Sunday, 31 January 2010

Aces high

I'm back. Having had the leisure for a few minutes' idle surfing since I got back, I see that Jake1 at Metafilter has been looking at the top-scoring flying aces of the Second World War and found something that surprised him:

This was going to be a post about japanese fighter ace Saburo Sakai(around 60 kills) while also mentioning Hiroyoshi "the Devil" Nishizawa, Japan's top WWII ace (around 110 kills). But while comparing them to aces of other countries I encountered something your average non-war buff american probably doesn't know. That is that about the top 60 fighter aces of WWII (and all time consequently) were all german. And where does the US rank on this list. You don't want to know.

I was looking at something similar myself a while back - in my case the top-scoring aces from each country in all conflicts. Here are the results. I can't vouch for 100% accuracy - individual kill tallies are often disputed and I didn't have time for exhaustive fact-checking, but the figures are hopefully in the right ball-park). I, too, got a few surprises:

Germany Luftwaffe Erich "Bubi" Hartmann 352

Finland Finnish Air Force Ilmari Juutilainen Finland Finnish Air Force 94

Japan Tetsuzo Iwamoto Japan Imperial Japanese Navy 94 (202 according to his personal combat record)

France René Fonck Aéronautique Militaire 75

United Kingdom Edward Mannock Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force 73

Canada Billy Bishop Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force 72

Soviet Union Ivan Kozhedub Soviet Air Force 62

South Africa A.F.W. Beauchamp-Proctor Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force 54

Australia Robert A. Little Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Air Force 47

Romania Alexandru Şerbănescu Romanian Air Force 47

Croatia Mato Dukovac Croatian Air Force 44

United States Richard I. Bong U.S. Army Air Forces 40

Spain Joaquin Morato Nationalist Air Force 40

Belgium Willy Coppens (Willy O. F. J. Coppens de Houthulst) Belgian Military Aviation 37

Austria-Hungary Godwin Brumowski Luftfahrtruppen 35

Italy Francesco Baracca Corpo Aeronautico Militare 34

Ireland Brendan Eamon Fergus "Paddy" Finucane Royal Air Force 32

Slovakia Ján Režňák Slovak Air Force 32

Hungary Dezso Szengyorgyi Hungarian Air Force 30½

New Zealand Alan Christopher Deere Royal Air Force 22

Poland Stanisław Skalski Polish Air Force/RAF 18

Czechoslovakia Karel Kuttelwascher Royal Air Force 18 (20?)

Israel Col. (Ret.) Giora Epstein Israeli Air Force 17 (top scoring jet ace)

North Vietnam Nguyễn Văn Cốc North Vietnam Air Force 9

There are more surprises here than the huge gap between Germany's top aces and those and all other nations (an understandably forgotten fact, given that those incredibly high scores were achieved by Luftwaffe pilots fighting in the service of a truly vile regime). The next highest-scoring national ace was from Finland? The United States' highest-scoring ace beaten by a Romanian and a Croatian (best not to not to mention the cheese-eating surrender monkeys). No doubt I'll look more closely at these figures and related topics in future posts.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

One more thing, before I go...

Couldn't resist having one more play with the David Cameron Election poster generator. This one's for all the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band fans out there.

Mañana, iguanas.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Short intermission

There will be a short pause in blogging, as I'm away for three days from tomorrow. My mother's moving house and I'll be helping out. I've just about packed my travelling-light bag.

Packing my bag reminded me of one of those really old, very slightly humorous lists which has been hanging about the Internet since before Google was a glint in Larry Page's eye. Entitled "Cool Things About Being a Man", it includes the observation that 'a five-day vacation requires only 1 suitcase'. It's a stereotype, but from my partner's reaction when I said I'd be taking one small piece of hand luggage on my coach journey, I think it's one with a nutritious kernel of truth.

Along with the fact that I don't have to factor in any extra hair-drying time after my morning shower (my profile picture illustrates this point more directly than mere words), I think the ability to travel light is, in general, one of the great things about being a bloke. A small sports bag. Three pairs of socks, ditto underpants and three t-shirts to wear. A compact sponge bag with the bare toiletry essentials. The trousers and outer clothing layers I'll be wearing will be good for three days. Light and portable, even allowing for an airport thriller and a portable CD player with some music CDs and an audio book to guard against the possibility of in-coach boredom. No worries. Sorted.

