Friday, January 27, 2006

Lost post from 21/7/05

Security at airports has always been a high priority in the UK, quite important in Europe and is now even done in the US. It is done best on Israeli El Al flights. This is because El Al is Arabic for "Bomb me!"

But things are getting more like that. Hand luggage going to the UK from Europe gets X-rayed twice, customs officers have pistols and the police patrol with guns that could take out a tank. The door marked El Al is guarded by soldiers.

The easyJet check-in area is the last line of check-in desks at the far end of the last of the departures halls. If their status were any lower there, the check-in would be a broom closet in the basement marked, "Do Not Enter."

Today more bombs went off in London. That is to say some detonators went off but it looks like someone forgot the bombs. Somewhere Al-Arry is poking Mo(hammed) and saying "Why you numbskull!"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

New: Review Section

All reviews have now been copied to the Review Blog at aka More About Things. Alas comments are not copied and those three valued comments will have to remain here. From Now on reviews will only appear in the review section to free up this blog for more personal things. As ever please send objectsions to this and other schemes to

5 Things to not dump at sea

1. Toxic Chemicals
2. Radioactive Waste
3. Oil
4. Radioactive Oil
5. Girlfriends

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Low Resolutions

The answer to my question, "What was the collective Dutch hope for the new year?" was answered in today's Amsterdam Metro [9/1/06]. "Nederlanders wil korte, dikke kroket." The Dutch want short, fat croquettes. Croquettes (or kroketten), for those of you not aware of this delicacy for which the Dutch have a particular fondness, is a block or cylinder of liquified foodstuffs fried in breadcrumbs.

This is the results of the Big Croquette Survey recently undertaken, presumably by the krokettenministerie. The important findings also included other items of national importance, such as most croquettes are eaten at home at lunch time in a sandwich. If also discovered that only 1% of all the people asked knew that the average crockette contains horse-meat. This was also a surprise to me. I didn't realise the gunk in a croquette was actually meat.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gee Whiz Bang

Old Years night is when Amsterdam has a distinct Baghdad feel. Every corner there are explosions and the sky lights up with great explosions. These are caused by fireworks, those Weapons of Mass Diversion. Families set rockets off in the street, children throw bangers randomly and people with far too much money launch enough gunpowder into the air to demolish as small town.

Every year, there is a remembrance service for the people who died when a fireworks factory exploded one day in Enschede. People are stilted and say things like it is wrong to have a fireworks factory in the middle of a town. Then a few months later, people are setting big fireworks off in narrow streets, narrowly missing passers by with no hint of irony.

I am always surprised that every year there is not a huge death-toll after a typical Dutch new years. But no. The papers this year carried a report of 4 deaths that night. One due to a firework landing in someone's face, two more in a family feud over fireworks and one more which was gang-related by the look of it. One direct death due to firework abuse. I don't count the gangland killing as it was probably unrelated to fireworks, and if members of one family were able to kill each other over fireworks, then they were probably ready to kill each other over pretty much anything.

There were other fatalities, only one of which was reported. This was of a small bird which was cowering in a bird house away from the noise when some stupid kid popped a banger in. Result was not pretty. And given how severely this country looks down on people who kill birds (they are one notch below terrorists and people who fiddle TV ratings), it wasn't a clever thing to do. No doubt a full police investigation is underway.

So fireworks as it appears are pretty safe. It's more dangerous to be a member of a feuding family.

Most dangerous career of 2005 was clearly being a Chinese mine worker. A career in which nearly 6000 people popped their clogs last year. Anyway, I'm off home to make a firework bed, because nobody has ever died of cot death in a firework bed. That's my theory, anyway.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Book Review: Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Neglected anti-war classic that could have been called "Farewell To Arms, Legs and Face."
Who is or was Dalton Trumbo you may well ask? Well he was the writer behind some classic films including Spartacus and Papillon. He was also one of the many writers, directors and performers blacklisted by a paranoid regime in Hollywood during the 50s. He also wrote books.

Johnny Got His Gun was written shortly before the Second World War and is set during the First World War. Aka The Great War; Aka The War to End All Wars. But actually this isn’t really the setting, as the entire book is set inside one man's head. One man who wakes up confused and has to work out from data (or, more often, lack of data) that he has lost both arms, both legs, his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The book mingles dream-like memories of his bodied life with the coming to terms of being trapped inside his own new body.

It is written as a stream of (barely) consciousness, with very little punctuation to interrupt the thoughts. In fact I didn't find a single comma in the whole 240 pages. It's a much easier read than the lack of punctuation implies. However, the subject is NOT easy digest.

The book brilliantly explores what happens to a mind isolated from the outside world except for a sense of touch, pain and of vibration. What happens? It has no choice but to think, to latch on to every piece of information it is lucky enough to get, and to be patient. What it can’t prevent is the slow drift towards a kind of frustrated mania obsessing about every idea it has. At points it is a great amplified description of what goes on in the mind of a writer, or other person who tends towards thinking rather than doing.

Johnny Got His Gun is a book against war, and even ends up being a pro-revolutionary polemic arguing for rising up against those who would send innocent young men and women off to be killed in the name of intangible ideas. But what other conclusion could the mind of a previously healthy twenty-year-old man come to, after finding that all that is left of him is his brain and his brain has almost no way to communicate with the outside world?

Towards the end of the book, Joe does find a way to communicate. But he has been trapped for so many years with only himself to talk to, that he sends out the same stream of consciousness that has been his monologue for years. His early patience has been replaced by a desperation. Even he can only conclude they think he has gone mad.

I loved this book. It was clever, insightful, inciteful, and gripping. A book against the terrors of war, without describing war very much. In fact most of the anecdotes about times at or near the battlefront were darkly amusing or even whimsical. The horror of war for Joe Bonham was not the actual war itself, but the terrible, isolated aftermath. And the fact that it should be allowed to happen at all.

At the end, you are feeling Joe’s desperation to be heard, but instead of the opening of a communication channel being his salvation, it is something other than that. We are left with the conclusion that to the outside world he seems mad and probably not worth continuing the communication with. Or even worth keeping alive.

This is an amazing book for its feat of taking you into a mind locked in that cruellest of cells – ones own practically dead body; tortured by that most evil of mental tortures – being allowed almost no sensory input and no movement; and having been put there by that most prolific dispenser of unjust punishment - War.

Rating: 5 dismembered limbs up.