mr Redmond infers, undermining Iraq's sovereignty; they are helping to support the struggling young democracy at the invitation of the legitimate government and under a UN Mandate.

I agree that the judicial death penalty is wrong and abhor its liberal use in places like China, Saudi Arabia and the USA, but at least it seems to be applied sparingly in Iraq. If and when Saddam is hanged, it is to be hoped his body is cremated and his ashes secretly scattered, to ensure no Yasukuni-style shrine is created. - Yours etc,

bullet**Voter turnout = 12.4m votes / 16.2m over 15s = 77%

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To the Sunday Times on 22nd November 2006

Richard Dawkins Confronted

Sir, - So, professional atheist Professor Richard Dawkins wants to flood schools with atheism propaganda (Godless Dawkins challenges schools, November 19th).

He perpetually gets away with his special kind of agitprop because he is charming, mellifluous and articulate, and fits in well with the modern, post-Christian leftishness much beloved of the bien-pensants. Meanwhile, his interlocutors, whether by accident or design, are nearly always either in awe of his views and professorial demeanour or else ridiculously deferential. Even Jeremy Paxman seemed slightly intimidated when he interviewed him on BBC Newsnight recently**.

Last month, however, Prof Dawkins encountered, for perhaps the first time, a thoroughly aggressive yet knowledgeable debater, journalist David Quinn, who systematically demolished everything he had to say and made his arguments look ridiculous. He needs more challenge like this.

Readers can listen to the radio interview as from Minute 8, by clicking on - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 13th November 2006

Left-wing BBC

Madam, - In Mary Fitzgerald's interesting review of the new Al Jazeera English TV channel (Al-Jazeera's energy lost in translation, November 16th), she contrasts it with the rabidly right-wing Fox News and the sombre, earnest and careful BBC.  Why does she omit the epithet left-wing from the BBC's description, being its most abiding characteristic? - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 13th November 2006

Shannon Airport's Contribution to Iraq

Madam, - I would hope that when Roger Cole, chair of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance, makes an issue in the next general election of the use of Shannon Airport (Letters, November 13th), he spares a thought for the twelve million Iraqis (an astonishing 74% of adults) who only last December bravely voted for a new, liberal, legitimate, democratic Iraq, and who so proudly displayed their purpled fingers to the cameras. 

For ranged against them are a deadly minority of Saddamites, Ba'athists, Sunni and Shi'ite gangs, local and foreign jihadists, common criminals and no doubt various hangers-on and dead-enders.  They seek to restore Ba'athism or to impose Taliban-like rule, with, of course, power in their own hands alone - and permanently.  Only the West's military help, at the continuing invitation of the democratic Iraqi government and under a UN mandate, is keeping these these evil men from success.  Shannon is a noble part of that military help. 

To withdraw support from those twelve million Iraqi democrats would be the equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the criminal Nazis or Eastern Europe back to the criminal Soviets. - Yours etc,

See my earlier attempt to get a similar letter published

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Published in the Sunday Times on 12th November 2006 P!

Mothers Excused

India Knight has misread the main issue surrounding the murder of a child by its parent (Murderously self-pitying fathers, News Review, November 5th 2005).

A killer father such as Gavin Hall may indeed see himself as a victim, but society, the media and the courts do not, and there is no compunction in locking him up for the vile crime he has committed. In Hall’s case that means life, and one might expect that the Greek courts will hand down something similar to John Hogan, who jumped off a balcony with his children in his arms, resulting in his son’s death.

By contrast, when the killer is the mother, she elicits only sympathy from the same troika for the “tragic circumstances” that drove her to the deed and she usually, to all intents and purposes, gets off.

For example, Danielle Wails, who burnt her son to death (what a horrible way to die) apparently to win back his father, recently got off with a three-year community order because she was suffering post-natal depression.  A Bangladeshi woman, Musammat Mumtahana, hanged her two baby sons yet because she then hanged herself it's called a tragedy rather than the foul double murder it was. Sharon Grace (estranged from her husband) drowned her two little daughters and herself in Wexford. This too was not called a foul double-murder, but a “tragic drowning” with - to boot - some people blaming social services.

There are other recent examples of society's different attitude to killer-parents depending on their sex.

It's as if, within the UK and Ireland at any rate, when Mummy's the murderess, we couldn't care less about the dead little innocents.

Deletions from my original text were made by the letters editor. 
(Note in particular that it's apparently ok
to criticise English and Irish mothers
but not Bangladeshi ones.)

The letter is based on my recent post
Murdering Your Own Children. 

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To the Irish Times on 3rd November 2006

The Dingle Plebiscite

Madam, - Peter Pallas of Ennis finds it inexcusable that the native people of An Daingean/Dingle voted to retain the name of Dingle (Letters, November 3rd).  Such arrogance.  Those townspeople think they own the place.  They should obey the desires of their betters in Ennis, Leinster House and the rest of the country. - Yours etc,

This refers to the fact that the Irish Government recently decided to change the name of Dingle to the Irish version, An Daingean, removing all reference to Dingle from maps, roadsigns etc. 
The locals are furious.

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To the Irish Times on 1st November 2006

Anti-War Movement Seems Pro-War

Madam, - You report that the Irish Anti-War Movement has invited to Ireland Ibrahim Mousawi, who is "a prominent member of Hizbullah ... from the pro-Hizbullah television station al-Manar" (World, November 1st). According to Mr Mousawi, Hizbullah will welcome Irish troops so long as they stick to their mission, which he says is "to help the Lebanese army to defend the Lebanese people". However, UNIFIL's remit under UN Resolutions 425, 426 and last August's 1701, is much more specific than this. UNIFIL is mandated to assist the Lebanese Government and Army to disarm all other groups south of the Litani river, which of course includes Hizbullah. So Mr Mousawi is, in effect, saying that the Irish troops are not welcome if they do their UN mandated duty.

This is the same Hizbullah who provoked the recent war in Lebanon by invading Israel, killing and kidnapping its soldiers and launching rockets into its civilian areas. In addition to Hizbullah's social side, it is a military organization openly committed to the obliteration of Israel and is supported, militarily, logistically and financially by Iran whose president likewise openly seeks to wipe Israel from the map.

In its obvious support for Mr Mousawi and hence Hizbullah, the "Irish Anti-War Movement" should rename itself. It appears not to be anti-war at all, but pro-war on the anti-Israel side. - Yours etc,

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October 2006
To the Irish Times on 20th October 2006

Veiled Anonymity

How can anyone tell who this is?  Click to enlargeMadam, - Your striking front page photograph on October 20th features a veiled person identified as Aishah Azmi (24), a Muslim teaching assistant

How do you know? - Yours, etc,

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Published in the Irish Times on 20th October 2006 P

Call for Boycott on Israel P

Madam, - In supporting the 60 Irish academics passionately calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, Cathal Kerrigan (October 17th) cites the example of his friend Simon Nkoli, a black gay South African who, shamefully, was tortured and imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activities .  The boycott will supposedly help the Palestinians toward peace. 

The irony is that pretty much the only place in the Middle East where a black gay such as Mr Nkoli can today live openly and at peace, without fear of attack or prejudice, is the hated Israel, and certainly not the areas known as Palestine.  In fact, Israel outlaws discrimination on the basis of race or sexual orientation.  It is odd, therefore, for Mr Kerrigan to favour Palestine. 
Incidentally, I am still awaiting a response to a challenge I twice posed in these pages on 6th and 13th October 2004 to "name a Middle East state other than Israel ... with the freedom to establish bodies which are openly ... pro-gay". 
Moreover, there is another way to create peace - instantly - in Palestine and surrounding areas.  Israel's neighbours have simply to cease attacking Israel. That's all it takes. Unfortunately, it won't work the other way round, as has been tried many times. - Yours etc,

This is the second time in a month that publication of
the sentiment expressed in the deleted words
has been withheld by the Editor

See also Academics Call for Ban on Israel below

My letter provoked a bizarre response from Mr Kerrigan on 24th October, putting words I didn't say into my mouth.  I don't think he would have written this way had my letter not been censored as above.

Madam, - I am astonished by Tony Allwright's view of human rights as some kind of trading game (September 20th). His suggestion that, as Israeli laws respect gay rights, this should somehow blind a gay person to their flagrant abuse of the rights of others (eg Palestinians, Bedouin) displays a shockingly consumerist approach to an issue of principle.

By analogy, this attitude could be used to argue that, as the Irish Government has put in place progressive legislation ensuring me legal equality as a gay person, I should therefore remain silent about human rights abuses they may commit with regard to travellers or foreign nationals, for example.

I am confident that my fellow gays, and your readers, will reject such shallow thinking.

However, Mr Allwright's view does reflect an attitude I have encountered among Israelis - namely, that they are different from their neighbours, that they are "civilised", European. I have seen this reflected at the most ridiculous level in the pride they take in their country's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, which they see as clear political endorsement by Europeans of the state of Israel and its repressive policies.

It is for this reason that I wish to propose - in all seriousness - that any boycott of Israel should include a ban on its participation in the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2007.

Finally, I would like to bring to Tony Allwright's attention something Senator David Norris said in the Civil Partnership Bill debate (March 16th, 2005): "Daniel O'Connell. . .made the point that. . .human rights and dignity were not a finite resource, which were diminished by being handed out to other people; rather, they were enhanced and multiplied the more people in the country had such advantages." - Yours, etc,

CATHAL KERRIGAN, Strawberry Hill, Cork.

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Published in the Irish Times on 14th October 2006

Protests of Mayo Pipeline P!

Madam, - Joe Murray, co-ordinator of the NGO Afri (October 11th) repeats known untruths about Shell .

Ken Saro Wiwa and eight colleagues were arrested and - after a rigged trial - executed in 1995 by Nigeria's brutal military dictatorship of the day, not for "trying to protect their people and land" [from Shell], but for inciting the murder of four elders from their own Ogoni tribe who did not agree with their (largely anti-Shell) activities. Shell had no hand in their fate, and was horrified by it. To suggest collusion is, quite simply, a grievous calumny.

