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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Cabin in the Woods by a Lake..... What could POSSIBLY go Wrong?
Just Finished Reading: Film Noir – A Very Short Introduction by James Naremore (FP: 2019)

Of course it was the French who started it all. Well, at least they named it. With the end of WW2 American movies flooded into once occupied Europe wowing audiences across the continent. The French, always eager to true something new, something stylish, something ‘Avant guard’ lapped up the dark brooding crime films they began calling Film Noir. As with many of these movements the now classic examples of the genre were not so classified at the time they were being made. Only much later, when the Noir style was recognised for what it was, were films seen as ‘Noir-ish’ from their inception.

But even though a Noir film could be recognised and called so the definitions of what exactly made up the genre where fluid – especially at the edges. Most film critics agreed on much of the core cannon of films but there was much disagreement regarding films that had some elements of Noir but not others. Sometimes it was as simple as asking if a Noir film should necessarily be in Black and White? The golden age of Noir, according to received wisdom, ended with the advent of colour. Then there were the genre crossovers or boundary films. Could you have a Noir Western? Are films like Bladerunner a Noir film or is it a homage or pastiche of Noir sensibilities grafted onto a Sci-Fi motif. Unfortunately these and many other similar questions cannot be definitely laid to rest.

Noir itself was an outgrowth of multiple paths: there was the hardboiled detective novels of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s the authors of which gravitated to Hollywood to boost their limited incomes and who gave the movies they worked on (not necessarily an adaptation of their own work) a certain cache, then there was the flight of directors and cinematographers fleeing from Nazi Germany and bringing with them the Avant-guard and Surrealist film making techniques that made the products so intriguing to watch in post-war French movie houses.

Of course the Noir sensibility didn’t end with the beginning of colour nor with the advances in lighting techniques (especially outside the studio and at night). Noir is, first and foremost, a way of seeing the world – both from inside the characters head and from outside via the audience. Noir is certainly a style but it is more than that. It is an attitude, a philosophical stand, a mind-set. That is why, decades after the sheen of the golden age has faded, Noir films are still being made and are still being discussed in critical circles. Just like the Night and the City (to say nothing of the eternal Femme Fatal) Noir will always be with us.

This was a delightful little book aimed directly at one of my all-time favourite things – Film Noir. I’m not entirely sure why I like this movie genre so much but I most definitely do. Even bad Noir (and Noir has more than its fair share of bad examples) has flashes of dark brilliance. The best of the genre continues to blow me away after multiple viewings. It either says much about the human condition or much about how I see the world. Whatever the truth of it Noir is probably my second movie love – with only SF holding it away from the top slot. Of course the rare combination of the two just sends me….. Long live Noir. Definitely recommended for all Noir fans, both casual and dedicated.     

Monday, October 28, 2019

Not even going to guess................ [lol]
Just Finished Reading: Hollywood – A Very Short Introduction by Peter Decherney (FP: 2016)

Narrowing the focus on my Cinema blitz read we zero in on the studio system that still produces the majority of the world’s movies 100 years after its founding. Relocated from New York (the original home of cinema) for legal, financial and climatic reasons - with more sunny days meaning more filming outside – Los Angeles, California seemed to have it all including weak labour unions. The rest, as they often say, is history, and what a history.

The famed Studio System produced some of the first global celebrities (complete with fake news stories as well as real problematic lifestyles to keep those tabloid column inches flowing), drove technological innovation in sound, colour, display and much else besides, made millions from merchandising almost from the get-go, developed a ‘code of ethics’ precise enough to time kisses and get movies through government censors forcing the use of subtle and not so subtle double-entendres (trains and tunnels come to mind for some reason) and produced some of the most memorable and cultural significant (on a global scale no less) events in modern history. Not bad, considering what they had to deal with on the way….

Not only was there rivalry between different studios but between rival technologies and rival team of lawyers fighting it out in court. There was star ‘property’ defecting to other studios, taking their erstwhile employers to court and starting up their own rival studios (as well as getting in trouble with the press and religious groups). There was the unions, strikes, so-called communist infiltration and the McCarthy witch-hunts that ended many promising careers with testimony, recriminations and blacklists. Then came television….

