Sunday, 19 October 2014

He made their tiny wings

Apparently, Islamic State now has an air force. Which is great news for people who like Shetland ponies and chihuahuas, since it seems to be adorably tiny. It's also good news for almost everybody else since, if their comic inability to use tanks is anything to go by, it will provide even more opportunities for sociopathic half-wits to to get themselves killed.
Being a fighter pilot -- for that matter, simply taking off in a single-engine jet fighter of the Century series, such as an F-102, or any of the military's other marvelous bricks with fins on them -- presented a man, on a perfectly sunny day, with more ways to get himself killed than his wife and children could imagine in their wildest fears.
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff.

And Wolfe was talking about properly-trained pilots and an elite cadre of test pilots, flying properly-maintained aircraft for a superpower, not semi-trained nutjobs flying poorly-maintained kit recently captured from the motley inventory of a semi-failed state.

By the look of the Reuters vid, the only serviceable-looking planes amid the sea of wrecked MiGs and ancient Delfins are some Czech L-39 Albatroses, as used in the opening sequence of the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

I'm guessing that this well-paced, but implausible action sequence is how the wannabe Jihadi flyboys see themselves:

The plot of Tomorrow Never Dies, I seem to remember, involves an evil media baron who tries to suck the UK into a war, by manufacturing a deadly pseudo event with a large side-order of propaganda. Just saying.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Vanity project

Back in August, I wondered idly whether  the well-known anti-hair-greying product, Grecian 2000, (or Grecian Formula, as it's known in the States), could possibly work as advertised. So idly that I didn't get round to following it up until October.

So it sounds as if it doesn't magically select only the grey hairs, but reacts with all the hairs, producing an overall colour change that happens slowly enough to be imperceptible. But there are problems.

First, according to some contributors to the Straight Dope message board's Grecian Formula thread, it stinks. 'It smelled like I fell into a sulphur pit' ... 'smells like rotten eggs'. Other contributors contradict this, or think that the smell might only apply the recipe Grecian use in the US, but comments from the UK indicate that our version is also pretty whiffy ('The first thing I noticed when I squeezed it on my hands was its nasty smell, something between carbolic and a cheap hair lotion').

Second, and more worryingly, the US version is made with lead acetate, (the toxin formerly known as salt of Saturn). If you don't actually swallow the stuff, it probably won't end up killing you (like Pope Clement II and, possibly, Beethoven), but rubbing it into your scalp on a regular basis still doesn't sound like a smart move.
Here in the EU and in Canada, the lead acetate has been banned and has now been replaced with bismuth citrate. I'm assuming that the unleaded version is safer, although the EU's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety thinks there's still more work to be done on assessing how safe, or otherwise, bismuth citrate is.

Even if we find the UK version harmless until proven otherwise, I don't want to lose the grey, only to gain an eggy smell. Also, according to LordChaverly, it leaves your hair greasy, so I think I'll give it a miss.

People of a certain generation would probably tell me that a bit of grey looks "distinguished", whatever that means, but they'd be talking rubbish. Suppose there were men who really wanted to look "distinguished", say because the older-male-as-silverback-gorilla look conveyed status and authority. If that demand existed in real life, then somebody would be making money from marketing an anti-Grecian formula, designed to give ambitious younger middle mangers that senior executive-style sprinkling of grey hairs. Nobody is.

Of course, there are high-status men who "carry off" the silver fox look, but I think that status precedes the grey hairs, rather than being conferred by them. We can see this most clearly through the lens of gender politics. Men and women can suffer from ageism but men, especially high-status ones, suffer less. The greying male CEO of the Empty Suit Corporation attracts no comment, but the female academic who dares not to dye must take up arms against a sea of on line abuse. Nobody's aspiring to be grey, but men, especially high-status ones, aren't so harshly judged by superficial factors like fading hair colour.

Back in the decade that taste forgot, there was an aftershave called "Denim", advertised with the slogan 'For men who don't have to try too hard', which neatly summed up the essence of a particular view of masculinity.

We've moved on a bit since the 1970s, but not that much. Okay, if you're a slightly younger male, I dare say there's a bit more moisturising, exfoliation, hair gel and gym-fashioned muscle definition going on than there was in my day, but that's nothing compared with the beauty regime women are still routinely expected to submit to, if they're not to be accused of letting themselves go; the makeup, the uncomfortable, impractical, restricting clothes, the crippling high heels, the endless array of dubious anti-ageing products, the false eyelashes, the under-wired bra, the padded bra... When it comes to appearance, compared with the average woman, most men don't have to try too hard.

