27 December 2011

Blood Count: book reviews

Blood CountBlood Count by Robert Goddard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edward Hammond is a surgeon who once, for a large fee, performed a liver transplant on Dragan Gazi, a gangster who was later on trial for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. He is about to go on holiday when Gazi's daughter approaches him an blackmails him into searching for the accountant who controls Gazi's fortune. If he does not fulfil the request, she says, Gazi will reveal that part of his payment was the morder of Hammond's estranged wife Kate, who was indeed murdered by unknown assailants shortly after Hammond's return from Belgrade, where he had performed the surgery.

It does not appear to have occurred to Hammond that he could have gone to the police straightaway, and told them that he had new information relating to his wife's murder. But of course if he had, there would have been no story, or a very different one.

As with most of Goddard's novels, actions of mysteries of the past come back to haunt characters in the present, and this one is as good as most of Goddard's novels, where nothing is as it seems, and the shiftina alliances and loyalties of the characters keep one guessing to the end.

View all my reviews

20 December 2011

Alarm as Dutch lab creates highly contagious killer flu

The most alarming thing I found about this article was this paragraph, where the irony appears to be quite unconscious: Alarm as Dutch lab creates highly contagious killer flu - Science - News - The Independent:
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been undertaken in a university laboratory, instead of at a military facility.
It really worries me that "some scientists" appear to put their trust in "military facilities" rather than universities, which are. at least in theory, dedicated to more independent research.

It reminded me of the Cold War parody of a Western hymn:

The day God gave thee, man, is ending
The darkness falls at thy behest
who spent thy little life defending
from conquest by the East, the West.

The sun that bids us live is waking
behind the cloud that bids us die
And in the murk fresh minds are making
new plans to blow us all sky-high.

It worries me that "some scientists" seem to have a preference for operating in that murk.

But never mind:
Bombs shall dig our sepulchre
Bigger bombs exhume us.
Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus.[1]
Or, as Jeremy Taylor used to sing:

Three cheers for the army, and all the boys in blue
Three cheers for the scientists, and politicians too
Three cheers for the future years, when we shall surely reap
All the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.
But since they tell us that "science" has won the battle of "science versus religion" we ought to forget all our outdated superstitions about human sinfulness, and rather put our trust in "some scientists" and their "military facilities".


Notes and references

[1] Both verses from Quake, quake, quake: a leaden treasury of English verse, by Paul Dehn.

18 December 2011

Small cars: Yaris and Mini

Next year our Toyota Yaris will be six years old, and I've always thought of it as amazingly roomy for such a small car. It fits five people comfortably, more comfortably than they fit in many bigger cars.

It reminded me of the Mini. I thought the Yaris was probably today's equivalent of the once-ubiqutous Mini, a small car that was bigger inside than it looked from the outside.

When it first came out sixty years ago a friend of mine, Mike Preston, and I went for a test drive in a Mini. The salesman took us up a mine dump in the middle of Joburg. Our verdict was that it made every other small car look obsolete. Here's what I wrote in my diary at the time (25 February 1960)

After work Mike Preston and I went to Connock's to look at the Morris Mini-Minor. We went for a test drive in it up the Park Central mine dump past Autodiesels. The cornering seemed good, due to the front-wheel drive, but the most fantabulous thing was the suspension. The salesman took us up onto a piece of open land and drove over all the bumps he could find and we felt nothing. He then drove off the kerb back on to the road at about 30 miles and hour and again we felt nothing. He made two circles in the middle of the road and then demonstrated the brakes, which were compensated so
that the back wheels would not lock before the front ones. Mike and I were both most impressed with it, and also it outperformed both a Volkswagen and a Renault Dauphine, although it had a smaller engine. It had more space inside than either of those cars, although it was only ten feet long. It made every other small car seem obsolete.
And today, for the first time, we parked our Yaris next to a Mini, and the Yaris looked enormous.

It was only when seeing them side-by-side that I was reminded how small the Mini was, the "Puddlejumper" as we used to call them.

Last Sunday our son Jethro took us to church in this:

It's bigger than the Yaris, and its engine is almost twice the size. It goes faster and more smoothly and more silently. But there's less legroom, and it's much harder to get into, and impossible to get into while wearing a hat. The Yaris, though smaller, is still more roomy inside.

But, for a sixty-year-old, the Mini still takes a lot of beating.

In some ways, it still makes other small cars look obsolete.

10 December 2011

Saving fuel

If it is true that there is enough fuel in the full fuel tank of a jumbo jet to drive the average car four times around the world (hat-tip to 20 Mind Blowing Facts You Probably Didn’t Know) I wonder which has more impact on the environment -- driving or flying.

It seems to be a toss-up.

The distance from here to Durban is 600 km, which we could just about make on a tank of fuel. So if 300 people drove to Durban they would travel 180000 km. Four times round the world is 160300 km so for 300 people on a jumbo jet that is about 535 km, so that seems better than going by car.

But that assumes one person, one car. So if there are three people in a car, it would tip the scales in favour of the car.

But then a jumbo jet wouldn't use a full tank of fuel to go to Durban.

Oh, I give up.

07 December 2011

The benefits of privatisation

Since the Reagan/Thatcher era of the 1980s many formerly public services have been privatised, and according to the "free enterprise" ideologists such a change must be welcomed as entirely beneficial. They would prefer that one didn't look at the drawbacks of unregulated free enterprise.

Why does the Mafia get involved in hauling garbage? - Slate Magazine:
Organized crime appears to have a hand in trash collection all over the world, from Naples to Tony Soprano's northern New Jersey. Why are gangsters always hauling garbage?

It's Mob Economics 101: Find a business that's easy to enter and lucrative to control. Criminal organizations make lots of money from drugs, human trafficking, and counterfeit goods, but creating a monopoly on garbage collection is attractive because the business itself is legal, and public contracts return big profits.

Something similar seems to have happened to things like public transport, for example (dare one say it?) the taxi "industry" in South Africa.

03 December 2011

Frozen frog

I've been puzzled by an image that appears on a number of different web sites, often quite unrelated to each other.

It shows a frog in an ice cube.

Can anyone explain its significance?

One example is the Nourishing Obscurity blog, where they appear as the background to the title.

02 December 2011

What is Union Spirit?

Union Spirit is (or was) biofuel made as a by-product of sugar refining in Natal, South Africa.

Someone asked the question "What is Union Spirit" in a newsgroup devoted to human rights, and I think it was a reference to some political slogan being used in Burma alias Myanmar.

But I remember it as a brand of petrol.

It was originally (in the 1940s) sold only in Natal, and mainly in and around Durban, where many garages would have a Union pump. In those days garages sold several brands of petrol. There were no "one brand" garages. The commonest brands were Caltex, Shell, Pegasus and Atlantic. Pegasus later became Mobil and is now Engen. Atlantic became BP.

In the Transvaal province in the 1950s there was Satmar, which was made from torbanite (oil shale) and later Sasol (made from coal).

In the 1960s there was one garage in Johannesburg that sold Union Spirit. It was in Jeppestown, and was in demand among sports car drivers because at that time the regular petrol sold at other garages was 87 octane, and not suitable for high-compression engines, even at Johannesburg's altitude

Union Spirit was 100 octane.

01 December 2011

World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day, and this year is also the 30th year since Aids was discovered and named.

This map shows how it has spread around the world in the last 30 years:

For more information see World AIDS Day - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Related Posts with Thumbnails