The Irish legal system jailed The Rossport Five for contempt of an injunction to stop interfering with Shell's lawful construction activities; Shell did not call for their imprisonment, only for the exercise of the injunction.

Moreover, numerous expert studies have all concluded that the pipeline is not "dangerous", no matter whether the protestors may think it is. (I may think the world is flat, but that doesn't make it so.)
The valiant Gardaí at Ballinaboy are protecting not Shell but the democratic law of the land, which is their constitutional duty. And by the way, it is clear from the TV pictures, that they are using the absolute minimum of force to do so.

Shell's commitment to human rights, especially in Nigeria, is huge. If Mr Murray thinks Shell "has never been known to allow human rights to stand in the way of its pursuit of profit", perhaps I should explain why Shell's oil production in Nigeria, which was once 1.2 million barrels per day is currently only 700,000. The half-million shortfall arises because Shell has voluntarily shut down dozens of its Nigerian oilfields attacked or threatened by militants, rather than risk violence by calling on the - lawful - protection of the security forces, for fear they will use lethal means. Shell's concern for the human rights of Nigerians is causing a large loss of profit for its shareholders.

Shell's activities do not lead to the wanton loss of life in Nigeria ; neither will they in this country. - Yours etc,

Declaration of interest:
I worked for Shell from 1970 to 2000,
Shell had no involvement with or knowledge of this letter. 
It is entirely my personal view.

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September 2006
To the Irish Times on 25th September 2006

Court Ruling on Transfusion

Madam, - The courts have ruled, in the case of the Jehovah's Witness who was forcibly given a blood transfusion contrary to her religion and her will, that religious beliefs must now be ridden over roughshod, for the sake of the health of the patient, even where the subject is a fully compos mentis adult. 

This is excellent news, because if it applies to an adult it must surely apply to minors. From this moment on, therefore, all (but medically necessary) circumcisions of boys and girls below the age of eighteen should be proscribed. Religion is no longer a defence for the centuries old barbarity of wantonly chopping bits off babies and children. Hospitals and back-street circumcisers beware. - Yours etc,

The story is outlined here

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To the Sunday Times on 20th September 2006

Resigning a Commission

Sir, - That's a nice letter from Major Philip Sturtivant explaining that he left the army when the Iraq war was imminent because he thought it was ill-conceived (Dying in the military folly of Afghanistan, September 17th).

I am sure his colleagues who did not quit and bravely went to fight in Iraq would agree that this was no reflection on the Major's courage in the face of war. -  Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times on 16th September 2006

Academics Call for Ban on Israel

Madam, - No fewer than sixty eminent academics have used your Letters page (September 16th) to call for a moratorium on joint collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, which they evidently hope will encourage Israel to make peace with its neighbours.

There is another way to create peace, instantly. Israel's neighbours have simply to cease attacking Israel. That's all it takes. - Yours etc,

See also Call for Boycott on Israel above

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Published in the Irish Times on 11th September 2006

Power and Equality  P!

Madam, - Vincent Browne attempts to place himself on the high moral ground by complaining that the lack of "equality" in Irish society is evidence of "corruption", and advocating that "State power" be exercised to redress this (Opinion, September 6th). His piece reveals, however, that what he is actually after is not equality of opportunity for all, but the use of state power to enforce equality of outcome for all regardless of effort or ability.

Where is the fairness in that? Lenin and Mao would be proud. - Yours, etc. 

Vincent Browne is a regular columnist and broadcaster

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Published in Mark Steyn's Mailbox on 5th September 2006, as third on the list. 
However this link will degrade in a week or so when Mark publishes a fresh set of letters on the same URL. 

A Load of Old Goebbels  P!

You must be delighted with Phillip Adams' spirited demolition of you in The Australian  of August 22nd 2006  ("Boom, boom").  After all the adulation, I imagine it was the highlight of your antipodean tour to be called mad and likened to Goebbels. 
But as always with critics of the war on terror, Mr Adams is unable to articulate any rational alternatives (what the hell is his "calibrated policy"?).  He will only tell you – with ardent passion – what you're doing wrong.  This is a common affliction of the depraved Left.  The passion, that is. 
Because the Left's underlying socialist ideology makes no sense and has been such a demonstrable failure – for example, Mao and Stalin not only ravaged their country's economies but killed 100m people between them – passion is the only thing they can hold up proudly. 
By contrast the dullards of the Right don't need passion because they can rely overwhelmingly on simple logic.  For example, it is logical that
•  if you give people the freedom to improve themselves, that is what they will generally do;   
• if you give them the freedom to chose their own leaders, they'll generally select ones who have their constituents' best interests in mind; 
• if everyone has such freedoms, then society as a whole will improve;   
• if you enforce people's property rights and contracts, and protect them from crime, they will be even better able to improve themselves;  
• if you provide rewards for particular behaviour, you will get more of it, whether it is desirable (think of low taxes and hard work) or less desirable (such as welfare payments for long-term unemployment);
• if you provide services or benefits completely free of charge and without regard to their costs (eg medical, schooling, subsidies), you will get unlimited demand and unlimited complaint. 

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

Mr Adams merely reinforces all the anti-Left prejudices I laid out in an earlier piece called "The Passionate Left and Logical Right".  Do please keep driving them nuts in your inimitable style!  Your comedy on top of the logic is just too much for them to bear. 

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Published in the Irish Times on 1st September 2006

'Poaching' of Academic Staff  P!

Madam, - In deriding the desire of UCD's president, Dr Hugh Brady, to maintain a competitive market for the expertise of academics, Dr Peadar Kirby of DCU tells us that "most academics, in my experience, do not view their expertise as a commodity to be possessed for private profit but as knowledge to be shared with colleagues and students" (Letters, August 31st).

To test this, let Dr Kirby answer one question: provided he could continue to share his knowledge with colleagues and students, would he be willing to have his remuneration halved? Only if the answer is yes can one conclude that he indeed views his expertise as being unworthy of private profit for himself.

One could, indeed, conclude that Dr Kirby is simply fearful of international competitive pressure in academia, and it is interesting that he expressed wariness of globalisation in Prof Joseph Stiglitz's recent lecture "Making Globalisation Work" (Finance, August 31st).

Every educator deserves his/her financial reward and it would be unjust to deny, through a cartel, better rewards to better educators. - Yours, etc,

Dr Brady's remark which attracted the derision is here

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August 2006
To the Irish Times, 25th August 2006

Free-loading Quakers

Madam, - There is no doubting the heartfelt sincerity of Quakers in their pacifism, which as Gillian Armstrong points out in her letter of August 25th has, over the centuries, sometimes resulted in their being imprisoned for their rejection of arms and conscription. 

But they should recognize that their pacifism is respected and tolerated only in free societies such as ours here in the West, and that such freedom has been bought and maintained only at the expense of guns and/or blood.  How else were the totalitarian, militaristic and atheistic ideologies of Nazism and Soviet Communism, that strove to sweep Europe, to be vanquished, and for that matter Japanese imperialism?  And how else will the march of radical Islam be kept at bay?

Quakers are effectively free-loading on the military efforts of others, though they are not alone in this. - Yours etc,

This letter is based on my post Free-loading Quaker Pacifists
(and vice-versa)

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To the Irish Times, 24th August 2006

Religion and the Roots of Terror

Madam, - Paul Carroll attempts to show that the wickedness of radical Islam, as evidenced by the behaviour of people such as suicide bombers, is matched by the wickedness of Judaism and Christianity because Israel and America drop bombs which kill civilians (Letters, August 24th).

He misses two central points.

Radical Islamists target civilians and rejoice when they succeed; Israel, America and Britain target military objectives and regret when civilians are killed.  There is yawning chasm between the morality of these two intents.

More importantly, the central figure of Islam urges (in Suras 2:187 and 9:5) Muslims to slay them [non-Muslims] wherever ye shall find them, with the result that radical Islam can argue that it is merely obeying this call.  By contrast, the central figure of Christianity never killed anyone and never advocated killing anyone.  Neither does Judaism advocate killing.

Mr Carroll can blame Messrs Olmert, Bush and Blair for the mayhem and deaths in Lebanon and Iraq if he wishes.  But there is no basis for placing the blame on their respective religions, whatever they themselves may say to the contrary. - Yours etc,



Suras 2:187 and 9:5 from the Koran tell Muslims to slay them [non-Muslims] wherever ye shall find them; Sura 9:29 says something similar.


These three verses may be found here

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To the Irish Times, 23rd August 2006

Jaw-Jaw vs War-War

Madam, - So, History has shown that, in the end, conflicts can only be solved on a deep and lasting basis when dialogue recommences and mutual respect is manifest according according to David Marlborough (Letters, August 22nd).  Perhaps he should study some recent (and ancient) history. 

Were Germany and Japan converted to representative democracy by "dialogue" and "mutual respect"? Or by their utter destruction through military means, thereby providing a clean, albeit rubble-strewn slate on which the (perennially hated) Americans could build a new order that has brought sixty years of justice, peace and prosperity to their peoples?

Mr Marlborough seems to belong to the facile school that believes that all disputes can be solved by jaw-jaw, never by war-war.  It sounds warm and honourable, because no right-thinking person wants death and destruction.

But just as it requires two to tango, it needs two to jaw-jaw and both parties must be sincere.  Jaw-jaw with Hezbollah and Hamas, terrorist organizations sworn to destroy Israel and all Jews?  Hardly.  Jaw-jaw with Iran, sharing the same objective and building a nuclear bomb to carry it out?  Iran has shown it is willing to jaw-jaw for as long as it takes to complete its bomb.  Hardly sincere.