Skipping across the century or more of the silver screen and briefly circling a few well-chosen topics to bring out the flavour of the whole endeavour this was an interesting, if necessary brief, look at one of the most important and certainly most influential industries and industrial locations on the planet. At only 129 pages the overview was predictably shallow but I definitely learnt a few things worth following up and I’m sure that all but the hard-core Hollywood fans will too. Recommended.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Even babies 'understand concept of counting'

From The BBC

26 October 2019

Infants as young as 14 months can understand the concept of counting long before they learn the true meaning of "one, two, three", scientists say. The US researchers said toddlers who hear counting out loud appear to be able to recognise quantities. Yet most children don't understand the full meaning of number words until they are about four years old, they argue. The scientists now want to see whether early counting practice leads to better number skills later on. In the study, from Johns Hopkins University, 16 toddlers watched four toys - little dogs or cars - being hidden in a box that they could reach into without seeing the contents. Sometimes the researchers counted out loud as they dropped each toy in, saying, "Look - one, two, three, four. Four dogs." At other times, the researchers simply said: "This, this, this and this - these dogs."

When the toys were actually counted in, the babies clearly expected more than one to be pulled from the box. They didn't remember the exact number, but they did remember the approximate number, the researchers said. But when the toys were not counted, the babies became distracted after researchers pulled just one out, as though there was nothing else to see. Study author Jenny Wang said: "When we counted the toys for the babies before we hid them, they were much better at remembering how many toys there were." She said she found this "really surprising", and said it showed very young infants "have a sense that when other people are counting it is tied to the rough dimension of quantity in the world". The researchers believe counting out loud with toddlers and introducing them to counting books could help them to understand the concept well before the pre-school years. The research team now wants to see whether English-speaking babies react to counting in a foreign language. The findings are published in Developmental Science.

[OK, this is obviously a study in its very early days plus one with a VERY small sample size. I can see what they’re getting at though and it wouldn’t surprise me at all that very young children had at least the inherent capacity to count – or at the very least understand the idea of one, two, three, many. It might just be a case of them associating the sound of the numbers with multiple items whereas the word ‘this’ used multiple times might be associated with a single item called a ‘this’ rather than ‘this *dog*’ so when the first ‘this’ is pulled out they’re not expecting another one but they will be expecting a ‘two’, ‘three’ and so on. Just a thought……]

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Just Finished Reading: The History of Cinema – A Very Short Introduction by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (FP: 2017)

I have long had a love of cinema (Thanks Dad!) and over the years picked up elements of its history from various books. But I haven’t read a proper history of the medium at least for a few years so this was a great opportunity to ‘catch up’ on things.

Cinema is, of course, a technology, an industry, just as much as an art form (though calling some of its output as actual art may be stretching things a bit!). This slim volume (a mere 104 pages) manages to cover all three aspects reasonably well. I think that most people are aware of how ‘moving pictures’ developed from this static predecessors but I did find it interesting as to how many routes the process could have followed as different inventors/manufacturers used different technologies to produce the film in the first place and fought over film size, the speed it went through the camera and much else. Likewise the eventual use of sound (again with multiple competing methods) and the use of colour (and again) competed with each other and with the existing technology. Neither the use of synchronised sound nor the use of colour immediately swept its predecessor onto history’s cutting room floor. The industry we see today did not emerge fully formed – far from it. Buffeted by the winds of technology, political interference, censorship, war and basic economics – to say nothing of the invention of its great rival television – all contributed to a highly competitive business environment where only the strongest, biggest, most ruthless or well-connected studios survived. Finally there is that ever elusive idea of art. The vast majority of the early films – often only a few minutes long – had little to do with art. They were often highly experimental spectacles designed to surprise, entertain and, most importantly, make money. Art came later – before or after critics is an arguable point!

