Franken. J. Archive 009 (to 28 SEP 03)

an irregular pseudoblog for both cultures by chris lawson


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  Quick review: The Ring
  Quick review: The Bourne Identity
  Quick review: Die Another Day
  Quick review: Insomnia
  Quick review: Below
  Quick review: Shane
  Quick review: Avalon
  Quick review: Spirited Away
  Quick review: Dinner Rush
  A monkey's got rights!
  Ancestral anime
  A shoal of Argument Fish
  Fair and balanced
  Zambian GM timeline
  Tory the Tank Engine



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Quick review: The Ring

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

I’ve been watching a few DVDs to distract myself from the last horrendous month...

The Ring is a very good adaptation of a superior Japanese horror film. The original Ring, aka Ringu, was one of the two best horror films of the last five years (the other was Pi). This Hollywood adaptation manages to transplant the story successfully to America and adds a couple of subplots without losing sight of the things that made the original work so well.

What’s good about the adaptation? The cast, led by Naomi Watts of Mulholland Drive, is excellent. The cinematography and colour surpass the original ­ not surprising given its much bigger budget. The scene on the ferry is very effective.

What’s wrong with it? Well, why the hell they had to make the boy psychic is beyond me. It is such a rip-off of Sixth Sense that they even have a scene that is almost shot-for-shot the same as the scene where Haley Joel Osment drags Bruce Willis into the grieving house. Erk! And the killer video in the new version makes too much sense. Every segment in it is explained, even to the point of cutting to the imagery from the video when Naomi Watts comes across the real places just to alert the (presumably very stupid) viewer. In the original, about half of the video imagery makes no sense at all and is never explained, and it’s much creepier for that. The subplots that attempt to explain the origin of (i) the little girl, and (ii) the video fall flat. The new version changes the events that triggered the entire story ­ for the worse; the new family dynamics are not nearly so powerful or effective or believable. In the original, the protagonist climbs down a well shaft in what must be the most nerve-tingling scene in modern cinema. In the remake, she falls down having been pushed by supernatural means. Not only is this less impressive, it makes the character passive rather than courageous. Worse, it is stupid. Nobody survives a headlong fall down a deep well shaft. Lastly, Gore Verbinski, for all his directorial flair, did not succeed in translating the beautiful Japanese composition.

How to put one’s finger on it?…The crux of The Ring comes very early. A quiet little boy is walking to school in his raincoat and umbrella. He nearly walks into a man. They stop. The boy fills the frame, so you see nothing of the man above his waist. The boy looks up at the man. You can’t see the man’s face, but you know he is looking down at the boy. Neither of them moves. The rain keeps pouring. A few seconds later, they step around each other and walk on without a word. It is only later that you learn the man is the boy’s father who is estranged from his mother. The Ring is about childhood anger.

This scene survives in the remake. Most Hollywood remakes would have discarded it, not realising its unspoken importance. But it has lost the impact of the original by changing the composition and making it much, much brighter. This scene says all you need to know about the remake: it has all the vital ingredients, but has lost the narrative discipline and composition that makes the original so tense. It’s like the Sky version of "The Hall of the Mountain King": impressive, but not in the same league as a good performance of the original arrangement by a full orchestra and choir. See this film by all means, but if you can get your hands on the Japanese original you’ll be even more impressed.


     

Quick review: The Bourne Identity

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

The Bourne Identity is a good stupid film. It is ridiculously implausible and highly formulaic, and that’s what makes it work. Matt Damon, despite buffing his upper body for this film, still looks too nice to be a trained killer. Franka Potente is a great actress, but wrong for this part. But other than that, this is a wonderful action-espionage thriller with neat plotting and extremely clever fight scenes -- by which I mean they are short, violent, and crucial to the story.


     

Quick review: Die Another Day

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

Die Another Day is a bad stupid film. Really bad. Really stupid. Really bad and stupid. The stunts are pathetic. The story makes no sense at all. The double-intendres are a step down from the ones I remember from high school. One more turkey like this could spell the end of the Bond franchise. If there’s a God, that is. It’s not like it’s impossible to make a good James Bond movie. The Bourne Identity shows how. The real pity is the waste of talent. Lee Tamahori directed Once Were Warriors and the underrated Mulholland Falls (not to be confused with Mulholland Drive). Halle Berry makes a charismatic co-star. John Cleese and Dame Judi put in their usual professional turns. Pierce Brosnan is ageing into the role; his face still looks handsome and suave, but he has gained a hard edge and a bit of wear-and-tear. If only they could find some ideas worthy of the cast.

And Sean McMullen deserves a cut of the budget. They've taken the McGuffin straight out of his Mirrorsun Rising.


     

Quick review: Insomnia

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

Insomnia is a solid turn by Christopher Nolan, director of Memento. It is a decent film, but certain to disappoint anyone who expects the time-bending structure and indie sensibility that made Memento so, well, memorable. On the other hand, if trying to figure out Memento gave you a headache, this may be the film for you. The performances are excellent. Nolan must have told an unusually restrained Al Pacino not to shout all the time. And the resolution, although contrived, does have a wonderful moment that completely blurs character motivation. It is a reversal of the usual mystery, where the explanation is withheld to the end. Insomnia ends with a loss of understanding, and it’s what elevates the film above the pack. Not quite The Usual Suspects, but nearly there.


