Saturday, April 26, 2008

Toby's post

I just happened to have my hand on my camera when we went down to the off-lead dog park today:

Sorry for the crass cliche.
(But not very.)


Friday, April 25, 2008

Sunshine and stitching

Last night we had a Moroccan dinner feast. Partly inspired by the remainder middle-eastern cookbook I bought last weekend, Diana Henry's Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons -- and partly because I saw beautiful pomegranates in the market and took a gamble that they would be perfect and juicy inside.

Aren't they lovely?

We had roast chicken with sumac, lemon, olive oil and pomegranate seeds; potatoes with garlic, lemon and oregano; grean beans; and sauted red cabbage with fennel. Followed by baked quinces and mascarpone. With lemons in season and ripening daily in the garden, the idea was to start with lemons and work from there. Mmm.

There's been a lot of sewing going on lately, most of it discussed over at Taccolina, but here are a couple of highlights.

Picture postcards made from fabric scraps - no plan, no pattern, just whatever comes to mind at the time...

Colourful sherbet blue-and pink baby quilt, all ready to pop in the post on Monday:

Do you like my glamorous assistant?

There are lots of photos over at Flickr, and sewing chat on the blog.


Water wall

As a relief from the long posts, here's a picture!

This is the Water Wall in the front of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International on St Kilda Road. A rather strange monolithic building it works well as a gallery, and everyone enjoys the water wall, especially the small kids watching the sculptures.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Airport Security, the joke without a punchline

I was lucky enough to read this ABC blog on the lunacy that is the nature of the so-called security measures that make most airline travel pointlessly miserable.

The poster of that blog makes several cogent points, right down to the concept that our safety really lies in our own hands; rather than relying on someone else to do it for us. Alert, on the ball passengers, supported by a well thought out security system is a viable solution to the challenge of terrorism, or just as much a risk, unstable people.

What we have instead is a bunch of pointless bottlenecks which mainly provide obstacles for a subversive to circumnavigate - rather like the higher levels of PacMan, and about as up to date and likely to challenge the average 12 year old. The utter absurdity of measures to stop guns getting onto airliners and then getting some hopeless 'Sky Marshall' onto the flight carrying a gun where he (or she) will be so useful against a group of dedicated terrorists... You may as well replace them with a weapon vending machine next to the toilet. Don't even mention the Aussie lunatic who tried to crash a domestic flight carrying Two. Wooden. Stakes. Brave passanger and steward sorted that one.

I'm sure most of us are well aware of the issues faced by the passengers. You might not be aware that the pilots and other aircrew are as frustrated by the fiddling about and non-secure security measures which affect them. They sound off about it here.

At least they don't have to accept a ticket, 8/10th of which is small print denying you of just about any normal rights we assume as human beings - let alone 'customers'.

Meanwhile, General Aviation around the world is suffering from the need to lock up all airfields everywhere. The days of kids being able to turn up on their pushbikes and help out in hangars seem to be over, and some clown with a badge makes sure anyone likely to have fun on an airfield has their day spoilt. General aviation is where the airline pilots start; it's where the idea that you can travel, see the world, go as you please has flourished in tough conditions. It's getting a tough ride even in the US with an ironic report showing that general aviation accidents have been on a downturn - great - but that's because there are fewer people flying less often. In actual terms (accident per flying hours) the numbers are up. Security and statistics.

The US regulators, like so many other bureaucrats, have worked out that the best way to stop accidents is to just stop people moving around. High ho for the safe, secure padded cell. That would be the end in one way, but the cherry on top would be the piped 'security announcements' I'm sure they'd relay in to your cell with the soft walls. Our last Qantas captain was very Australian. "You are all sensible passengers I'm sure. I am required to tell you not to gather by the toilets at the rear of the aircraft. This is an American Homeland Security Requirement. Thank you, now carry on as before." He'd presumably triggered off the mic before adding 'Security Drongoes.'

I look forward to travelling, because arriving's now the point. The hopeful traveller is beaten out of you by fat, stupid security drones who couldn't catch a cold let alone someone required over the PA as "Paging Mr Al Kyder" and while I have, as Molesworth sa '0 intrest in modn av' my world map is built around good and bad airports. LAX (Los Angeles Airport) is a pit that should be the shame of the US (The JDK award for Worst First World Airport, has been won several years in a row by this excrescence in California) while Heathrow has managed to excel itself in confusion with the grand opening by Betty II of the new Terminal 5 after which the whole house of cards collapsed so badly that they had to even fire some of the suits. The similarity of US and UK cultures can be found in this particular pit of gross human failure to organise. A David Attenborough programme on the topic would be interesting. "Why these creatures move this way remains a mystery. But they do, futilely walking in ever slower circles until exhaustion and death claims them..."

And that's just the airport management.