And the pathologically well-adjusted man hardly has to try at all. Grayson Perry calls him 'Default Man', looking down on the human objects in his world with his Default Male gaze:
... identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland...
... The Default Male gaze does not just dominate cinema, it looks down on society like the eye on Sauron’s tower in The Lord of the Rings. Every other identity group is “othered” by it. It is the gaze of the expensively nondescript corporate leader watching consumers adorn themselves with his company’s products the better to get his attention.

Removing as much grey as you want seems to be a doddle compared with removing the éminence grise.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The monetisation of everything, continued

Shortly afterwards, it was reported that the Academies Enterprise Trust, one of the largest chains, was planning to outsource all non-teaching posts in its 77 schools to a profit-making organisation. In the education investment community, this is known as ‘chore, not core’.
Matthew Bennett, at the LRB blog

'Chore, not core.' So there you have it - if you're doing a non-teaching job in a school, you're a waste of oxygen, at least until some profiteer can figure out a way of leeching a revenue stream from your worthless existence. That's what we're up against.

If you tolerate this your children will be next.

More whataboutery

MPs vote to recognise new Middle Eastern state

If Palestine, why not Kurdistan?
MPs including the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, have voted to recognise Kurdistan as a state in a symbolic move that will unnerve Turkey by suggesting that it is losing a wider battle for public opinion in Britain.

In possibly the single most important contribution in an emotional debate, Richard Ottaway, the Conservative chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said Turkey's recent air raids on Kurdish villages had angered him like nothing else in politics.

The former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the vote was not simply a gesture, because if it were, the Turkish government would not be as worried by the vote.

The Turkish government, he said, wants the recognition of a Kurdish state only when Hell freezes over. But Straw said “such an approach would give the Turks a veto over whether a Kurdish state should exist”. A vote for recognition would add to the pressure on the Turkish government, he said. “The only thing that the Turkish government, in my view, in its present demeanour under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan understands is pressure.”

Conservative James Clappison spoke out against the motion, arguing it would do more harm than good. He said: “I believe that international recognition of a Kurdish state in the terms of the motion would make a two-state solution less likely rather than more likely.

He said The PKK had “set its face against any peace deal with Turkey” and undertaken a “campaign of terror”.
Just wondering.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sunday service

I'm just back from church. No, I haven't asked Jesus into my heart or anything like that - I just felt that it would be polite to be there for the last service taken by the retiring rector of the Benifice of Newport Pagnell, seeing as he married me a couple of years ago (to my wife, I mean - the Church of England may be getting more relaxed and open-minded, but they're not quite that open-minded).

Anyway, I was quite impressed by the organ music that opened the service. I stopped enjoying Vivaldi's Four Seasons years ago - way too overused as irritating elevator/call-centre hold music, back in the day - but it makes an upbeat, rousing anthem when transcribed for the organ and I actually found myself liking "Spring" again for the first time in years. See what you think:

Friday, 10 October 2014

The flying canvases of Paul Klee

I've always liked Paul Klee's semi-abstract geometrical paintings, the ones that you could see as 2D impressions of architectural townscapes or just harmonious arrangements of pleasing blocks of colour. There's a sense of tranquility, rhythm and order that's both satisfying and very easy on the eye.
Red/Green Architecture (yellow/violet gradation), Paul Klee, 1922

I never knew much about Klee's biography, but in this Great War centenary year I've discovered something that suggests he got some of his inspiration from a less-than-tranquil source:
After finishing the military training course, which began on 11 March 1916, he was committed as a soldier behind the front. Klee moved on 20 August to the aircraft maintenance company in Oberschleissheim, executing skilled manual work, such as restoring aircraft camouflage, and accompanying aircraft transports. On 17 January 1917, he was transferred to the Royal Bavarian flying school in Gersthofen ... to work as a clerk for the treasurer till the end of the war. This allowed him to stay in a small room outside of the barrack block and continue painting.
To give you some idea of the connection I'm seeing, take a look at the patterns on the fabric covering this restored World War I German aircraft:


Fokker D VIII, covered in camouflage fabric featuring repeating irregular polygons, 1918.
Quite Klee-esque, don't you think? It's not a complete clincher, as Klee was camouflaging aircraft in 1916 and this sort of pattern above only became widespread in 1917-18, but if we take a nerdy look at the development of aircraft camouflage in the Great War, I think you'll agree that the connection still looks compelling.