Sometimes - if rarely - war-war is the more honourable and successful option
in excising evil.  But as history has repeatedly demonstrated, it can be hard, long and painful, like complex surgery without anaesthetic.  Yours, etc,

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To the Irish Times, 18th August 2006

Luas and Israel

Madam, - It's good to hear that Veolia Transport Ireland, the Luas[*] operator, confirm that co-operation with Israeli technicians involved in setting up the Jerusalem light rail system has been halted only for operational reasons (Dispute over Israeli link to Luas, World, August 18th). Submitting to political objections from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Siptu and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions might have branded the company as anti-Semitic. - Yours etc,

[*] The Luas is Dublin's very successful light rail system

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Published in the Irish Times, 17th August 2006

Cuban Health Care P!

Madam, - In defending Fidel Castro's Cuba, and its health care, from Newton Emerson's satire (Newton's Optic, August 10th), Suzie Murray tells us that, several aspects of the Cuban state leave room for improvement (Letters, August 14th).   Would that include the 73,000 people[*] killed by the State over the period 1959-1987, according to frequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee Professor RJ Rummel, the noted expert on democide (the killing of people by their government), and God knows how many others since then?  Not a great advertisment for Cuban health care. - Yours etc,

[*]Reference: R J Rummel, Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900 , Table 15.1B , Line 848 of Table 15.1B

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To the Irish Times, 9th August 2006

Israel and the Geneva Conventions

Madam, - Israel is getting a lot of criticism, not least in your Letters and Opinion pages, for its "war crimes" of killing civilians in disregard of the Geneva Conventions. This is misdirected.

Protocol I of 1979, Article 48 of the Conventions states that

In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE CIVILIAN POPULATION AND COMBATANTS and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.

So Hizbullah and Hamas, unlike the IDF, consistently violate this by not wearing distinctive uniforms and by hiding among civilians.

To cater for such “cowardly blending among women and children” (to use the words of UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland), Article 51-7 adds that

The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians SHALL NOT BE USED TO RENDER CERTAIN POINTS OR AREAS IMMUNE FROM MILITARY OPERATIONS, IN PARTICULAR IN ATTEMPTS TO SHIELD MILITARY OBJECTIVES from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.

In other words, the Geneva Conventions entitle Israel to attack Hiz-Ham even when they are shielded among civilians. It's almost a carte blanche for flattening the whole of south Lebanon and Gaza regardless of civilians. We should be grateful that they're not doing so. - Yours etc.

This letter is an extract from my blog post “Belligerent Disproportionality

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To the Irish Times, 3rd August 2006

Irish Computer Systems for Weapons

Madam, - Republican Des Long calls on the 26-county administration (perhaps he means the democratic government of Ireland) to ban the export of computer systems by Irish firms which assist American arms companies  (Letters, August 3rd).  These systems are what help guide Israel's bombs to their targets.  Without them the slaughter would truly be indiscriminate, Dresden-style. - Yours etc,

For the uninitiated, the 26-county administration” is a euphemism used by some Irish Republicans
 because they do not recognize the elected Irish government,
believing that ever since the 1916 Uprising against British rule, 
the IRA has remained the sole legitimate authority in the land.

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To the Irish Times, 2nd August 2006

Stateless Palestinians

Madam, - Bishop John Kirby believes the world should do more to create a state for the Palestinians  (Opinion, August 2nd)**.  He would do well to direct this advice to the Palestinian leadership, which has consistently refused a Palestinian state whenever it has been offered - in 1937, 1948, 1967 and most recently in 2000 thanks to President Clinton's benign efforts.  That's why there is no Palestinian state today and why what Bishop Kirby refers to as Palestinian territories remain in fact disputed territories.

Moreover, as your thoughtful editorial pointed out back on July 20th 2004, Hamas, whom the Palestinians unwisely elected earlier this year as their current leaders, "believe in an all-out confrontation with Israel rather than a negotiated peace leading to a two-state outcome".

Were the Palestinians to take more responsibility for obtaining and running their own state, it would undoubtedly bring this about more effectively than any amount of outside intervention. - Yours etc.

**A non-subscription copy of the Opinion piece is available here. 

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Published in the Irish Times on 2nd August 2006

Israel's Disproportionate Response P!

Madam, - In all the cries that Israel's response to Hezbollah's terrorist invasion and rocket attacks has been disproportionate, no one has come up with a formula that is proportionate, including this newspaper's editorial of August 1st

It seems to me that Israel's proportionate response would be either to turn the other cheek to Hezbollah's unprovoked attacks (and thus invite more), or to lob a few desultory missiles much as President Clinton did in 1998 after al Qaeda, without provocation, bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  (And by now we all know how well this deterred Al Qaeda from further attacks on America). 

The issue in Lebanon is that you are forced to back either Israel or Hezbollah in their quests for victory over the other; there is no middle ground. - Yours etc,

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July 2006
To the Irish Times, 28th July 2006

War Against Hezbollah and Hamas

Madam, - It’s hard to know where to begin to address the disgraceful opinion piece by Michael D Higgins TD on 27th July (Is this the beginning of the end of international law?). 

He starts with pious platitudes about the welfare of civilians, whether Arab or Israeli, and even condemns Hezbollah’s recent action – though not because it’s wrong but only because it might draw an unlawful  reaction from the powerful and disaster for Lebanese civilians. 

He reminds us that Israel is apparently breaching the Geneva Conventions, whereas it is Hamas and Hezbollah who are by far the most egregious transgressors.  They deliberately use civilian populations as human shields – who then become civilian casualties – by not wearing distinguishing uniforms and by hiding themselves and their weapons among civilian homes, offices, shops, mosques, schools and vehicles.  By comparison with these studiously uncondemned war crimes, Israel’s occasional breaches and mistakes are trivial. 

He considers to be outrageous Israel’s response to an unprovoked attack from another sovereign country by Hezbollah, which is a militia sponsored and funded by Iran and Syria, which Lebanese civilians have knowingly voted in to parliament and which forms part of the Lebanese government; ditto re Hamas’s attacks from Gaza.   Yet he offers no alternative response to these assaults. 

He thinks the free election of Hamas by Palestinians and of Hezbollah by the Lebanese exonerates these people for the vile obliterate-Israel objective of the two organizations, and the consequences of this whether economic sanctions or war.  This patronising attitude is to infantilise the electorates, and is like exonerating the Germans from responsibility for the genocidal results of having freely elected Hitler in 1933. 

Finally he gets to the point: that the US and Israel are reprehensible for resisting a ceasefire, a view that would evidently be shared by Senators David Norris and Brendan Ryan judging from their recent letters. 

Let’s think for a moment what a ceasefire means. 

It means that Hezbollah, an avowed terrorist organization committed to the death of Jews, and not only in Israel, gets away with its assaults on Israel.  This will be seen – rightly – as a military victory by not only Hezbollah, but also by Israel, the entire Middle East and the world.  The power and prestige of Syria and Iran and their tyrannical leaderships will at once be enormously enhanced.  You can be sure they will immediately re-arm and re-fund Hezbollah for further and more deadly attacks against Israel, safe in the knowledge that it will be a long time before anyone dares to seriously challenge them again, if ever.  Meanwhile, Lebanon will sink into ever deeper thrall to Hezbollah until it doubtless succumbs to it altogether, becoming an Iranian vassal state. 

This is the outcome which Mr Higgins and his fellow-travellers of the depraved Left seem so fervently to seek.  The absolute hegemony of a terrorist Islamicism dedicated to the eradication first of all the world's Jews, then of all infidels such as him and me.    This is a recipe not for peace but for military victory for the terrorists followed by endless war.  - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 18th July 2006

Self-Defence by Israel

In his incoherent letter published in both the Irish Times and Irish Independent on July 18th, Senator David Norris seems to be of the opinion that Israel should, lest civilians be killed in the process, abnegate its
right of self-defence against enemies sworn to its annihilation .  He seems to think that the Lebanese and Palestinian governments, who have openly harboured the militants of Hezbollah and Hamas, allowing them to train, get armed and attack Israel's sovereign territory, bear no responsibility to their own citizens for the deadly consequences of this dereliction of duty, which also breaches 2004's UN Resolution 1559 requiring the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah.

Combined with the Senator's renowned opposition to America's UN-mandated assistance to - and at the request of - the legitimate and democratic Iraqi government against insurgents, he gives the appearance of never being happy unless Americans are humiliated, Jews dead and Islamicists triumphant.

What does he think will happen to gays, for example, when the Caliphate eventually stretches to Dublin?

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Published in the Irish Times, 15th July 2006

Civilian Deaths in Israel/Gaza/Lebanon Conflict P!


Madam, - As Senator Brendan Ryan well knows when he refers to the murder of innocent civilians, many of them children (Letters, July 15th), murder is the deliberate, premeditated unlawful killing of another human being.  Israel has not murdered any civilians.

The civilians killed in the Israeli retaliation against Gaza and Lebanon for the respective invasions by Hamas and Hizbollah were not targeted by Israel.  Israel aims to hit only military targets and infrastructure that helps the military.  Civilians have never been targeted, but they are killed collaterally, and often because Islamicist fighters purposely choose to hide and fight from among civilians, or pretend to be civilians.

Islamicist fighters (including Palestinians), on the other hand, deliberately and openly target Israeli civilians, in schools, shops, restaurants, nightclubs, buses etc with no military target in sight. The death statistics for the period October 2000 through December 2003 show this up: for every Palestinian combatant killed by Israelis, 0.7 non-combatants were killed.  For every Israeli combatant killed, 3.6 non-combatants were
killed. - Yours etc,

Source of the statistics here
Further reference used in composing this letter here


A Chara, - Tony Allwright (July 18th) may feel sure he knows what I "well know" about the definition of murder. But on this occasion he'll have to review his certainties both about me and about murder because we cleared this up in Ireland and the UK years ago. The Provos planted many bombs aimed at military or infrastuctural targets. In many cases, because of the Provos' ineptitude and/or reckless indifference, civilians (including children) were killed. I called those killings murder and the perpetrators, when they were caught, were charged with and convicted of murder.