Thankfully our local, Melbourne Tullamarine is that rare thing - an airport with more facilities than it needs, and it's the end of the line, rather than a hub. Likewise Vancouver gets top marks from us, when travelling through. Maybe it's smelling the maple or gum trees of home that give them something special?

Once airline travel was romantic, and amazing (and thunderingly expensive - well out of our reach). Reading up on the tragic accidents of the 1920s and 30s quickly disillusion you of the realities of how safe aircraft are today compared to then. Still I'll always be after a flying boat flight.

Flying as fun. What a quaint idea!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A good day

Need I say much more?

Not just the library, but ALSO the Booktalk Cafe, where they exchange your old books for credit, which you can to buy secondhand or remaindered books. I scored big at the credit counter, with a bag full of old books - so after a brunch to calm my excitement, I hit the shelves.

The strange thing is, even when I get a whopper of credit, I still never get out of there for less than $20.

Go figure.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Finding HMAS Sydney & thoughts on real history

In November 1941, HMAS Sydney, the Cruiser which was the pride of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), was overdue in port.

She never arrived.

German survivors started to appear in lifeboats on the Western Australian coast and other German lifeboats were picked up by merchant ships, and they told of a battle with an Australian Cruiser where their ship, the armed raider HSK Kormoran had been scuttled afterwards, the Australian Cruiser disappearing in flames over the horizon.

Every member of Sydney's 645 crew were lost at sea. Initially the Australian government imposed a news blackout, and only in 1947, two years after the war's end, six years after the event, were some relatives told that their men were not 'missing' but 'believed killed'.

How could an armed merchantman sink a powerful naval ship, without any survivors? What really happened? To this day, the only eyewitness accounts of the battle come from the crew of the Kormoran.

Without facts, speculation and rumour filled the gaps - there was a cover up; the Germans had broken the rules of war; machine-gunned Sydney survivors; a Japanese submarine was involved (this was only days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and on Kota Baru, in Malaysia). The end of the war didn't lessen the interest in 'what really happened' but there were scant facts. A Carly Float, riddled with holes was found with the body of a seaman aboard; probably from the Sydney, but the Japanese attacks were more urgent that an investigation. Today, the float is on show in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Multiple books were published on the matter; one claiming the Germans did everything wrong, another taking their view as gospel; a third balancing the evidence, but unable to draw a conclusion. The RAN official history threw doubt on the competence of the captain.

(Even here it is not possible to outline all the details; see the links at the bottom for further details - but it is worth noting that the Kormoran was pretending to be a Dutch merchantman.)

After a couple of false alarms, one as recent at 2007, finally it was announced that both HSK Kormoran and HMAS Sydney had been found, by the Sydney Search foundation. It was an amazing achievement, given the scarcity of the data, a huge ocean, and the Sydney wreck lying at two and a half kilometres (1.2 miles) depth. An announcement was made by the Australian Prime Minister, and people started to talk about how the finding the wreck would 'bring closure' to Sydney's crew's families; and that all the questions would be answered.

But real history is not like that. Accounts of traumatic events vary, even without the nature of war being involved, causing omission, bias and lies or propoganda to be included. A secret record by Kormoran's Captain, Detmers (fascinatingly, and just like in the best spy stories, it was made by pencil dots below letters in a German dictionary, while Detmers was a prisoner of war in Australia) is a very likely an honest account, but even in that case, there must be cautions over what he might record as against what he actually did.

The Finding Sydney Foundation released photographs and video of the wrecks, attached to a blog, and endorsed and supported by all the appropriate bodies. They were able to show numerous items of evidence, including, tellingly, the Sydney's lifeboats on the sea floor, in the wreck's debris field.

The Sydney's crest, handpainted on the lifeboat's bows is still bright.

More tellingly still is that Sydney was found because David Mearns, the shipwreck hunter, chose to find HSK Kormoran first, and then find Sydney from there. Essentially, the wrecks confirm everything that can about Detmers' account of the battle, and lay numerous questions, such as the existence of the Japanese submarine (Kormoran's torpedo tubes were found) or the machine-gunning of the lifeboats to rest.

An ABC TV documentary, The Hunt for HMAS Sydney was quickly put together and aired last night. It covered the story well enough, but lacked analysis, and it ducked one, fundamental question, we will come to at the end.

It is clear that Syndey was overwhelmed by Kormoran's close, accurate fire. Early salvos by Kormoran destroyed the bridge (compass platform) killed the senior officers and crippled the ship's 'brain'. Raging fires and shell splinters would have killed or maimed the majority of the upper deck crew, and multiple hits in the hull killed many below. Sydney's bow was fatally weakened, and probably unexpectedly detached; perhaps with the ship still under way. The ship would has suddenly sunk; anyone (probably injured) left on the surface would be unlikely to survive more than hours.