I'm sure that there are women who travel as light as I do, with as little fuss, but I believe that they're in a minority. Men may start wars, have less emotional intelligence and die earlier, but, in general, the ability to travel light without the fuss and bother of hauling great trunks of clothes and other mysterious feminine accessories around is one of the great life-skills and joys of being a man.

Abnormal blogging to be resumed as soon as possible.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The new face of Clinique

As an antidote to the most hopeless, pointless, soul-destroying pre-election battle in years, I've jumped on the bandwagon and had fun creating my own Alice In Wonderland-themed election poster. It is an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own - if you can do better, you can do so here. Many people already have. Here's the Ranter on how this went viral, as I believe they say these days.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

I am not the Egg Man

In a transparent bid to sound like an ordinary bloke, Peter Mandelson has expressed an unexpected enthusiasm for “perfectly formed Creme Eggs.” I don't believe the Dark Lord's ever eaten such a common, non-aspirational piece of confectionery as a Creme Egg in his life. No, he's a slim-sophisticated-profoundly-dark-bitter-after-dinner-mint-hand-crafted-by-artisan-chocolatiers-from-the-very-finest-single-estate-high-cocoa-chocolate man if ever I saw one*.

Unless of course “perfectly formed Creme Eggs” was some sort of beastly euphemism over which we should draw a discreet veil.

*There's the germ of an entertaining game here. Match the politician with the appropriate confectionery product. What fun.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Panic attack

Fresh measures to track terror suspects and strengthen airport security after the attempted Christmas Day bomb plot have been announced by Gordon Brown.

Sez the Beeb. Whatever happened to the British stiff upper lip? When other people in the world are having to deal with real problems, our elected leaders (aided by unelected mandarins and spin-doctors) are flapping around like clucking mother hens, just because some incompetent loon with a chip on his shoulder set fire to his underwear in a pathetic attempt to cause panic.

I fear the Pants Bomber and our elected leaders have rather too much in common, sharing both an uncritical propensity to act on the basis of weird, implausible fairy tales and the desire to scare people into obedient acquiescence.

"Panic Button" picture via Michael Greenwell, who has posted links to some interesting video content recently, including this thought-provoking film from a couple of years ago and this classic, hilarious TV chat show moment from way back when I were nobbut a young whippersnapper.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Out of the mouths of babes 2

Tom, having just got out of the bath this morning:

"I want my knees safe."

Monday, 18 January 2010

"Use open questions to engage the prospect"

Today I had a cold call from somebody trying to sell me advertising space I can't afford and don't want. I said I was busy, so she said she'd ring me again tomorrow. She doesn't know that when she rings back, I will be ready with the appropriate response - thank you, Sleep Talkin' Man, for this:

"Hey, don't... don't say anything. Why don't you put it in an email, then I can ignore it at my pleasure."

Way to go, Adam!

As one Tom Mabe discovered a long time ago, if cold callers annoy you, you're just not thinking creatively enough. I'm lost in admiration:

Getting cold calls can be a source of delight, at least if you are Tom Mabe. Because when the phone rings, it's an opportunity to torment another caller.

For Mabe, the kind of anti-cold call tactic promoted by comedian Jerry Seinfeld (telling one caller: "I'm sorry, I'm a little tied up now - give me your home number and I'll call you back later") is letting them off easy.

He makes his living by making cold callers uncomfortable.
I am not a prospect, I am a free man.

Out of the mouths of babes

Unlike the creator of the cult Sleep Talkin' Man blog I don't have access to a seemingly bottomless well of surrealism at home. What am I taking about? Of course I do - I have a toddler:

Me: Come on, Tom, it's time to brush your teeth now.

Tom: I don't like my toothbrush. It's too famous.

Go figure.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Untrue Grit

The snow's finally beginning to melt round here. When it was still lying deep and crisp and even, I stated clearing it off our drive with a pitiful little shovel (I didn't have the foresight to make a proper snow scraper out of a big bit of board on a stick). Once I'd cleared most of it off the drive, I started on the adjoining footpath.

A passer by commented on the inadequacy of my shovel (an entirely fair comment), then told me that I obviously didn't read the newspapers. Apparently, if you clear the snow from a public pavement, or grit it yourself, and someone subsequently slips and gets hurt on the bit you've cleared, they could sue you. That's what the Health and Safety Nazis at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) have been telling people. It was in the papers. Barmy bureaucrats, eh, you couldn't make it up!*

Actually, you could make it up. In fact the Mail and the Telegraph did just make it up.