Clearly in our law and in British law you don't have to set out deliberately to target children to be guilty of murder. But of course Tony Allwright acknowledges that. Murder is murder when the killing is "deliberate, premeditated [and] unlawful " .

Israel, like the Provos, uses military force deliberately and with premeditation when it targets the home of someone whom they regard as a legitimate target, or the vehicle in which they are travelling, or the building in which they have a room, or indeed the Senator Ryan shakes the bloodied hand of a multiple mass murdererregion (Southern Beirut) in which they are presumed to live. And when innocent civilians are killed along with the "legitimate" target, then for me that's murder, just like it was when the Provos did it.

But then perhaps Tony Allwright believes that Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon are not "unlawful" while the activities of Hizbollah and Hamas are. He might explain that to those of us who can call murder (by any side) by its proper name. He might explain how the 30-year Israeli occupation is not unlawful and why the ruthless expansion of settlements is not unlawful either. And while he's at it he might help us to see how the detention without trial of close to 1,000 Palestinians is also not unlawful. No doubt the decision of the agents of Israel to drive a bulldozer over Rachel Corrie was "not unlawful" either. - Is mise,

Senator BRENDAN RYAN, Seanad Éireann, Dublin 2.

To which my (unpublished) response is ...

To the Irish Times, 20th July 2006

Middle East Facts

Madam, - How Senator Brendan Ryan (re)defines murder, by drawing parallels with the IRA, makes some sense (Letters, July 20th).  I don't agree, but do acknowledge that some jurisdictions might have ruled that some unintentional killing is murder. 

But his final paragraph is replete with rubbish. 

The repeated, unprovoked attacks of Hizbollah and Hamas on Israel from outside its international borders, were of course unlawful, just as Israel's retaliation in self-defence is certainly lawful - at least according to the charter of the hallowed UN. 

In 1967, Israel defeated its Arab neighbours who were sworn under Nasser to its obliteration, and in the process seized as the spoils of war Sinai and Gaza from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and and the West Bank including East Jerusalem from Jordan.  Israel's 1979 peace agreement with Egypt resulted in the return of Sinai (Gaza had never belonged to it), and in 1988 Jordan renounced all claim to the West Bank before signing a peace treaty in 1994. 

Because the Palestinians had refused their own state when offered it in 1948 (and again in 1967 and 2000), Gaza and the West Bank have remained "disputed" territories, not Palestinian ones.  Thus Israel's presence there has been no more "unlawful" than the Palestinians'; likewise their settlements.  Nevertheless, Israel unilaterally handed Gaza to the Palestinians last year, giving them their first opportunity to show they were serious about wanting their own state. 

I don't know whether the detention of a thousand Palestinians is lawful or not. 

As for the unfortunate Rachel Corrie, she was a member of the International Solidarity Movement which openly espoused armed struggle against Israel, and she positioned herself in front of and out of sight of the driver of an Israeli bulldozer that was trying to dig up Hamas tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt.  Her death was neither intentional nor unlawful; it was more akin to suicide. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 13th July 2006

Enforce the Alcohol Limit

Madam, - For Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche to even think that carnage on our roads would be reduced by lowering to zero the current alcohol limit of 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood (Ireland, July 13th) shows how out of touch he is.

No research has ever shown that such a reduction brings any beneficial effect on road deaths.  For the issue is not whether the limit is low enough.  It is whether it is enforced - which in this country it patently is not.

Road deaths will be dramatically curtailed only once there are Gardaí breath-test teams waiting in every pub carpark at 11 pm. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 4th July 2006

Israeli Policy in Palestinian Area

Madam, - Your columnist John Kelly calls (Palestinian) suicide bombings terrible, as if they were some unlucky accident.  They are not. They are deliberate, evil, unjustifiable acts by malevolent individuals, frequently directed by other wicked people.  No-one should lose sight of this central truth. - Yours, etc,    

I followed up this (unpublished) letter with an e-mail on 6th July to John Kelly, an emeritus professor, who last month authored a column, Segregation wall strangles the life out of Bethlehem” about Palestinian suffering caused by Israel's separation fence/wall.  His piece prompted a defense of the wall by John Lalor in Tel Aviv, which in turn triggered two
almost identical responses from Prof Kelly. 

Dear Professor Kelly, - Since the Irish Times has in the past couple of days published two letters from you, identical but for the curious deletion in the second of them of a reference to terrible suicide bombings by Palestinians, but has decided not to publish my own response to you, I attach a copy for your information and comment. 

Actually, it is also odd that you made no connection between the Israelis' wall/fence and the drastic reduction of Palestinian suicide bombings that followed its construction (which is its stated purpose).  Though you commendably deplore the negative effects of the wall/fence on innocent Palestinian civilians, I presume you also rejoice at its success in preserving the lives of innocent Israeli civilians. Or do you?  - Regards,

Up to now [11th July], I have had no comment from Professor Kelly. 

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June 2006
To the Irish Times, 21st June 2006

Irish Support for the Iraq War

Madam,- James Hyde states that many thousands of us (the people) keep making it clear we are against our Government's support of America's war in Iraq.  No doubt this is true, but is it not a sad indictment on such people?  For let no-one be in any doubt.  Regardless of whether you support the original invasion or not, the current conflict is no longer between Saddam's forces and the American/Coalition armies.

On one side of the war, there is now an unknown number of insurgents, comprising Saddamites, Ba'athists, foreign jihadists and no doubt various hangers-on and dead-enders, led largely by the charismatic fundamentalist Islamicist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi until his recent death.  They seek to restore Ba'athism or to impose Taliban-like rule. With, of course, power in their own hands alone - and permanently.

The other side comprises, quite simply, those twelve million Iraqis who last December voted, against all odds and with tremendous personal courage, to give birth to a new, legitimate, democratic Iraqi state. The famous purple fingers, waved proudly at every camera in sight, demonstrated this beyond any doubt. This is the side that the American/Coalition forces and the nascent Iraqi army and police are protecting and building up against the insurgents.  An American/Coalition withdrawal would be the equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the criminal Nazis or Eastern Europe back to the criminal Soviets.

Thus, to deny support to America and the Coalition is to deny the future that 12m Iraqis want and are entitled to, and which we in the West take for granted for ourselves, won for us by the blood of previous generations.  I for one commend Ireland's small but significant contribution in making Shannon available to the brave American volunteer troops who are on the side of those millions of Iraqis.  Mr Hyde seems to have made clear whose side he is on. - Yours etc,

See my second attempt to get a similar letter published

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To the Irish Times, 16th June 2006

Iran's Nuclear Programme

Madam, - Your correspondent Derek Scally reports that Tehran says [its nuclear] programme is vital to secure Iran's future energy needs (World, June 16th). 


According to the CIA, Iran produces 3.979 million barrels a day of oil out of proven reserves of 133.3 billion barrels, in other words 92 years-worth.  

Simultaneously, it produces 360 million cubic metres a day of gas out of proven gas reserves of 27.5 trillion cubic metres, or 209 years-worth.  

In terms of “barrels of oil equivalent”, this adds up to 6.3m bbl/day out of reserves of 313 bn bbl, or in aggregate 136 years of energy availability.  

With such an enormous store of cheap fossil fuel, spending money on expensive nuclear energy that you won't need for a century is a gross waste of your citizens' patrimony, especially when huge numbers of them are stuck in poverty.  You will do it only if you have an ulterior motive, which in Iran's case will undoubtedly earn it a thorough bombing before long unless it changes tack. - Yours, etc,    

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To the Irish Times, 5th June 2006

Cuba Killings

Madam, - 3,000 victims killed in Cuba by right-wing extremists based in Florida?  Finian McGrath TD (Letters, June 5th) better have firm evidence for this astounding, incredible figure. 

Yet even if it were true - and it most certainly isn't - it pales beside the 73,000 fatalities (up to only 1987), for which his hero Fidel Castro, whom he wants to invite to the Oireachtas, is directly responsible, by executions, camps, and the deaths of boat people trying to escape Cuba.  The impeccable source of this figure is frequent Nobel Peace Prize nominee Professor RJ Rummel, the noted expert on democide (the killing of people by their government). - Yours, etc,  

+ + + + +


bulletReference: R J Rummel, Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900
bulletMore background available from Mark Humphrys, whose site inspired this letter
bulletI sent a copy of this letter to Finian McGrath at the address provided on his website
He has courteously replied as follows ...

The actual figures are:
1.    3,478 Cubans killed
2.    2,099 Maimed

There were all the work of U.S. based terrorists since 1959.  There is
always two sides to a story.

Best wishes,
Finian McGrath T.D.

p.s. I disagree with the Irish Times for not publishing your letter.

I have followed up with a further request to him for the source of these numbers. 

Despite a further chaser on 16th June, Mr McGrath has failed to substantiate these numbers.  No doubt because he is unable to, but doesn't want to admit it. 

16th July: The plot thickens.  Mr McGrath referred me to a Simon McGuinness, who in turn said

 The figures you refer to are taken from official Cuban government documents and were registered in a legal prosecution of the US government in 1999.  I suggest you contact the Cuban ambassador in Ireland who will be able to provide you with the detail you request.

Through googling, I then found that Mr McGrath had quoted the detailed figures in a letter to the Sunday Business Post last May, just after one from Pedro Noel Carillo (475.2999 y 475.0899), the Cuban Ambassador himself.  Moreover, on 8th July Mr McGrath also quoted them in the Dáil.  They also appear in a number of websites, notably this Cuban site which explains the 1999 prosecution of the US, which by the way seeks $181 billion in reparations. 

I have therefore written to the Cuban embassy in Dublin asking for original sources of the casualty numbers. 