In 1914, the air arms of the various belligerents were made up of mainly fabric-covered aircraft. The fabric, along with metal engine covers and visible wooden parts, was left unpainted. The fabric was stiffened with clear dope and the wooden bits were varnished. The first change came when the various other powers started to follow the French practice of applying national markings, in order to discourage friendly fire. Only when their aviators and aircraft were (relatively) safe from being shot by their own side, did  the various authorities turn their attention to using camouflage to protect them from the enemy.

The British took a minimalist, utilitarian approach, leaving the undersurfaces of their aircraft in unpainted fabric and painting the upper surfaces a uniform dull green or brown, which was probably reasonably effective, although the British colours were about as aesthetically appealing as a palette of ruminant dung samples from animals fed on varying amounts of fresh green grass.

The French moved from unpainted fabric, first to silver dope (this wasn't a really bad attempt at camouflage - the silver was there to counteract the degrading effect of the UV in sunlight on the fabric, not as a misguided attempt at concealment), then to various painted wavy, splotchy disruptive lines in the sort of greens and browns that we associate with military camouflage.

The Germans were more inventive and tried a number of paint schemes, from relatively conservative finishes (light greys and patches of greens and browns), to more interesting effects, like a streaky olive green finish over a turquoise base, or this rather pleasing purple and green combo, as seen on the wings of a blazing Albatros, in this painting by Airfix box art legend, Roy Cross:
'Take that, Red Baron!' (from "Biggles is Colour Blind")
Anyway, a lot of these sort of schemes were in use in 1916, when Klee was based in Oberschleissheim. But another, more complex, scheme was being developed, a pointillist-inspired pattern of coloured polygons. It would probably have been in the development stage at the time when Klee was serving as a skilled tradesman-cum-camoufleur, and would have been painstakingly hand-painted, but there is photographic evidence of this being done on an aircraft of the right vintage - an E IV monoplane produced by the Pfalz company, shown here, complete with hand-painted polygons.

As Wikipedia helpfully relates, those time-consuming early experiments with hand-painted  polygons eventually led to some bright spark realising that you could save time and weight by printing the complex pattern onto the fabric beforehand, like wallpaper or curtains, rather than painting it on later (if I'm reading this thread at The Aerodrome right, that bright spark was one 'artist working at Idflieg named Ltn. Reimschneider', although it may be that Reimschneider was just the originator of two particular types of flugzeug tarnstoff, known in English as five colour day and night lozenge patterns, not the concept of printing all such patterns). By 1918, Halberstädter Flugzeug Werke's textile mills were covering most of the Kaiser's military aircraft with pointillism-inspired camouflage fabric, printed with repeating abstract patterns, made up of irregular polygons or regular hexagons.

So I'd say that there's at least as much credibility in the notion that camouflage influenced Klee's art as there is in Picasso's anecdotal declaration that cubists invented camouflage:
I very well remember at the beginning of the war being with Picasso on the boulevard Raspail when the first camouflaged truck passed. It was at night, we had heard of camouflage but we had not seen it and Picasso amazed looked at it and then cried out, yes it is we who made it, that is cubism.
Gertrude Stein, Picasso

While we're (tangentially) on the subject, polygons eventually caught on with the Austro-Hungarians as well, as can be seen on this restored aircraft, formerly the property of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops, currently in the Prague Technical Museum:
Knoller C II (photo by Alfvan Beem, Wikimedia Creative Commons)
According to my sources, though, the Austo-Hungarians never got round to producing printed polygons and were hand-painting these complex patterns on their aircraft right up to the bitter end of the war. If so, this is one case where that lazy cliché about German efficiency actually seems to be true. If the reserved occupations were tied up in labour-intensive processes like painting complicated honeycomb patterns onto aircraft and the conscripts were anything like the ones portrayed in The Good Soldier Švejk, it's no wonder the Ausro-Hungarians lost not only the war, but their whole country.
Hi Ho Hi Ho , It's Off To Work We Go!!  (partly-polygon-painted Berg D I fighters in a factory somewhere - photo lifted from a Czech language website)
Mind you, the process may not have been efficient, but the flamboyant end result looked great.
C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre...
But for something even less warlike, get a load of the one aircraft camouflage fabric that I know the Austro-Hungarians did get round to printing. And this time it's not polygons:
Swirly whirlys
And in colour:
Man, that's trippy!
Printed by Johann Backhausen und Söhne, manufacturer of tablecloths, rugs and suchlike, as applied to aircraft like the Austro-Hungarian manufactured version of the Abatros D III, seen here in model form. From the art of war to the soft furnishings of war...