The leading body for health and safety professionals is urging businesses and communities to do the right thing by clearing snow and ice from public areas....
in the wake of inaccurate reporting in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph and Mail on Sunday. Both newspapers ran stories, yesterday (Sunday 10 January), claiming IOSH was warning businesses not to grit public paths because this could lead to legal action.

The IOSH issued the following clarification:

The IOSH position is most definitely to encourage people to be good employers and neighbours by gritting icy areas and to emphasise that health and safety wants to help protect life and limb, not endanger it.

Call me old-fashioned, but if I want to read made-up stuff, I open a novel.

Speaking of novels, ,some people bizarrely criticize Dan Brown** for the inaccuracies in his books. You can reasonably criticize Brown for lots of things - cardboard characters, wooden dialogue and a facsimile of gritty realism that seems to be moulded out of plastic. But making stuff up? He's a novelist, for crying out loud! He's not just allowed to make stuff up, he's supposed to make stuff up! What does it take to make people understand this, a goddamn powerpoint presentation?

A novel and a newspaper are different things. Some journalists clearly haven't grasped this. If the editors of the Mail and Telegraph had been doing their jobs properly they'd have sent a memo like this to their hacks, explaining this very basic point:

Memo to all journalistic staff

You are working for a NEWSPAPER. A NEWSPAPER is a publication containing up-to-date information about STUFF THAT HAS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. YOU ARE NOT DAN BROWN, SO STOP MAKING CRAZY SHIT UP. If you do not understand any part of this memo, please see me in my office where I will be delighted to provide further clarification with the aid of a simple glove puppet show and a large, very heavy, ruler.

Thank you for your kind attention

The Editor

* For the record, I ignored him and carried on clearing our bit of the pavement.

** For the record, I've read a couple of Dan Browns and quite enjoyed them (not quite enough to read The Lost Symbol, although I might do so if somebody left a copy lying around and I had absolutely nothing else to do). His characters are two-dimensional and he writes abysmal dialogue, but for all that, he has some grasp of the rare and elusive art of making you want to turn the page and see what happens next (even when you're reeling with disbelief at the preposterousness of the unfolding story).

Stephen Fry famously dismissed the The Da Vinci Code as "Complete loose-stool-water. Arse-gravy of the very worst kind.". As far as the premise of the novel, characterisation and dialogue are concerned he had a point, but the word "complete" is wrong. Brown's got an ability to keep millions of people reading, even against their better judgement. Five minutes after reading The Da Vinci Code, you might wonder why on earth you bothered, but I bet it's made countless boring Sundays and tedious airline flights pass in a flash.

Dan Brown's books are a bit like malteasers. I know they're insubstantial, less tasty than quite a lot of other foods and not very good for me, but I also know that they're quite more-ish. If I was bored and found a packet in the house, I know I'd gobble them all up in no time.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Cetacean of the day

Unlike a narwhal, it didn't have a kick-ass facial horn and it wasn't technically a real cetacean, but on the plus side, the "Walfisch" (whale), as the LFG Roland CII was known, could fly and I'm featuring a pic because it just looked way cool.

As a schoolboy with a moderate Airfix habit, I remember noticing that during the World War One, the Huns got to fly some of the coolest planes. Biggles' Sopwith Camel was OK, but some of the sleekest, cleanest and coolest-looking planes sported a black cross, not a cockade: the Taube, which looked like something out of a story by Jules Verne, or H G Wells, the shark-like Alabtros, the Fokker Triplane, the Fokker DVII, all seemed aesthetically a cut above the workmanlike British designs. Even the colour schemes looked more exciting - ace German pilots like the Red Baron were allowed to have their machines painted in outrageously bright colour schemes. Even the standard-issue paint jobs applied to German planes were more attractive than the almost ubiquitous dull khaki applied to the British ones. This clip from a recent CGI-heavy German film about the Red Baron gives a flavour of what I'm talking about.