     

Quick review: Below

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

What a cast! Bruce Greenwood (see him in The Sweet Hereafter, not Thirteen Days, to see what he’s capable of) and Olivia Williams are wonderful. The director is Brian Twohy, of Pitch Black fame. Darren Aronofsky, who made Pi, co-wrote and co-produced it. It’s a ghost story set on a crippled submarine during the Atlantic War in WW2. How could it go wrong? Well, it does. Badly. At one stage, a British navigator finds a mark on a chart and asks the American officers what happened at that mark. That mark happens to be the point where the navigator’s own ship got torpedoed. I mean, can you really believe in a navigator not recognising the place where his ship was sunk only days earlier? But the stupidity could be forgiven (see The Bourne Identity) if the story that held it together was halfway decent. What we get in Below, when all is said and done, is a good setting and some unimaginative special effects in the service of a feeble campfire story.


     

Quick review: Shane

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

Shane is an old film, but well worth revisiting. Superficially, this film is a manipulative tearjerker aimed at the pre-adolescent male. The first half hour has more corn than an Iowa stew. Shane and the Staretts are impossibly nice people. And the director puts a dog in every second scene whose job seems to be to direct audience members to the emotions they should be feeling. So what makes this film a classic that stands up even today?

For a start, the cinematography is extraordinary. The long-lens shots push the imposing mountains right into the viewer’s face. The very landscape looks like it is encysted and the characters trapped at the centre. There is also the controlled escalation of tension. It is exceptional that in a film about a gunfighter, the first shot in anger occurs an hour in. The director had fought in WW2 and wanted to show what a single bullet could do --­ and in that first gunfight, he sure does. A single gunshot and a poor dupe is blown across the street to die in a mud-crusted ball of contorted limbs. It is gut-wrenching stuff. (Sadly, the same logic is not applied to blunt trauma: there is a bar fight with characters being hit hard over the back of the head with a variety of heavy objects and yet Shane and Starett take a moment to smile at each other as they share in the jolly good fun that is giving head injuries.)

Most important, though, is what goes unsaid. Superficially, the film is about a gunfighter who saves a family from a ruthless cattleman. Underneath that, though, is a maze of fascinating character dynamics. Mrs Starett clearly has an eye for Shane, and vice versa, which adds a wry twist to the young boy’s despairing cry as Shane rides off. “And mother wants you!” The conflict, initially presented in black and white terms, becomes more complex as the film develops: the villain turns out to have very good reasons for his actions, not to mention respect for his foe. The hired gun, played by Jack Palance, is one of the stand-out performances in Hollywood history. And finally, most intriguingly, is the fact that Shane only appears to win the final battle. The moment he straps on his pistol belt he loses what he most desires. This sublime film gets better and grittier as it goes along, and in the end one realises that the obvious story, the cornball stew, is only superficial. Underneath is another story that hits its rhythm in contrapunction. When Shane appears to the pre-adolescent male to win, to the adult eye he really loses. The pre-adolescent recognises the film as a tragedy because he feels torn up at the finale, but like the young Starett boy, he doesn’t understand why Shane has to leave. The adult knows damn well.


     

Quick review: Avalon

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

Avalon is a bizarre film. Made by the people who brought us Ghost in the Shell, this is a Japanese film shot in Poland with live actors and judicious CGI special effects. It is also the best film ever made about virtual reality, even better than eXistenz or The Matrix or the first half of Total Recall (let’s ignore the mess the film becomes on Mars). The story revolves around Ash, a woman who is a masterful player of a VR war game that is illegal as it causes many of its users to become burnt-out vegetables. Ash is playing solo after her team falls apart spectacularly. A mysterious cleric arrives and tries to recruit her for an impossible mission. To say any more would diminish the film. If you can get your hands on it, see it. You will find yourself thinking about it for weeks.


     

Quick review: Spirited Away

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

Gosh darn, those wacky Japanese! Spirited Away is strange, all right. A young girl and her family stumble across a deserted amusement park. The girl wanders off, exploring, and comes back at sunset to find her parents have turned into pigs, the park is infested with spirits both malign and beneficent, and her escape is cut off by a giant black lake that was not there during daylight. She must learn to survive in this ethereal world and work out how to save her parents from the barbecue. It is hard to describe the film in any way that will convey how it feels to watch it. It has surrealism, adventure, plot-embedded puns, absolutely gorgeous colour and composition, inexplicable but somehow meaningful events, and a gentle but determined and resourceful girl as its heroine. This film really isn’t for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a visual feast and a story that is charming and off-kilter, but not bloodless and incoherent, then you won’t find anything better.


     

Quick review: Dinner Rush

28 SEP 2003 | source Frankenblog

This magical little film should be in every course on how to write. It has strong characterisation without caricature. It needs no flashbacks or info-dumps to explain motivation. It has a wonderfully constructed plot and sharp dialogue that doesn’t feel forced. It is a great disappointment to see such craftsmanship wasted on a film with no explosions, no CGI, and no headline star. If you liked Independence Day, for god’s sake don’t see this film.