This site solidly refutes the claim of 3,478 Cubans killed by the US, saying it takes its information from Cuba Archive, claimed to be independent and non-partisan”. 

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P! Published in the Irish Times, 2nd June 2006

Apology over Easter Mass

Madam, - Rev David Fraser, who from the context of his hysterical letter of May 31st is not a Roman Catholic, begins by asserting, without evidence, that "most ordinary, decent Roman Catholics are appalled at the way in which Fr Iggy O'Donovan and the other two Augustinian priests have been bullied by Rome and conservative Catholic forces over the Easter Eucharist at Drogheda."

I am a Roman Catholic who considers himself "ordinary and decent" and I heartily welcome the apology of the three Augustinian priests for the now infamous Drogheda Mass, and commend their firm resolve not to repeat their error.

Just like a golf club, the Roman Catholic church has certain rules which you have to obey if you wish to remain a member. Belief in transubstantiation is one of them, and is the defining doctrinal difference between Catholics and Protestants. The Augustinian trio made a mistake but then recanted. Well done.

As for Rev Fraser´s extraordinary statement that "morality has changed", he should perhaps expand. Is non-marital sex no longer immoral because more people do it? How about robbery and murder? Are they also no longer immoral for the same reason? Have the Ten Commandments been rewritten? The Roman Catholic church has always ruled that certain behaviours - which include the aforementioned - are intrinsically and seriously wrong. As such they are classed as mortal sins which, without repentance, guarantee a place in hell.

Moreover people in a state of mortal sin have always been barred from receiving Holy Communion because it actually is, and does not merely represent, the body of Jesus Christ.

Rev Fraser´s thinly disguised proselytising for converts from Roman Catholicism is fair game. The world needs more Christian proselytising. But the Roman Catholic Church's enforcement of well-known strictures is entirely defensible, the more so since any of us can turn our backs on the church if we so wish. It has no unwilling practitioners. - Yours, etc,  

To be properly understood, this letter needs to be viewed as one in three; click here

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To the Irish Times, 2nd June 2006

Not Knowing the Limits

As I understand it, the Supreme Court has ruled that under the [Irish] Constitution a valid defense for having sex with a minor is claiming to not know the child was under 16. 
Presumably, people can now claim the same Constitutional defence if accused of driving whilst exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood - namely that they didn't know they were over the limit . Indeed, without a measurement device how could they? - Yours etc,

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May 2006
To the Sunday Times, 31st May 2006

Promoting Books

Your exposé (on May 28th) on the way that major bookstore chains promote books not on the basis of literary merit, but by payments they demand from publishers, is apposite and creditable.  But your editorial strangely fails to state categorically that books recommended in the Sunday Times book pages are not also subject to this practice.

Are they?

Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 15th May 2006

Hunger Strikers in St Patrick's Cathedral

The Church of Ireland hierarchy should explain why it is permitting the desecration of St Patrick's Cathedral by permitting 41 Muslims to remain inside while they attempt suicide by starvation (May 16th).  It's not as if there is a shortage of mosques in Dublin for such anti-Christian and, indeed, anti-Islamic behaviour. - Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 9th May 2006

No aid for Palestinians who vote for Hamas

You report (May 8th) that "the EU is getting ready to go it alone and channel emergency funds to the Palestinians if talks with the US, Russia and United Nations on setting up an international mechanism for easing their financial plight fail this week". 
Why?  The majority of the Palestinian people have knowingly, democratically and legitimately voted in Hamas, an organization which quite openly refuses to renounce violence, recognize Israel or honour past peace deals.  Why then should the Palestinian people be spared the economic effects of their own deliberate action?  There is no ethical case for EU countries to continue to donate to these people the annual $453 million that they used to receive, and the same goes for America's $368m [Ref 1]. 
Until Hamas reforms, or the Palestinian people kick them out again, the prolongation of such gifts would be a shocking misuse of taxpayers' money.  Actions have consequences. - Yours, etc
Reference 1: "Telling the Difference Between Hamas and Shinola" by Ralph Kinney Bennett, Tech Central Station, February 1, 2006,

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To the Irish Times, 3rd May 2006

Rejoice at Drink-Driving Arrests


Chairman of the Road Safety Authority Gay Byrne finds the increase in drink-driving arrests and continued fatalities on the roads over the May bank holiday weekend terribly depressing (front page, May 3rd). The continued fatalities are of course very disappointing, but he should rejoice at the increase in drink-driving arrests. 

Any sustained and successful safety drive will begin with a big increase in the rate of lesser injuries and unsafe behaviour. This reflects not a deteriorating situation, but improved measurement and enforcement, focussing on events that in previous careless times had been neglected. 

There will need to be many more breathalysing tests and drink-driving arrests before our drink-driving culture begins to change, and only then can we expect to see a drop in drink-driving related fatalities. All credit to the Gardaí for making a start. 

Yours etc, 

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To the Irish Times, 2nd May 2006

Ireland is a Success (not a Failure as Fintan O'Toole would have it)


Fintan O'Toole bemoans Ireland's lack of a "national" education system, health system, childcare or pre-school system, telecommunications system, sufficient public housing etc (Opinion, May 2nd). From the context, it is clear he means "nationalised". 

He also thinks the Irish should be paid more, to work less and have more holidays

He throws in a few gerrymandered, out-of-date statistics, like contrasting 2002's all-Ireland GDP ($31,000 per capita) with inner London's ($84,000). It is more valid to compare 2005 GDP figures for all-Ireland ($34,100 at Purchasing Power Parity) with all-UK ($30,900) [Ref 1]. He then exclaims in horror that certain software-related professionals earn less here than in some other EU countries, without explaining why they don't immediately move there. 

He points out that according to the HR consulting company Mercer, Dublin ranks 13th city in the world in terms of cost of living. This indeed makes it costlier than cities in several of Fintan's preferred countries such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, but it is also cheaper than others such as Zurich and London. Mercer rates Dublin as 24th in terms of quality of living, ahead of Hamburg, London, New York but behind Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Zurich. [Refs 2, 3]

As for Mr O'Toole's obsolete assertion that in 2002 Ireland would have been the USA's 35th richest state, Ireland, as of 2005, is the only country in the whole EU to have caught up with the American economy, according to the Swedish think-tank, Timbro, using Eurostat figures [Ref 4]. 

To all these facts should be added Ireland's robust future prospects as inferred by its healthy growth rate of 4.7%, compared with 3.5% for the USA and a sickly 0.7%-1.9% for Holland, Germany, UK and Switzerland [Ref 1]. 

You then begin to see that this country, overall, might not be, despite its undoubted problems, a bad place to be living. Perhaps that's why those "underpaid" professionals don't emigrate and so many non-Irish come to these shores to work. 

Ireland's governance and Capitalistic economic policies over the past decade have played a huge part in this success story, that Mr O'Toole seeks to disparage. 

Get over it, Fintan. If you want a Communist system where the state owns and runs everything, in a manner that is equally impoverishing for all (except the ruling elite), go and live in one of the few remaining Communist states. North Korea, for example. 

Yours etc, 


Reference 1: CIA World Factbook 2006
Reference 2: Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Cost of Living Survey - Worldwide Rankings 2005.
Reference 3: Mercer Human Resource Consulting, Worldwide Quality of Living Survey 2006
Reference 4: "EU Versus USA", by Fredrik Bergström & Robert Gidehag, Timbro, June 2004

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April 2006

P! Published in the Irish Times on 28th April 2006


Madam, - What a wonderful civic example Michael Ahern sets (April 27th).

He declares that he is happy if the cut in his taxes promised by the PDs "be given to the most vulnerable members of society" such as disadvantaged elderly people and children.

Therein lies a political opportunity for the PDs to augment their tax-cutting promise in a manner that would please voters of every political persuasion. They should set up a special fund into which each citizen who objects to his/her particular tax cut can funnel it. The fund would then be applied to good causes such as those outlined by Mr Ahern.

Individual taxpayers would have the freedom to decide whether to keep their tax cuts or recycle them for the betterment of society. - Yours, etc,

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P! Published in the Sunday Times, 21st April 2006

The Probing Sue Lawley

PROBING QUESTIONS: So Giles Hattersley reckons Sue Lawley is a probing interviewer because she “asked Gordon Brown if he was gay” and “got Ted Heath to say the latter years of his political life had “a certain loneliness and sense of waste”.” Probing would have been to switch these questions around. 

Item to which this letter refers ... 
My next request? Get me off the island
Giles Hattersley talks to Sue Lawley (presenter of the BBC's Desert Island Discs, 16th April 2006

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P! Published in the Irish Times on 21st April 2006

Easter Mass in Drogheda- 21st April 2006

Madam, - The concelebration of Mass by four Catholic and Church of Ireland priests in Drogheda was shocking and a sham.  [Front page, April 18th]

Catholics believe that the Mass's consecration transubstantiates water and wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ; Protestants believe these only symbolise the flesh and blood. Therein lies the essence of the irreconcilable difference between the faiths. Shared prayers are one thing, shared transubstantiation quite another.

For a consecration to have been "joint" and to have had any meaning, at least one of the priests had to have been denying his faith, which made him an apostate.

Fathers, which of you was it? I am calling on your personal honesty and integrity. - Yours, etc,

For further developments on this subject, click here.

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To the Irish Times, 17th April 2006


Diageo's Enlightened Self-Interest - 17th April 2006

Dr Michael Loftus moans because Diageo [brewers of Guinness] has had the temerity to give UCD €1½ million for research into hazardous drinking among young people, implying that the source of funds will influence the outcome (Letters, April 17th). This is an outrageous calumny on the integrity of UCD's research capability, for which he should apologise. 

It is also an affront to the drinks (or any) industry to consider that it is devoid of ethical standards when it comes to its own products. 

Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 15th April 2006

Kurdish Refugees


One can only have sympathy for the plight of Iranian Kurd refugees in the Jordanian camp of Ruwayshid, having fled there from their previous haven in the (Sunni) Al-Anbar province of Iraq (News Features, April 15th).