The contrast was brought home to me one day in Wooolworths, where I saw one of the Airfix two-aeroplane kits marketed as "dogfight doubles", featuring a Roland "Walfisch" and a British RE8. The RE8 on the box lid was boxy, angular and ugly with a wonky, squared-off nose, interplane struts and exhaust pipes sticking out all over the place at awkward angles, all held together with a spiders' web of rigging wires. A very British, inelegant, serviceable bodge. The Walfisch, though, was a thing of beauty, smooth, rakish and purposeful. You can judge for yourself, as I've found a picture of the old Airfix box art here (the picture's not very big, but you get the idea). I think I spent my pocket money on something else that day, so never bagged my own Walfisch; shortly thereafter I discovered science fiction and shortly after that, girls, so there was an end to my Airfix kittery - or al least a pause. The Walfisch isn't in Airfix's current range, but if they ever re-issue that kit, my son may find one suspended from his bedroom ceiling, whether he likes it or not. James May has a lot to answer for.

Look out! Marshmallows!

"I'm making pillows. Burn them slowly, keeps them fluffy! Mmmmmm, pillows."

"Don't leave the duck there. It's totally irresponsible. Put it on the swing, it'll have much more fun."

"Your mum's at the door again. Bury me. Bury me deep."

"You can stop clapping now if you want. Really. You'll need your energy for cheering me later. Shhhhhhhh. shhhhhhhh."

I've just found another thing to be grateful for. I don't talk in my sleep (although I've been told that I sometimes howl in an alarming manner) and if I did, I'm fairly certain that my partner wouldn't record my sleeping utterances, then share them with the world via the Internet. But I'm glad that somebody else's significant other decided to do just that. Click here for the surreal transcripts, which are funnier than at least 50% of all the scripted comedy I've ever heard. Via.

"I'd rather peel off my skin and bathe my weeping raw flesh in a bath of vinegar than spend any time with you. But that's just my opinion. Don't take it personally."

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


I'd like, belatedly, to express my gratitude to P Z Myers, whose Pharyngula* blog I scavenged for the Nu-Life Communion Host Dispenser advert linked to in my last post. As I've already started shamelessly plundering his web discoveries, check out the completely bonkers, insanely catchy song about narwhals which I also found via Pharyngula.

I'd also like to thank Meridian for pointing out that the title of my post "Balham, Gateway to the South", will mean nothing to people who aren't really old, like me. The bastard. In the unlikely event of this blog being read by any young people, the title refers to a monologue recorded by the late Peter Sellers, a comic actor of some repute in my long-vanished youth. It went like this.

* if you were wondering what the word "pharyngula" actually means, you can now impress less erudite people at dinner parties by clicking here

Kneel before the almighty God Phone

In the fevered days before Apple's iPhone first went on sale, the must-have mobile was nicknamed "the God Phone" by awed gadget fans, itching to get their hot little hands on that year's hippest piece of consumer electronics. The Reverend Canon David Parrott seems to have taken the "God Phone" phrase a little too literally:

A London clergyman has brought a medieval ceremony of the Church of England* into the 21st century by blessing his flock's smartphones, laptops, and iPods.

The Revd Canon David Parrott of The City's 17th-century St Lawrence Jewry church told The Times that he wanted to update the ancient tradition of Plough Monday, when farmers would bring their plows to church to be blessed on the first Monday after after Twelfth Night.

I'm no expert on the etiquette of not offending our invisible, magic, all-seeing Big Brother in the sky, but don't they have a name for that sort of thing?

Maybe The Rev. Canon Parrot is in the wrong job. Still, if the God-bothering gig doesn't work out for him, he could always go into advertising:

What's great about the GodPhone™ is that if you want to part the Red Sea, there's an app for that.

If you want to incinerate sinners with brimstone and fire, there's an app for that.

If you want to smite the people of Ashdod with hemorrhoids**, there's an app for that.

If you want to download a legion of unclean spirits from a maniac to a herd of pigs, there's an app for that.

If you want to continue judging the quick and the dead, 2,000 years after being nailed to a piece of wood and buried, there's an app for that.

And if you want to turn yourself into an enormous number of wafer-thin morsels of bread and get eaten by millions of people every Sunday, there's even an app for that.

Only on the GodPhone™.

* there was, of course, no such thing as the Church of England in the medieval period - I think there's a name for that sort of thing, too.

