Archive for April, 2016


Banned books – Slaughterhouse Five

Apparently, when Slaughterhouse Five was stricken from the public schools of Oakland County, Michigan in 1972, the circuit judge called it

“depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian.”

Yes, it is great. I think that same sentence could be used to describe war, which is what this book is about.

This is the story of Billy Pilgram – he has come unstuck. In the book this manifests as time travel but what I understand is a man broken by war from the moment he arrives, unarmed, and having to retreat from the Battle of the Bulge. After being dragged unwillingly by former school-yard bully made soldier, Roland Weary, for an indeterminate amount of time, the two are captured by German soldiers and become prisoners of war. Roland doesn’t survive the journey back into Germany. As a POW Billy is in Dresden when it gets bombed by the allied forces. So it goes.

Billy was never born to be a soldier. At one point the Germans look at the rag-tag collection of American soldiers they’ve captured and wonder at the group. All the good soldiers have been killed and this lot is all that’s left. Billy is a particularly pathetic specimen. Due to lack of supplies he wraps himself in a blue sheet to keep warm and wears some silver boots. Everyone laughs at Billy; some seem to think he is trying to make some unfunny commentary with his clothing.

slaughterhouse five red.jpg

It is very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful; and it works.

Slaughterhouse Five is one of those books that people frequently seek to get banned. Unlike the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I can see why some people would want to ban this book. It paints a picture of war that is not heroic or patriotic or any of those positive tints we try to give to the killing of others in the name of some cause or other. Its much more Catch-22 than Band of Brothers. But, like Hunchback of Notre Dame, this is a great book that should be available to all.


North Korea and the Panama Papers

The Panama Papers are a massive data leak from the tax-avoidance specialist firm, Mossack Fonseca (MF). And even the most amateur North Korea watcher knows that where ever there is secrecy and grey legal areas you are sure to find North Korea lurking around trying to make illicit trade deals and otherwise hanging out with like-minded criminals and criminal states.

So far it seems that MF acted on behalf of

at least 33 company shareholders, directors and other beneficiaries who were under sanctions by the U.S. Treasury department, the European Union and the United Nations”.

North Korea is being highlighted in two cases. The first is DCB Finance involving British banker Nigel Cowie and North Korean official Kim Chol Sam. The company is alleged to have helped finance North Korea’s weapons programmes. Nigel apparently moved to North Korea 1995 and lived there for a decade, which means he was there when the famine was at its worst and in 2003 when North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He denies any knowledge of any illegal dealings. Hmmm.


MF did end its relationship with DCB in 2010 after someone suggested they look at their own paperwork showing that the company was registered in Pyongyang. One employee acknowledge that this ‘should have been a red flag’. Though to be fair, when you’re dealing with tax-avoiding elites, corrupt officials, dictators and other nefarious characters and countries it can hard to spot an actual sanctioned company from the ones which should be sanctioned.

(Source: Washington Post)

The other case involves two Australian-based men who apparently set up two companies which announced mining deals with North Korea and registered on the Australian Stock Exchange. An ex-UN official on the UN Security Council Panel of Experts for North Korea sanctions spoke to the ABC in Australia to clarify that “the deals involved North Korean entities under sanctions” and that he was “absolutely stunned” by the lack of attention paid, presumably by the Australian authorities, to the public announcements of the companies mining deals.

But of course it’s not just North Korea accessing the services of MF. In South Korea, 195 individuals have been identified so far. This includes former President Roh Tae-woo’s son, Roh Jae-heon. He’s claiming that he never did anything with the companies. Hmmm.

April 2016
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