The 25 million Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria consider themselves a single people with a single language and culture, for which those countries have long persecuted them.

Of those, Iraq is now however - despite all its problems - a constitutional democracy with specific protection for minorities such as Kurds.  Moreover, the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq are among the most peaceful and most prosperous in the country, if not the Middle East.  And thanks to their protectorate, Saddam-free status during the 12 years between the two Gulf wars, defended by a no-fly zone, they have remained an oasis of democracy, sanity and economic progress since 1991, able to practice the Kurdish language and culture at will.  Indeed, this oasis is currently experiencing an unprecedented tourist boom.

So before Ireland takes in 200 Kurdish refugees as proposed, the question of why Iraq's Kurdish area does not do so must be answered.  To note that the refugees "are adamant about never returning to Iraq" is not an acceptable rationale without clear evidence that their fellow-Kurds would oppress them.

Yours etc,

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P! Published in the Irish Times on 8th April 2006

Farmers and Subsidies

Madam, - Malcolm Thompson, President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, tells us that farmers' "subsidies (currently in their death throes) were introduced to complement the existence of a cheap food policy which has been sustained over a number of years" (April 7th).

Where did he get this idea from? The Common Agricultural Policy was introduced solely to encourage agriculture by guaranteeing to buy farmers' produce at elevated prices whether there was a market or not. This has had the effect of increasing, not decreasing, food prices to consumers, which is why cheaper imports from the developing world have had to be kept out of the EU. Thus the Cap, by rewarding uneconomic farmers, punishes consumers through higher taxes and higher food prices, and third world farmers by denying them access to rich EU markets. American agricultural subsidies do the same.

There are simply too many farmers and farms in the Western world.
[*They need to restructure, downsize and compete on the global marketplace like any other developed industry] 

Yours, etc,  

* Deleted by editor                                                                        Back to index

P! Published in the Irish Times on 4th April 2006

Frightening MRSA Deaths
Drumms Comments on MRSA


So Professor Brendan Drumm, chief executive of the Health Service, does not want us ordinary members of the public to know how many people in hospital are dying through MRSA and which hospitals have the highest MRSA mortality rates, because it might might frighten us?

He has forgotten that fright is a vital defensive instinct, which keeps millions of people and other animals alive every day. Personally, if I knew which hospital exhibits the most MRSA deaths, fright may well save my life as I would seek to go elsewhere. 

He should stop patronising us.

Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 3rd April 2006

A Venue for the Munster/Leinster Semi-Final


Bar a few hundred valiant French fans, raucous Munster men and women have just filled Lansdowne Road to its 48,000 capacity, leaving countless unlucky ticketless fans who had to watch in pubs and at home. Meanwhile, over 6,000 similarly vociferous Leinster fans travelled 1,200 kilometres to Toulouse, by road, plane, rail and boat to create a swathe of defiant blue among the home side's black and red. The wonderful results of both games will resonate for years to come, like the strains of Athenry and Fair City. 

And so to a massive Leinster/Munster semi-final in three weeks time, which will surely create the fiercest demand for tickets that Irish rugby has ever known. Lansdowne Road could be filled twice over if not thrice. For it will not be just Munster and Leinster aficionados in the hunt, but rugby lovers from all corners of the island. 

And yet, just across the river there is a magnificent, under-utilised stadium, with a capacity of 82,000, more than any other venue in Ireland or the UK, whose owners have already accepted in principle the idea of rugby being played on its hallowed turf. Let's do the sums. Say an average of 40 Euro a ticket, of which the owners receive maybe 20. More than one and a half million there for the taking and for almost no effort. 

What a magnificent, patriotic and magnanimous gesture it would be for the GAA to offer Croke Park for this once-in-a-generation all-Irish semi-final of the European cup. And what a lucrative one as well. 

What about it, gentlemen?

Yours etc,

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March 2006
To the Irish Times, 29th March 2006

Kyoto Money Wasting


So the Government thinks it's a good idea to spend one billion Euro of taxpayers' and business's hard-earned money to help meet Kyoto commitments (Ireland, March 29th). That's one billion that will vanish, but for absolutely no discernible effect, as even the pro-Green organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth admit. If Kyoto is implemented in full (which no-one seriously believes) it would merely defer global warming by six years in a century's time, ie without Kyoto the temperature will rise by 1.9 deg C in 2094, with Kyoto it will not rise by this amount until 2100 [Refs 1, 2, 3]. 

Undoubtedly climate change should be taken as a serious threat, and one which man may or may not be able to do something about. But all Kyoto does is to make certain interests feel good, whilst squandering the world's financial resources in order to make no difference whatsoever. 

The Government should have the moral courage to abrogate it immediately and stop wasting our money. 

Yours etc, 


bulletRef 1: T M Wigley, 1998, The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4 and Climate Implications, Geophysical Research Letters 25(13):2, 285-8 
bulletRef 2: Richard Benedick, 1998, How workable is the Kyoto Protocol?, Weathervane
bulletRef 3: : Science magazine, 19 Dec 1997, Section 1, p10

Note - I first made this still-valid argument in the very first issue of the Tallrite Blog back in July 2002.

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To the Irish Times, 23rd March 2006

How Will Trócaire Alleviate Child Labour?


I am uncomfortable with Trócaire's extensive Lenten campaign, on TV and radio, focused on child labour. A couple of Nicaraguan children are depicted who are being forced by unscrupulous bosses to undertake long hours of hazardous work in the coffee fields for paltry wages. They are denied education and their impoverished families need their pitiful earnings. 

No-one can fail to deplore such a situation. 

Trócaire's website explains that these kids are among over a hundred million under-12s worldwide and solicits donations. Yet its only explanation of how the money will actually be used is that, "Trócaire works with communities to help children get information about their rights and help them into the education system. They also receive skills training so they can get proper jobs when they finish school."

How will this alleviate child labour? Is Trócaire going to put the funds into setting up new schools? To get children to attend, is it going to reimburse them their foregone wages so that the families don't suffer? How will it ration this when word gets around that youngsters are being paid to go to school? How is it going to deter employers from hiring children from the next village, or from raising wages to lure children back to the fields? Will it subsidise wages so that the bosses can afford to hire adults instead of children? How are such subsidies going to be managed and controlled? Is Trócaire going to install its own permanent administrators to make sure everything works and is not abused?

Child labour is not something that is solvable simply by throwing a bit of money at it in a once-off gesture, as Trócaire seems to imply.  Without clarifying this issue, many might find its campaign misleading and direct their Lenten donations elsewhere. 

Yours etc,

See also blog post Trócaire and Child Labour
on which this letter is based

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To the Irish Times, 16th March 2006

Michael Neary's Hysterectomies


[Distinguished surgeon] Dr Maurice Neligan's casual dismissal of the many lives wrecked by Dr Michael Neary's unnecessary removal of up to 129 wombs as a "lapse, or whatever you want to call it" (Health, March 14th) is in keeping with the many vague and unconvincing attempts to find a reason for why Dr Neary's hysterectomy rate was 20 times greater than the average.  It was religion, say some, he was afraid of blood say others, he thought he was saving life. None of them ring any truer than Dr Neligan's century of "lapses".

A more rational explanation might be a case of simple misogyny, cunningly disguised.  This seems to be consistent with all of the reported facts.

Yours etc,

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P! Published in the Irish Times, 10th March 2006

Blinkered View of the PDs

Madam, - Political philosophy lecturer Stephen J. Costello (March 9th) sternly warns us lesser mortals that the PDs' penchant for giving priority to the economy is a political ideology that is "repugnant to socialists, social democrats and classic conservatives". Giving priority to the economy means, of course, allowing people the freedom to pursue wealth within the law.

As such, there can be no greater accolade than being repugnant to socialists, the political heirs to Marx, Lenin and Mao, whose state-controlled redistributive ideology in the past century killed 100 million people, impoverished many more and wrecked vast swathes of the environment.

In so far as social democracy seeks a gradual transition from capitalism to socialism, albeit by democratic means, it too is hardly an ideology to be proud of. Its adherents' repugnance is thus to be welcomed.

As for classic conservatives, with their predominant goal of preserving the status quo, warts and all, any change is repugnant to them, even when it improves the lot of the people.

"Surely people come before profit in any civilised and humane society," concludes Dr Costello. But surely this translates into poverty (uncivilised and inhumane) coming before profit, because that's what you get when you constrain profit. Do we have to re-live the 20th century to relearn that? And anyway, what's actually wrong with law-abiding people creating wealth? Even political philosophy lecturers do that. 

Yours, etc,

Councillor Dermot Lacey makes an insipid and unconvincing response

Value of Social Democracy

Madam, - Tony Allwright (March 10th) is simply wrong in his assertion that social democracy is some sort of gradual transition to real socialism.

It is a far more substantive philosophy than that.

All my life I have been proud to describe myself as a social democrat.

I am as opposed to the tyranny and intolerance so often applied by some so-called socialists as I am to the misery and inherent antagonism towards real democracy so often the result of unbridled capitalism.

Social democracy, in theory and practice, offers a value-filled, people-centred, pragmatic approach to the problems and opportunities facing our society. No second-rate philosophy there. - Yours, etc,

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February 2006

P! Published in the Irish Times, 28th February 2006

Controversy Over Cartoons (again!)  

Madam, - Just as Anka Jamayel (February 25th) objects to Martyn Turner's cartoon of February 21st, depicting Muslims apparently involved in mayhem outside some embassy, so I object to Muslims who engage in actual mayhem outside embassies, killing dozens of people in the process. I commend The Irish Times for its reportage of this.

It is not Mr Turner who is "presenting Arabs and Muslims as an ignorant mob", but the perpetrators themselves. 