** let's call them emerods, since we're using the majestic language of the King James Bible

Monday, 11 January 2010

Relocation rage

I'm a peace-loving, mild-man nerd sort of person, but having just caught a glimpse of the TV property programme Relocation, Relocation, I'm filled with an overwhelming urge to beat the presenters to a bloody pulp with the first heavy implement I can lay my hands on. The programme's frighteningly reminiscent of the recent Daily Mash parody:

TV property shows rose by 1.8% last year as the easing of the credit crunch helped bring forward a second series of Dreadful Middle Class Bastards.

Levels of property TV had fallen through 2008 amid the first wave of bankruptcies among awful people convinced they could make a fortune by installing an ensuite shower room in a former crack den.

But now the market for gimlet-eyed couples talking to a spiv about the 'wow factor' of a house they can't afford appears to be rallying...

"We'll be standing back and watching these soulless automatons argue about kitchen units and then sharing in their utterly repellent self-satisfaction when they win the battle with their architect over the stained glass window in the downstairs toilet."

I'm trying to think of something that might make TV property shows less infuriating. My suggestion would be to have Grand Designs hosted not by Kevin McCloud, but Sigourney Weaver. Rather than wibbling on about the "integrity" of the latest mansion being shown off, she could take a long look at the monstrous ego-pod being constructed by some loathsome pair of self-obsessed executive leeches and re-use the famous line from Aliens:

"I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."

I'd actually change channels to watch that.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Balham, Gateway to the South

Thanks to Dieselpunk, my mind's currently on the romance of vintage travel - yes, I know that for all the tribulations of modern-day travel, there never was really a golden age, but some of the machines were things of beauty for all that. Some of the advertising slogans from the 'golden age' stretched the truth just a little bit - think of the re-branding of the Cornish coast as the "Cornish Riviera". But for real suspension of disbelief, I've just come across a rather splendid London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster advertising the delights of "Colwyn Bay, The Gateway to the Welsh Rockies"!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Age of wonders

Top blog discovery of the week. Streamlined steam engines, racing seaplanes, cars with fins, airships, robots, Battersea Power Station - behold the machine-age wunderkammer that is Dieselpunk - it's like an Eagle comic for the 21st Century.

Friday, 8 January 2010


Some old holiday snaps with a little digital manipulation...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Two things you don't see every day

1) England, Scotland and Wales, all completely white with snow. Courtesy of NASA via.

2) A worker-owned co-operative out-performing a massive FTSE 100 PLC:

Yesterday, there was a significant political development. I refer not to the Dumb and Dumber show, but to a statement by Sir Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer:
“There is no doubt about it, we have been bested by Waitrose. It’s not a secret.”
M&S said UK food sales, based on stores open at least a year, rose 0.4 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 26. That compares with like-for-like sales growth of 9 per cent at Waitrose.
Waitrose is of course owned by its workers, and its boss earns barely one-third of Sir Stuart’s £1.76m annual salary.

Notes Chris Dillow.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Identified floating objects

I'm probably out of touch, but when midnight chimed this New Year, I looked up and saw lights drifting in the sky - someone was releasing Sky Lanterns. Am I the only person in the world who hadn't seen these before? I want some next year.


Snow's come to Newport Pagnell, as it has to the rest of the UK. Roads impassable, workplaces, schools and nurseries closed. I could complain about how everything in this country grinds to a halt after what Russians, Scandinavians, Canadians and other folk who get serious winter weather would regard as a light dusting of snow. I could, but I won't, as I'm as unprepared as the various authorities responsible for keeping the nation moving.

We have a sloping driveway, so our cars can potentially get stuck in a heavy snowfall and to clear the snow away fast, we clearly need a more effective tool than the little shovel in the garden shed. When I was a lad, my dad had an effective tool for clearing snow off the drive, which he'd made out of a large piece of board on a stick. I've had a year since the last serious snow, have enough basic woodworking skills to make such a thing and know that if enough snow and ice builds up, we can't get our cars off the drive, but I've never got round to making one.

I guess that's what humans tend to do in the face of rare events - we know something can happen, but if it happens infrequently enough, the motivation to do something about it isn't pressing enough to translate into the obvious course of action. If serious amounts of snow happen regularly, every year, individuals and authorities are geared up to do the necessary. If, as in the UK, snowy weather's very infrequent (in the South, we've had a succession of mild winters right up until last year's unexpected week of freezing weather), we just tend to forget that it can and eventually will happen, during the usual fifty-odd weeks of temperate weather. That's why I'm not going to go into an exasperated, eye-rolling rant about how we can't cope with a few inches of snow - at least, not until I get around to attaching a big piece of board to a stick.