This was a most enjoyable overview of a massive industry without which the world would be a very different place. It has certainly whet my appetite for other books on the subject (over and above the next two VSI volumes) so you’ll be seeing more of them in the future. As with most of this series this has given me much to think about and much to follow up on. Another excellent addition to the series. Recommended. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Voyages of Delusion – The Search for the Northwest Passage in the Age of Reason by Glyn Williams (FP: 2002)

It HAD to be there. If only they could find it. Discovery meant fame, wealth both personally and for the Company and its shareholders and, more importantly, it would allow the British navy to dominate the Pacific in the same way that it now dominated the Atlantic. So it HAD to be there. The Northwest Passage running between the two great oceans would allow whoever could both find and defend it to shave weeks or even months off the voyages between Europe, India and the Orient which would enhance profits, undercut the commercial and political enemies of the British Empire and make her power unassailable. The search had already begun in the Hudson Bay with tantalising possibilities emerging out of the mists and between the icepacks that few ships could penetrate without difficulty. Rumours abounded – that a Spanish ship had already completed the voyage years or even decades before, that polar waters were ice free all year, the salt water simply couldn’t freeze, that native Indians had travelled days inland and had seen the Pacific ocean and returned with tales of great lakes linked by great rivers stretching across the continent. If only they could find the entrance to this interlinked system.

Despite being aware of the potential profits the secretive Hudson Bay Company was reluctant to search for the Passage themselves. They knew enough about their local environs to suspect that the Passage did not actually exist and, at every opportunity, called its existence into question. But obsessed men in London had other ideas and pressed Parliament to fund a survey of Hudson Bay beyond the area already mapped by the Company. This was the first of many private ventures and, later, Royal Navy missions sent to find the Holy Grail of navigation. Years of hardship in freezing temperatures the likes of which could scarcely be imagined, shipwreck, starvation and the ever present and mysterious scurvy, failed to blunt the search. As newly drawn maps arrived back in London, Madrid and St Petersburg the possible location of the Passage narrowed and narrowed again. But with the weather set against them for most of the year the journeys into the far North on the eastern seaboard gave way to the possibility of gaining access to the Passage on the Pacific side. The Russians had already discovered the Bering Strait and the edge of Alaska which showed great promise. To discover more the great navigator of the age – Captain James Cook – was sent to investigate the west coast north of Spanish California. After many months of travel and many more months of exploration and coastal mapping a few tantalising hints were found but there was no sight of the fabled inlet spoken of in awe in old Spanish texts. It was left to Captain George Vancouver to undertake the tedious task of mapping every twist of the western coast and the exploration of every river or estuary heading inland. Time and again hope turned to disappointment as the towering mountain chain (later known as the Rocky Mountains) seemed to be impenetrable. With ever more detailed treks inland failing to uncover any great east-west navigable watercourses hope of the true Northwest Passage began to fade and finally the much talked about earlier voyages were seen as fantasy and hoax. 

This is a brilliantly told tale of one of the driving obsessions of the 17th and 18th centuries in the seafaring nations of Europe. With competing expeditions from Britain, France, Spain and Russia a great deal of effort, time and gold was spent trying to find something that did not exist. In the Age of Enlightenment this was a very strange phenomena indeed but the author shows just how this drive came about and what sustained it for so long despite so many setbacks. Not only a fascinating tale of geographical exploration but also an interesting insight into the European mind of the time. Definitely recommended for naval history buffs. (R)

Coming next: The Cinema Book Blitz.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Banning out-of-hours email 'could harm employee wellbeing'

From The BBC

18 October 2019

Banning staff from accessing their work emails outside office hours could do more harm than good to employee wellbeing, a study suggests. University of Sussex researchers found while a ban could help some staff switch off, it could also stop people achieving work goals, causing stress. Companies are increasingly curbing email use to tackle burnout. France has even legislated on the issue. But human resources body CIPD said it agreed with the university's findings. According to the research, strict policies on email use could be harmful to employees with "high levels of anxiety and neuroticism".