Yours, etc,

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P! Published in the Irish Times, 27th February 2006 

Controversy Over Cartoons - 27th February 2006

Madam, - A largely overlooked reason to decry President McAleese's attendance at the recent Jeddah Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia is that shortly before the meeting, the two-person Danish delegation was disinvited in light of those notorious cartoons.

The decision was taken "to express solidarity with the feelings of anger sweeping the Muslim world as a result of slandering Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers," as Faycal Batawil, director general of public relations at Jeddah's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, proudly explained.

The President's attendance thus gave the appearance that she (along with other Western luminaries and leaders such as Cherie Blair, Al Gore, Steve Forbes and Gerhard Schroeder, who also attended) was more eager to appease a terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship rather than to show solidarity with a mild Scandinavian democracy and fellow EU member.

It is true that Amr Hassan Enany, chairman of the Jeddah Economic Forum, later claimed that "the two Danish speakers that were invited to speak apologised sincerely for not attending the forum. Their invitations were not revoked". But who believes that? 

Yours, etc,

Article to which this letter relates ... 
Events occurred by chance rather than contrivance
(about President McAleese's other recent gaffes),
Irish Times, 24th February 2006

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To the Irish Times, 17th February 2006

Iraqi Kurdish Refugees


Why is Ireland taking in 200 Iraqi Kurd refugees, camped for the last three years between Iraq and Jordan, when their home country, Iraq, is now a constitutional democracy, of which the Kurdish provinces are among the most peaceful and most prosperous in the country, if not the Arab world? (Ireland, February 17th).  Why don't they simply move to their own country?

Yours etc,


Item to which this letter refers ... 
Ireland will resettle 200 Iraqi Kurd refugees

by Kathy Sheridan

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P! Published in the Irish Times, 16th February 2006

Random Breath-Testing and Civil Liberties


Tom Cooney (on February 14th) makes an eloquent case against breath testing motorists on an utterly random, or "dragnet" basis, both in terms of civil liberties and of low catchment rates in other jurisdictions (eg one per 144,000 in Tennessee). 

But he is disingenuous.

Random should not mean - as he suggests - lying in wait for motoring mothers during the school run.  Such an approach would obviously be pointless, and as such an indefensible infringement of civil liberties.

If random breath-testing is to deter motorists from drink-driving, it must be targeted.  That means testing everyone leaving the pub and nightclub when they close.  Until habits change, the catch rate will be a lot higher than one per 144,000; after they change a dramatic reduction in alcohol-related road deaths will follow.

Whether pub and club related TDs would allow such targeting, and the damage it would do the trade, is however a separate issue.

Yours etc,


This letter was published here.  


Item to which the letter refers ...
Safer roads by all means, but not at the expense of civil liberties  
by Tom Cooney, who teaches law at University College, Dublin 

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P! Published in the Irish Times, 9th February 2006

Religion vs Race


"The cartoons are racist" declares David Manning (Letters, February 9th). Perhaps he would care to state what "race" he is talking about.

Whilst we can pick and choose and chop and change our religious beliefs, each of us is stuck with his/her race, ethnicity, DNA.  That's why lampooning someone's religion is acceptable, but ridiculing his/her race is not.

Yours etc,

bulletThis letter was in fact published
bulletSee also blog post from which it was self-plagiarised, Hating Anti-Religious Hatred


Item to which this letter refers ...

Madam, - The "cartoon controversy" has been dubbed the fight of the century - freedom of speech versus Islam. While the reaction emanating from some quarters - comprising a handful of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims - has been unnecessarily violent, the purpose has little to do with freedom of expression, just as the publication could not be considered such.

The cartoons are racist. They suggest all Muslims as terrorists. In 2003 the same Danish newspaper rejected freedom of expression and turned down cartoons lampooning Jesus on the grounds that they were offensive. What followed recently was not a show of solidarity by fellow newspapers, it was a provocation. If one truly wanted to test the media's solidarity with each other's right to freedom of expression, then the same newspapers will presumably print the winning entry from the Holocaust competition run by Hamshahri, Iran's leading daily - something, no doubt, we can all find offensive.

In understanding, to an extent, why the violent outbursts have occurred it is first necessary to put the cartoons publication in context. Since 9/11, war has been waged against a vague entity known as "terror", the targets being predominantly Muslim. Now it is deemed by the self-styled shapers of opinion, the media, to be acceptable to label all Muslims terrorists, in the interests of free speech, while the predominant views of ordinary Muslims are marginalised by extremist groups gaining support as a result of a "misunderstanding" of Western intervention.

Without a significant change in attitude towards Islam we are destined forever to explain violent incidents committed by Muslims as proof of barbarity - the West's use of torture, carpet-bombing and targeted assassinations as accidents, incidents and necessities. - Yours, etc,

DAVID MANNING, Sandymount, Dublin 4.

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To the Irish Times, 6th February 2006

Racist Offense to Europeans and Danes


Is it not curious that newspapers such as the Irish Times decline to publish those notorious Danish cartoons out of sensitivity of offending Muslims, yet don't hesitate to publish photos of placards saying Europe is the cancer, Islam is the answer (front page, February 4th) or photographs showing Danish flags being desecrated by burning or stamping?  

The placards gravely offend Europeans, the photos Danes, and are clearly intended to inspire racist hatred of Europeans and Danes respectively. 

Why are Europeans and Danes not worthy of the same "sensitivity" as Muslims?

Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 3rd February 2006

Tariq Ali


Dear oh dear, there is that tired old Trotskyite Tariq Ali, almost forgotten remnant of the swinging protesting Sixties, popping up in your pages (Opinion, February 3rd) and apparently about to grace us with his presence as a guest of the misnamed Peace And Neutrality Alliance. (PANA actually espouses war and partisanship - but on the opposite side of the American coalition in Iraq. For example, in these pages just before President Bush's visit in 2004, PANA's Chairperson Roger Cole expressed the view that the “Iraqi resistance to occupation [is] a legitimate independence struggle”, and he was not talking about Ghandi-style non-violent resistance). 

You will forgive me for drawing your attention to Dr Ali having made the same mistake (Opinion, February 3rd) that Dr FitzGerald made last Saturday. Dr Ali says, “Iran has as much right to nuclear weapons as any of the existing nuclear states. Why is Israel's 200-bomb arsenal acceptable? India and Pakistan are also fine. What all three states share in common is loyalty to the empire.” What the three actually share is that none of them signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that would otherwise forbid them to develop nuclear weapons. Iran did sign, and that's why it, unlike those three, has no legal right to nuclear weapons.  

I look forward to his forthcoming lecture here titled “The War on Iraq” (an interesting choice of preposition). I trust it will not urge continued violence.

Yours etc,


Hattip Mark Humphrys for 
Why the Government does not want to fall out with Uncle Sam, by Deaglán de Bréadún, Irish Times, June 25th, 2004 

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January 2006
To the Irish Times, 31st January 2006

Hamas's “Iranian Agenda” and EU Aid


Your editorial of January 31st states that “for the EU to close the door [ie cease annual payments of €500m to the Palestinian government] so quickly would almost certainly propel the new administration to embrace the Iranian agenda towards Israel.”, which as we know from President Ahmadeinejad is that Israel should be wiped from the map (Editorial, January 31st).

But Hamas have already embraced precisely this agenda; it's their founding principle.  It would therefore be outrageously immoral for the EU to continue to pay cash gifts to the Palestinian government when Hamas take it over, unless and until Hamas renounce their destroy-Israel objective and all violence.  To do so, the EU would be directly subsidising the destruction and the violence. 

Yes, withdrawal of this cash will hurt ordinary Palestinians.  Yet it is those very same ordinary Palestinians who have just voted overwhelmingly for Hamas's “Iranian” agenda, so without the renunciation they deserve to be hurt, to learn that actions have consequences.

Hamas with their huge mandate are facing, for the first time, real accountability, real choices, real dilemmas.  They can rain down pain - economically and militarily - on their electorate by sticking to their “Iranian” agenda.  Or they can renounce it and reap the consequent rewards for their electorate.

Personally, I believe they are smart enough and tough enough to do the latter, and have sufficient street-cred to carry their electorate with them. Moreover, they will also be formidable adversaries in any peace negotiations with Israel.

Yours etc,


See also blogpost Hamas ... The Future Peacemaker

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P! Published in the Irish Times, 2nd February 2006

Spread of Nuclear Arms 


The nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the brainchild of Frank Aitken, “has since been ignored by Israel, India, Pakistan and, most recently, North Korea, all of which have developed such weapons”, thunders Garret FitzGerald (January 28th). But Israel, India and Pakistan have never signed the treaty, so why shouldn't they ignore it?  

[*Thus] Contrary to Dr FitzGerald's complaint, they have never been guilty of “flagrant breaches”, which is why such “breaches” could never have been brought before the UN Security Council, and why Western powers have had no legal basis for obstructing Israel's acquisition of nuclear capability.

Of his list, only North Korea actually signed the treaty, back in 1968, but formally withdrew in 2003. Iran also signed, also in 1968.

Thus Israel, India and Pakistan have broken no treaties or international laws. North Korea and Iran have. 

[*Mr FitzGerald should do his homework.  Wasn't he once a foreign minister as well as Taoiseach?]

Yours etc,



This letter was in fact published, on 2nd February, but only after the concluding insult was deleted


[*Deleted by Editor]


Details about the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and its signatories were obtained from Wikipedia and the Federation of American Scientists

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To the Irish Times, 25th January 2006

One Finger Equals Two Lives?


Last week, a couple in California were sentenced to nine years imprisonment for planting a human finger in a bowl of chili at a Wendy's restaurant and then fraudulently claiming compensation [Ref 1].  This week, Wayne O'Donoghue was sentenced to four years for the manslaughter of Robert Holohan.

On this evidence, it would appear that one American finger is worth more than two Irish children.