Whilst I'm on the subject of dealing badly with rare events, I just came across another sensible suggestion for managing those pesky terrorists.

What if governments and security forces around the world set up a concerted plan not to give Al-Quaeda the oxygen of publicity, unless of course there were damage and casualties to report?

Wouldn't the blackout deal at least a partial blow to the campaign of fear and hatred that the Islamic funda-mentalists have been inflicting upon the world?

Says Claude. It's not rocket science, just the security equivalent of screwing a big piece of board to a stick.

Back to the snow - with a nursery closure day and the roar of the nearby M1 silenced due to traffic chaos, what better way to spend the morning than in the garden with my little boy building a snowman? Well, in my boy's opinion, building a snow Thomas the Tank Engine would be better (see picture above). Fortunately he's still young enough to be impressed by our crude, vaguely train-shaped snow pile.

So long as you don't have a life-or-death journey to make, being snowed in is a wonderful opportunity to stop the daily round and reflect in the eerie silence of a changed world. When you're playing with your little boy, those reflections can be cheerful ones. The reflections at the end of James Joyce's short story The Dead, are of a darker, more melancholy nature, but still remain one of the most atmospheric and lyrical pieces of writing about the thoughts which come when the world stops for snow:

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt's supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good- night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Seasonal confusion and delay

Whilst I was away doing Christmassy things, we had further proof that the Islamists used up most of their competent terrorists on 9/11 and in the early noughties. The the idiotic Christmas special from Johnny Jihad and His Exploding Underpants was about as scary as one of Santa's elves. Predictably, the reaction of the authorities was to impose Ryanair-like levels of misery on airline passengers, in the name of being seen to "do something". It would be more effective to:

a) stop trying to terrify the public about relatively small risks - just point and laugh instead

b) once people have stopped quaking with fear, introduce effective measures to counter the actual level of threat, rather than PR stunts intended to soothe the very people you frightened out of their skins by hyping up the terrorist threat level

Effective measures like these, as highlighted in a much-quoted article in the Toronto Star (via):


That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deal with far greater terror threats with far less inconvenience....

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for – not for hours – but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, `We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.'"

Read how it should be done here.

Another transport-related tit bit which caught my eye over the holiday period was an academic take on the Thomas The Tank Engine by one Shauna Wilton, gleefully dissected in the Fora blog:

Ms Wilton has been studying Thomas the Tank Engine. My two children, love the stories and as a result I have some familiarity with them. I have always thought them to represent pretty good values on the whole. For example the catchphrase about the engines wanting to be “really useful” has been thoroughly productive when encouraging the children to tidy up after themselves and, indeed, to do the right thing generally.

I should have realised of course that anything suggestive of discipline, or values of any sort, would get up the nose of modern academics. According to the report:

“She was critical of the fact the show only has eight female characters out of the 49 who feature.

"The female characters weren't necessarily portrayed any more negatively than the male characters or the male trains, but they did tend to play more secondary roles and they're often portrayed as being bossy or know-it-alls," she said.

She also objected to the way the show portrays Thomas, Percy and James slaving away for wealthy bosses like the Fat Controller.

Any attempt to break out of this controlled hierarchy to gain individual power, show initiative or dissent is met with punishment, usually because it goes wrong, she said.

I would note first of all the supreme irony in her statement that the female characters are “bossy or know-it-alls” when it is hard to think of a female better meeting that description than herself.

I would also invite her to look after two children aged two and four and encourage rather than punish dissent or attempts to gain individual power.

Any academic who majors in Thomas the Tank Engine Studies* is fair game, so far as I'm concerned, although I do still maintain, along with Ms Wilton, that the stories are disturbingly authoritarian. It's fair comment that young children aren't reasonable and need more discipline than adults, but some of the treatment meted out to the engines isn't the sort of thing you'd wish on anybody, adult or child. I've just been reading the story in which the Scottish engines Donald and Douglas come to Sodor and the way they're treated come straight out of some trashy, exploitative reality TV show, with the threat of expulsion hanging over the least successful engine.

Still, at least there's no terrorist angle here - or is there?

*if such a subject existed, my three-and-a-bit-year-old son would be a Phd by now...