That was because such employees needed to feel free to respond to a "growing accumulation of emails", or they could end up feeling even more stressed and overloaded, the researchers said. Dr Emma Russell, a senior lecturer in management at the University of Sussex Business School, said despite the best intentions of policies limiting email use, a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided. "[Blanket bans] would be unlikely to be welcomed by employees who prioritise work performance goals and who would prefer to attend to work outside of hours if it helps them get their tasks completed. People need to deal with email in the way that suits their personality and their goal priorities in order to feel like they are adequately managing their workload." Companies to have restricted email use include German carmaker Volkswagen, which has configured its servers so emails can be sent to employees' phones from half an hour before the working day begins to half an hour after it ends only and not at all during weekends. And, last year, Lidl bosses in Belgium banned all internal email traffic between 18:00 and 07:00 to help staff clear their minds and enjoy time off.

Governments are now looking at implementing the policies more widely. A law passed in France in 2017 requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails, although some doubt everyone will follow the rules. And, earlier this year, New York City discussed proposals to become the first city in the US to grant employees the "right to disconnect" after work. At the time, Rafael L Espinal Jr, who proposed the idea, said: "Technology has really blurred the lines between our work hours and personal time." But, on Thursday, CIPD head of public policy Ben Willmott told BBC News: "Simply banning the use of emails out of hours may actually make some people more stressed because they would like to, or need to, work flexibly. Employers need to provide clear guidance on remote working, including on the use of email and other forms of digital communication, to ensure that if people are accessing emails out of hours they are doing so because it suits them."

[Every time I get an e-mail at work either sent over the weekend or particularly early/late in the day I challenge it – even if it comes from the Boss. I ask if they’re being paid for this extra work or simply why they’re sending e-mails during what should be their down time. I remind them that ultimately no one will thank them for their extra work, that they are normalising working for free (and therefore pressurising others to do likewise) and that doing so damages their health, relationships and probably much else besides. I raised this issue when we became a more mobile organisation by being given personal business laptops and mobile phones. I see it more and more that people shrug when I remind them that they’re working outside their contracted hours. I’m amazed at just how many people don’t seem to care. Weird.] 

...and I'm BACK!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton (FP: 2011)

I still chuckle over the fact that one of my lecturers in University commonly referred to me as ‘comrade’ in his seminars. After he’d said it a few times I challenged him on why he was calling me that. “Well”, he said, “You’re a Communist aren’t you?” at which point I laughed – a lot. I am most definitely Left of centre (or for my American readers *Far* Left – LOL) and readily refer to myself as a Socialist. Part of my reading over the past few years, including this volume, was to test that assertion by reading Left leaning texts and gauging my level of agreement (or otherwise). So far my reading has hardly caused a ripple of disturbance in my political viewpoint. I am still happy with the Socialist label. I am not, however, a Marxist (or indeed a Communist).

I freely admit that I have not read any of Marx’s works and am only aware of his ideas through books like this one and, naturally, the incessant anti-Marxist rhetoric from most Western leaders throughout the Cold War and beyond. I first really studied his thought in school during my 2 year Sociology A level. After that I could confidently analyse just about any subject from a Marxist perspective and indeed, during my University years, publically challenged visiting lecturers on their Marxist perspectives on issues of the day. Yes, I was *that* student. I’m starting to see why some people had a certain political view of me……