Many questions have not been answered. Some never will be. The first question is simply why do so many authoritative sources state the facts of the engagement without being clear that the basis of them are from a partisan eyewitness account? Just because Detmers' account has been confirmed, as far as is possible, does not excuse this.

On the Finding Sydney expedition was an official RAN Historian Observer; Lieutenant John Perryman, RANR. As he acutely pointed out in the TV film; "Nobody knows what was going through Captain Burnett's mind as he approached Kormoran."

The over-riding question is why did Captain Joseph Burnett allow Sydney to get so close to Kormoran that his advantages of firepower, armour, speed and manoeuvrability were all negated? Subsidiary questions follow. Why did Sydney not overwhelm Kormoran as soon as the German Ensign was flown? If what happened matches the German accounts (which everything else does) then the Germans were able to reveal their hidden guns, train them on Sydney, and fire effective salvoes all before Sydney's guns (already trained on Kormoran) fired or made any hits. After fire was opened, Detmers was able to aim and launch two torpedoes at Sydney - probably the ship's fatal blow.

Why did Captain Burnett not use his Supermarine Walrus spotter aircraft, and thus avoid closing with Kormoran at all? One of the odd aspects of the German accounts was they state the Walrus' engine was running while it was on its catapult but it was not launched before being hit by gunfire and wrecked. Why have the engine running so late, when the Walrus was no longer of use? (Had it been airborne, it might have made the Australian coast and enabled an early enough and precise enough rescue to save some of the men.)

It seems that over an hour and a half, Detmers' managed to lull Sydney's captain into a false sense of security and tempted the Captain to get far too closer to the German ship. The only other explanation is that Detmers' revealed and fired his guns while still under the colours of Holland; a war crime, rather than a legitimate ruse du guerre. Even so, how can the Germans have wrecked Sydney, hit her bridge and effectively won a battle (although their ship had to be scuttled) when they were already, in theory, covered by the Sydney's guns.

While Detmers' account has been validated as far as is possible, and Burnett was a highly-regarded and successful Captain, questions remain about the actions of both men in this battle. This is sadly all to normal an issue for those in command of a ship, particularly at war. It was a Royal Navy Admiral, of the 1750s, John Byng, who was shot, and gave rise to Voltaire's expression 'pour encourager les autres.' It is easy to draw conclusions, and to criticise, but hard to avoid error or be always successful.

Finding the wrecks was a great achievement, and like everything so far, the evidence continues to support the accuracy of the German accounts. Yet there is no neat solution, no (as the media love today) 'smoking gun'. The ABC programme avoided the question, and just laid out other facts and the story of the discovery, and this failed in delivering the full story.

Unlike the ABC, the AWM published an excellent essay, by Peter Stanley that highlights the issues and tackles the problems with loss, memory and the realities of history.

This is real history, where some questions are unlikely to ever be answered, and people die because of a moment's carelessness or accident, and it's not neat, with a nice wrapped up 'end'.


HMAS Sydney's crew, with the previous Captain, John Collins.
A high resolution version of the photograph can be found here.

Some key accounts, aditional to the above links:
RAN Sea Power Centre, Loss of HMAS Sydney.
Australian Government War At Sea Website.

The AWM Pages on the HMAS Sydney - Kormoran action.
And the voluminous papers that survive. Despite the welter of data (given in shelf kilometres in some accounts) some persist in believing in a government cover up.
Australian Archives Guide to papers on HMAS Sydney.

(Photos are from the cited websites, apart from the Carley Float and model Walrus, taken by James.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Swinging skyward

Recently, James and I went to an airshow up at Albruy, with friends Charlotte and Richard.

This will not surprise you - airshows being James' bag, but the bit that I want to report was the hangar dance, the night before the show.

It was a charity event, 1940s retro-style, with the air force band in their dapper uniforms sending up swing hits and doing their best impersonation of Frank Sinatra and his band.

With about 500 people in a large cleared-out hangar, and some aircraft on the pad (oh, I'll be in trouble for not remembering exactly what types...), and gorgeous setting sun just after we arrived, it was a vintage night.

There was a fine dinner, and a load of girls in Scottish togs playing bagpipes, and a costume competition, and more. James even (shh) - danced.

Many fantastic photos can be found at the official website.

I hear the boys loved the airshow too. At least, when we picked up two tired, hungry, slightly sunburned and very happy men with overheating cameras, that would be the description I would give of their state.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reflections in puddles

Yesterday morning, the light was amazing when I stepped out to walk Toby...

This is a house that has been extended, and is almost complete. Just waiting for the painters, but I like the regularity of the patches over the nails.

I like the texture on this wall - and it was reflected in the sky, with rushing clouds and threatening rain. Do you like the fish ornament on the front of the house?

And the Norfolk pine behind:

Lovely light turning all the bricks bright red:

-And all the dogs from the street showing that they know what to do when someone yells "Bacon bits!"

.. and then it's back to the regular business of play in the park...

Have a good weekend!