Yours etc,


Ref 1 : Couple gets 9 years for Wendy's finger scam


See also blogpost Giving the Finger

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To the Irish Times, 24th January 2006

Chopping Bits Off Babies


So a Government-appointed expert committee warns that 'any injury to an  infant arising from a circumcision carried out by “an incompetent person”  could be deemed to be a form of child abuse and be subject to child protection legislation or criminal law' (January 24th).

What precisely is the difference between an incompetent person person  needlessly chopping bits off babies and and a so-called competent one as the  committee proposes?  Both are committing egregious abuses of the child  resulting in permanent mutilation and should be prosecuted with the full  force of the law.  The same applies to female genital mutilation, or is the  committee proposing that this too should be conducted by medical staff to  satisfy someone or other's cultural, religious or tribal whims (or indeed to  make a case for deportations)?  If ever there was a case for amending the  Irish Constitution to strengthen the rights of the child, surely this is  it.

In the absence of a medical need, no doctor, parent or anyone else has the  right to chop bits off children without the informed consent of the patient,  which means waiting until he/she grows up.

It is time to trample roughshod over religious, cultural and tribal  sensitivities and ban all forms of child mutilation in the West.  A  condition of living in the West should be to respect children's rights.  Meanwhile we should be campaigning for similar bans in countries where such  barbarity finds a home.

We make enough fuss when the religious orders abuse children.

Yours etc,


Item to which this letter refers ...  

Surgeons should perform circumcisions, report says


A Government-appointed expert committee has recommended that the health  authorities establish regional services to carry out cultural male  circumcisions, writes Martin Wall.

The committee's report, which has been given to Minister for Health Mary  Harney, strongly argues for the procedure to be carried out in a medical  setting. It says that circumcisions “performed by untrained people in inappropriate  environments are not acceptable in Ireland”.

It warns that any injury to an infant arising from a circumcision carried  out by “an incompetent person” could be deemed to be a form of child abuse  and be subject to child protection legislation or criminal law.

It says that such incidents should be reported to the Health Service  Executive, properly investigated, and decisions taken on the facts of the  individual case. The report says circumcisions should be performed by  appropriately-trained surgeons and anaesthetists in adequately equipped  units.

However, the committee says it is satisfied that the practice of neo-natal  Orthodox Jewish circumcisions - carried out by trained rabbis - should be  permitted to continue. It proposes that this situation be kept under review.

The expert committee, chaired by the professor of paediatrics at the Royal  College of Surgeons, Dr Denis Gill, was established by the Department of  Health to establish the needs for cultural circumcision, to address the  ethical considerations and draw up recommendations on procedures to be  followed if the practice was considered appropriate.

Last October a Nigerian man was found not guilty by a court in Waterford of  reckless endangerment in relation to a home circumcision he carried out in  the county two years previously. The court had been told that a 29-day-old  boy, Collis Osaighe, had died from haemorrhage and shock due to bleeding  some hours after the circumcision had been carried out.

In its findings the expert committee recommends that cultural male  circumcisions should be provided in the Irish health services.

It says the Health Services Executive should provide a regional service  capable of performing the requisite number of circumcisions.

It estimates that up to 2,000 such procedures could be required annually.  The report also warns that the provision of increasing numbers of elective  circumcisions may have an impact on the volume of other surgical procedures  that can be performed in hospitals.

The report says that medical and nursing staff who have ethical objections  to the procedure should be allowed to opt out of the service.


See also blogpost Chopping Bits Off Babies (August 2003)

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To the Irish Times, 19th January 2006

Left free to harass


"Left free to harass in Ireland" blared Mary Raftery's headline on Thursday (Jan 19th).   How true, I thought.  Hardly anyone wants to challenge the Left's ideological nonsense in this country.

So imagine how confused I felt when her story talked instead about a doctor harrassing his unfortunate patient.
A quiet word in Ms Raftery's ear perhaps?

Yours etc,

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To the Irish Times, 17th January 2006

Exasperating Pinochet


Your excellent editorial, “Bachelet victory breaks the mould” (January 17th) reminded us that “Salvador Allende's left-wing reformist regime between 1970 and 1973 ... ended with Allende being overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet's army coup and an era of savage repression followed it”.

It would have been more complete to remind your readers that Pinochet´s savagery was accompanied by right wing economic policies that raised Chile´s wealth beyond the dreams of the rest of South America. Indeed, when you point out that its new president, Ms Michelle Bachelet, “is on the moderate centre left and inherits a stable and prosperous economy governed according to neo-liberal principles”, we should remember that those are the very principles inherited from Pinochet.

It is exasperating when a wicked man leaves a positive legacy.

Yours etc,


Item to which this letter refers -  Bachelet victory breaks the mould


With the election of Ms Michelle Bachelet as their president, Chileans have confirmed their political preference for the centre-left forces which have ruled them continuously since the military dictatorship was removed in 1990.

Ms Bachelet won this run-off election decisively, securing a 53 to 47 per cent majority - 400,000 voters out of the seven million who participated. She told her victory rally: “I am a woman, a socialist, separated and agnostic - all the sins together.”

She is the first woman president of a traditionalist Catholic state which up to now has been dominated by male leaders but which is undergoing transformation towards a more secular and liberal social agenda on gender equality, divorce and birth control. Ms Bachelet caught that mood very well as the daughter of an air force general who died in custody during the Pinochet dictatorship and who was herself tortured and exiled, as a former minister for health and defence, and as a single mother of three. She gained the support of a majority of both women and men and she has pledged to pursue a reforming agenda.

As president, Ms Bachelet will appoint the cabinet from the four-party Concertación alliance which has ruled Chile since 1990. She has said that half of the ministers will be women and she has promised to reduce social inequalities and unemployment while keeping the economy open. Chile's recent performance has been strongest among the Latin American countries, based on buoyant copper exports and orthodox fiscal discipline under outgoing president Ricardo Lagos, producing a surplus which has been used to reduce basic poverty.

Chile caught the world's imagination during Salvador Allende's left-wing reformist regime between 1970 and 1973. That episode ended with Allende being overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet's army coup and an era of savage repression followed it. The country's gradual, consensual recovery from that experience has been drawn out over the last 16 years. The former general is to be prosecuted and there is a determination never to allow such events to happen again. Ms Bachelet's election represents a consolidation of that attitude and moves Chile beyond the transitional stage into a new political era.

In doing so Chile is in tune with political shifts elsewhere in Latin America. Following recent elections, left-wing leaders rule Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela. Bolivia has recently joined their number and it is widely expected that Mexico will do so in July. Ms Bachelet's victory is a reminder that there is much diversity within this dramatic change of political allegiance in Latin America.

She is on the moderate centre left and inherits a stable and prosperous economy governed according to neo-liberal principles - quite unlike the more radical Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, for example. It will be fascinating to see how these leaders manage regional co-operation and their relations with an increasingly alarmed United States over the next few years.

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To the Irish Times, 17th January 2006

Licensing of Stringfellow's Club


Peter Stringfellow should never have been granted a licence to open his licentious and sexist pole-dancing club [in Dublin]. 

Its sole purpose is the inexcusable exploitation of pathetic Irish men by unscrupulous foreign women, eager to relieve them of their money simply by dancing naked. 

Remember Pat Rabbitte's warning: there are 40m poles(*). 

Something must be done. 

Yours etc, 


(*)Pat Rabbitte, the leader of Ireland's Labour party, has been warning about immigration of 40m Poles

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To the Irish Times, 10th January 2006

Risk Equalisation in Health Insurance


Simon McGuinness, in defending medical insurance risk equalisation informs us, “If you allow insurance companies to decide who they will insure, you create a system which penalises the sick” through higher premiums.  Well  of course.

But here's something else to ponder.  The supermarkets likewise penalise the hungry, the pubs the thirsty, the opticians the myopic, the energy companies the cold, the clothes companies the naked.

If society judges that some of these sick, hungry, thirsty, myopic, cold, naked or otherwise needy people should be helped out with the cost of their needs, the appropriate mechanism is state subsidies funded through taxation.  Not through forcing phony, trade-distorting cross-subsidies on commercial  companies.

The PDs(*) of all people should know this.

Yours etc,


(*)PDs are Progressive Democrats, Ireland's most capitalist-inclined party

Item to which this letter refers ... RISK EQUALISATION IN HEALTH INSURANCE


Madam, - Dr Ruairí Hanley (January 4th) knows nothing about health insurance  if he thinks that anyone, other than his friends in the medical profession,  will gain from the insurance free-for-all he proposes.

In the 1980s I held medical insurance in the UK, provided by my employer.  This was under a medical insurance system which excluded  “risk-equalisation”. All my pre-existing medical conditions were  specifically excluded from the terms of my cover. This is what happens in a  free-for-all medical insurance market - insurance companies cherry pick who  they will insure, and who they will load, to maximise their profits.

Most people die from pre-existing medical conditions; many Americans are  impoverished by them. If you allow insurance companies to decide who they  will insure, you create a system in which penalises the sick. Rick equalisation is the sine qua non of a civilised medical insurance  system. Even a PD must realise that the law of the jungle is no basis for  civilised behaviour towards our fellow citizens. - Yours, etc,



See also blogpost, Dreaming About Risk Equalisation, Obviously

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To the Irish Times, 3rd January 2006

The Word that Dare Not ... 


In his lengthy and contorted effort to defend the non-use of the word homosexual (by Niall Crowley of the Equality Authority), Declan Kelly's central point (Letters, January 3rd) is that "a phobia is the inability to control an irrational discomfort about something".  Thus it is homophobic to say homosexual instead of, for instance, same-sex.

This is nonsense, because phobia actually means "a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it", from the Greek phobos, meaning fear.  Discomfort is most certainly not a phobia.

Such a dishonest misuse of words is a typical device for trying to shut down debate when your own argument is too thin to stand on its own.  There is nothing homophobic about homosexual, which is why many homosexuals themselves are happy to use the term. - Yours etc,

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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
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
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.


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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