Naturally being of the Left I have an interest in, a sympathy for and an admiration of Marx and his work. Despite not being a follower of Marx I am somewhat of a fan. Marx was one of the most diamond sharp critics of Capitalism and, despite rumours to the contrary, still is. As this book rightly points out – as long as Capitalism exists there will be Marxism to critique it. The death of Marxism (post-Soviet Union) has been greatly and, mostly successfully, exaggerated. Addressing the most common myths of Marxism – the first being that it is safely dead – the author steadily goes through the list and does a very good job of debunking each in turn. Interestingly I did find some of my views of Marxism challenged by this book and, it seems, my ideas on the subject seem to be at least tinged with Western propaganda. I’ll see how this stands up to scrutiny in upcoming books on Marxism.
Generally I found myself nodding along as the author laid out the case for a living breathing Marxism in the 21st century. But a few things did leave me sceptical if not outright incredulous. Now we all know that Marx thought the Revolution would happen in one of the two most advanced Capitalist countries of his time – England or Germany. He never imagined that it could happen in a backward place like Russia and would have heaped scorn on the idea that the final stages of Communism could emerge in either a single country or in a predominantly agricultural one. The Russian ‘experiment’, the author maintains, failed (in Marxist terms) because the preconditions for Revolution either did not exist or where so poor that dictatorship was pretty much inevitable. That I can just appreciate. What I have a much more difficult time with was the assertion that the Bolshevik Revolution was almost bloodless. You could probably get away with this statement if, and only if, you restricted the ‘revolution’ to a few days in St Petersburg. The initial ‘coup’, the seizure of political power, was indeed almost bloodless but the Revolution that grew out of it (even putting aside the years of subsequent Civil War) was anything but. The actions taken to protect the revolution and to prevent the anticipated counter-revolution drenched the country in blood. The excuse that the Bolshevik’s where only protecting themselves against enemies both foreign and domestic who were dedicated to destroying them is a poor excuse for the levels of barbarity we are now unfortunately all too familiar with.

It is very arguable that the Russian Revolution was in essence a perversion of Marxist thought and, from that point of view, should never have happened or should not have been able to sustain itself for so long. The fact that it did has, I think, done a great deal of damage to Marxist thought. This I think is a great pity. Marxism is still, even after so long after its inception, a serious and quite possibly devastating critique of the Capitalist worldview. I may still not call myself a Marxist but I am more than happy to think of myself as an admirer. Recommended for anyone who wanted to know more about Marx but was afraid to ask – plus for anyone wanting to frighten anyone who sees you reading this in public.

Monday, October 07, 2019

The Horror….. The Horror……

I’ve never exactly been a huge fan of the Horror genre. OK, I grew up with the classics from the 40’s and 50’s with Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman but these are barely Horror – especially by today’s standards. Maybe this early exposure inoculated me to the later copious outpourings of gore that erupted across movie screens in the 70’s, 80’s and beyond.

I think my enjoyment of horror was essentially ruined by my sceptical nature. I couldn’t understand why people would scare themselves on purpose especially when the scares where remotely projected onto a movie screen. Whenever I happened across such a movie I keep repeating “this isn’t real”, “this couldn’t happen” and “jeeze has no one here seen zombie movies before? Just shoot them in the head why don’t you?” It probably explains why I enjoy Horror spoof movies like ‘Love at First Bite’ and the ‘Scary Movie’ series much more that Horror movies themselves. Likewise I’ve never enjoyed needless gore. I’ve laughed more than once at the literal buckets of blood that some movies seem to use. Again such things were more suited to the spoof than to the serious Horror movie. So called ‘Body Horror’ either had such bad special effects as to be laughable (again) or grossed me out and being made to feel sick has never been high on my list of entertainment forms.

Films that make you jump are on the cheap side of Horror. It’s pretty easy to get someone there but after the first few jumps the whole process starts to wear off. The only way to reset things is to calm (in other words bore) the audience into a more relaxed state before introducing the next jump – which makes for a pretty boring movie. The slasher gene never appealed either. The whole genre seemed to be based on men (dead, supernatural or otherwise) killing women and/or teenagers in more and more gruesome (or ridiculous) ways as the movie progressed. Seeing people killed in inventive ways is, in my opinion, hardly the height (or even the middle) of entertainment. I can’t help wondering what an alien or someone from the future would think of this sort of thing being entertainment. It has the feel of not being too far removed from throwing criminals to the lions in ancient Rome. Oh, how far we've come!

There have been a few movies that generally scared me. The Shinning scared the crap out of me both as a movie and as a book. As far as I know it’s the only book that I’ve read where I was almost too afraid the turn the page to find out what happened next – nothing good I was betting. Reading it was a weird experience and isn’t one that I would actively go looking for again. Being scared is not a good feeling. Being relieved from fear at the end of the book or film is all very well but I would much prefer not being scared as part of the process. I know some people ‘get off’ on it but I am not one of those people.

Of course as a SF fan there’s quite a bit of cross-over between Sci-Fi and Horror. ‘Alien’ was primarily a Horror movie in space. ‘Aliens’ (a much better film in my view) is primarily a combat SF movie with Horror elements. Oddly, after all of the above, one of my favourite genres in both movies, TV and books is Vampires. I do find them quite fascinating and although they ‘live’ primarily in the Horror genre I don’t view them in the same way as the rest of it. There’s certainly a fair share of gore for the obvious reason but even that doesn’t bother me overly much. Vampires have something much more going for them. It certainly isn’t their supposed hyper-sexuality (being undead has its drawbacks it seems) but more for their immortality – or rather e-mortality – and how they cope with the idea that they cannot (easily anyway) die. The whole idea intrigues me……

Generally Horror leaves me cold as the grave. It seems pointless to me but I doubt very much if it’s going the fade away any time soon. I’ve heard that no Horror film (no matter how bad) has ever lost money. Somehow I can believe that to be true. It’s just not for me.       

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Biggest NHS flu campaign under way

By Nick Triggle, BBC Health correspondent

4 October 2019

About 30 million people - nearly half the UK population - are being offered the flu vaccine, in the biggest winter vaccination campaign the NHS has seen. For the first time, all primary school pupils can have the vaccination free. Alongside children - so-called super-spreaders - the over-65s, pregnant women and those with existing illnesses will also be offered the vaccine. Meanwhile, the government said it was confident the flu campaign would not be disrupted by a possible no-deal Brexit.

Manufacturers have been asked to ensure all supplies are in the UK by 31 October, when the UK is set to leave the EU. Normally, deliveries continue into November and December. Currently, only one supplier - Sanofi - has indicated this deadline will be missed. And one delivery, of one million doses for people with long-term conditions, will not be shipped until November. But Sanofi added it had contingency plans in place in case of problems using the Dover port - and was prepared to fly the doses in if necessary. Ministers have also ordered extra supplies from another manufacturer in case of difficulties.

England's deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan van Tam, said there had been "robust" planning and he was confident there would not be any problems for those who chose to be vaccinated. "We do recognise it is an extraordinary year - that is why we have taken the steps we have," he said. But Prof Van Tam also dismissed suggestions the UK was set for a bad flu season. It has been reported Australia, which is coming to the end of its flu season, has struggled and, as a result, the UK could follow suit. But Prof Van Tam said flu was "unpredictable" and the latest evidence suggested flu cases had peaked earlier than normal in Australia, sparking alarm.

It is only in the past six years the flu vaccine has been offered to healthy children, via a nasal spray, and this year marks the first time it will be available to all year groups at primary school across the UK. The flu programme was extended to children because they are more likely to spread the virus between themselves and on to older, more vulnerable family members. Primary pupils can have the vaccine in school, while the other groups can use pharmacies and GPs. People not in one of the target groups can pay privately to be vaccinated if they wish.

Prof Yvonne Doyle, of Public Health England, urged people to come forward for the vaccine - the NHS was able to vaccinate less than half of those in some of the target groups last year. "Some people think the flu is like the common cold. It's not. It can be a really serious illness and can be deadly for some," she said. About 1,700 deaths last year were linked to flu. Dr Jim McMenamin, of Health Protection Scotland, said: "Getting the vaccine only takes a few minutes and helps to provide protection from flu for around a year."

[After having flu twice now I have vowed to do everything I can never to have it again, so I’m getting my flu shot next Thursday at my local supermarket pharmacy. I’m have to pay for it (only around £12) but it’s worth every penny of this nominal payment. I can totally believe that flu is a killer from my experience with the disease when I was sitting up in bed, at 3am, running a stupidly high temperature (which I’d been running for several days at least) honestly thinking that this is how people die. Well, that’s an experience I’d really not have again. Here’s hoping…….!] 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Just Finished Reading: Steel From the Sky – Behind Enemy Lines in German-Occupied France (The Jedburgh Raiders, France 1944) by Roger Ford (FP: 2004)

With the planned Invasion of Europe almost upon them the senior leaders within the Allied Powers conceived of a bold plan. For years, not long after the fall of France, both British and French operatives had been working in the occupied territories gather intelligence, forming relationships with various resistance cells and offering help with training and weapons were possible. Now, with the end in sight they needed something more proactive, something more robust, and something more recognisable as military intervention. So the Jedburgh Raiders were born.

Picked from volunteers with a knowledge of French and a taste for adventure each 3 man team was made up (with a few exceptions) of one Britain, one American and one Frenchman who dropped behind enemy lines in the months following D-Day with orders to harass the (often retreating) enemy, prevent Axis demolition efforts, distribute arms to all those willing and able to carry them and aid the Allied forces on the ground once they reached them. Around 100 teams embarked from Britain or Algeria over several months and operated in France to varying effect from a period of days to months. Surprisingly, given the nature of their mission, most Jedburgh’s survived the war and one of which was instrumental in the foundation of the CIA.

Although the quality of the men (and their equipment) was generally very high this could not be said about some of the planning, logistics or delivery of the teams themselves. A number of raiders were injured or killed during the drops often to avoidable accidents. In some cases the reception committee in France itself had no idea they were coming. Messages for supply drops – especially of weapons – were too often ignored either because of code errors, faulty radio equipment or for purely political reasons when it was decided that too many weapons in the hands of the resistance only meant future headaches for whatever government took charge post-occupation. Despite all of this some sterling work was done by the teams – often with huge obstacles to overcome – resulting in an impressive number of Axis troops killed or captured, ammo dumps destroyed, communications rendered useless and possible invasion counter moves delayed or (often literally) derailed.

This was definitely as aspect of the liberation of France that I had not come across before. I obviously knew about D-Day and the Allied forces push across France, I knew about co-ordinated resistance efforts to assist in their own liberation but I didn’t know anything about this aspect of the fight involving both SOE and OSS (plus French secret service and SAS units) as part of the fight. I also didn’t realise, until reading this book, just how long the fighting went on and how intense some of it was. I previously had the impression that Allies invade, Axis fall back and just like that France was free. Nothing could be further from the truth. In some places the Germans and their allies melted away in the face of Allied advances but in other locations they only surrendered after the fall of Germany itself.

Whilst generally interesting the book did, I feel, have one serious flaw. For understandable reasons the author selected to tell the story of the Jedburgh’s region by region and team by team. This meant much repetition of Team X, leaving airfield Y, landing at zone Z and completing missions A, B and C. As a resource book (very little had been written about this aspect of the war prior to its publication) it’s important if not invaluable to get this information in print for those who follow the authors lead. However, coming into the topic cold as I did, the format undermined any idea or possibility of a compelling narrative to the Jedburgh story. Certainly interesting (and important) but not exactly a page-turner. (R) 

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

"If there is indeed a human nature, then this is in some ways good news, whatever the postmodernists might think. This is because one fairly consistent feature of that nature has been a resistance to injustice. This is one reason why it is foolish to imagine that the idea of human nature must always work in conservative ways. Surveying the historical record, it is not hard to conclude that political oppression has almost always incited rebellion, however subdued or unsuccessful. There is something in humanity which will not bow meekly to the insolence of power. It is true that power only really succeeds by winning the collusion of its underlings. The evidence, however, is that this collusion is usually partial, ambiguous and provisional. Ruling classes are generally more tolerated than admired. If our nature is purely cultural, then there is no reason why political regimes should not mould us into accepting their authority without question. That they often find this extraordinarily difficult to do testifies to sources of resistance which run deeper than local cultures."

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (2011)   

Cartoon Time.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Isn't that the Addams house????

Welcome to Monsters & Horror Month here @ SaLT. Be Afraid.... Be VERY Afraid..... [lol]