     

A monkey's got rights!

21 SEP 2003 | source Nature

Terry Pratchett once wrote: 'You can't make people happy by law. If you said to a bunch of average people two hundred years ago "Would you be happy in a world where medical care is widely available, houses are clean, the world's music and sights and foods can be brought into your home at small cost, travelling even 100 miles is easy, childbirth is generally not fatal to mother or child, you don't have to die of dental abcesses, and you don't have to do what the squire tells you?", they'd think you were talking about the New Jerusalem and say, "Yes".'

Now there's a clue that this might be more than be a humorous observation; it might be a fundamental tenet of primate psychology.

Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal have reported in Nature that brown capuchin monkeys trained by rewards of cucumber snacks will refuse to perform their task if they see other monkeys being fed grapes for the same work.

It seems that the concept of equal pay for equal work was not invented by humans but is a deeply felt principle in primate societies.

This story is dedicated to Nick Evans.


     

Ancestral anime

09 SEP 2003 | source Nature

Lowenmensch ("lion man") statues are among Europe's most ancient artworks. Now archeologist Nicholas Conard believes his team may have unearthed the oldest one so far. The 28-centimetre statue from a cave near Ulms, Germany has been carbon-dated to around 30,000-years old. It is made of mammoth ivory. It looks beautiful.

Now the debate is hotting up over whether this is a modern human artefact or the work of Neanderthal craftsmanship. Either way, it is a beautiful sculpture which shows mythic imagery has been around a looooong time.

In a related story, Disney is now lobbying the US Senate to extend the new copyright laws to "32,000 years after the death of the author" in order to protect their rights. A spokesthing said, "We are aware that the new laws have just been adopted pretty much as we wanted them, but these new findings have increased our estimate of the artistic longevity of The Lion King. What right does some distant-future, posthuman punk on the other side of the galaxy have to steal from the Disney Corporation -- ahem, I mean, our hard-working artists and writers?"


     

A shoal of Argument Fish

24 AUG 2003 | source Mil Millington

This was too gorgeous to let go. Margaret's sneedle flipsock directed me to a marvellous turn of phrase in Mil Millington's very long rant about arguments with his girlfriend. Mil's best line (and one I shall be using myself at every available opportunity) is...

"Margret jack-knifes from argument to argument, jigs direction randomly and erratically like a shoal of Argument Fish being followed by a Truth Shark."

If you too wish to use this phrase, please wire Mr Millington 800 pounds...unless you are a major news service in which case no payment or acknowledgement is necessary. Guess that's why they call it the free press.


     

Fair and balanced

22 AUG 2003 | source Das Frankenblog

WORLD EXCLUSIVE! Das Frankenblog has received a leaked email revealing Fox Studios’ broad strategy to intimidate critics with intellectual property laws. Fox recently filed a suit against humorist Al Franken for his new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Fox Studios claims that the title infringes trademark #75280027, the motto “Fair and Balanced.”

The leaked email comes from the offices of Leech and Kreem, a law firm representing Fox Studios. It states that Fox should be more proactive in pursuing critics through the courts. According to the email, “It takes a few hundred dollars to lodge a trademark, and a trademark can be used to force an opponent into a costly, time-consuming legal defence even when there has been no breach of the law.”

The email goes on to recommend trademarking “Lies,” “Liars,” and “Lying Liars.”

The unsigned email says, “Trademarks were designed to protect consumers from misleading product labels, although they also serve to protect a brand’s reputation. Given that the principal justification of trademark law is to protect consumers from confusion, our argument will be strengthened by registering Lies, Liars and Lying Liars as these terms are more likely to cause consumers to think they are descriptions of Fox News than Fair and Balanced. By registering these trademarks, we can sue the pants off anyone who uses insulting phrases against Fox News presenters.”

Fox has refused to comment on rumours that they have applied for trademarks on the phrases Incoherent Bully, Raging Bigot, and Crypto-Fascist Pixie-Dust.

Conflict of interest announcement. Das Frankenblog is not related to Al Franken in any genetic form. Mr Franken is an American humorist. Das Frankenblog is an electronic journal run by imaginary people. It has been suggested that Mr Franken is descended from the Frankenblogs who so tragically lost their lives in the Salem Sheepdog Trials of 1699, but we cannot confirm or deny the story at this time.


     

Zambian GM timeline

12 AUG 2003 | sources One World, Scientific Alliance, IRIN News, Transparency.org, Life Science Network, and others

This is the second instalment in the Infinite Precautionary Principle series. Here is the first. I had not intended to deal with Zambia again, but one of the emails I received asked me whether Zambians starved. This is my best attempt to answer that question. Please note the entries are dated according to the date on the reports not the events. This is because, quite frankly, it was impossible in many instances to accurately date the events. It appears to my jaundiced eye that several reporters were writing up old news and dressing it up as if it was fresh. Almost all of the commentary/opinion is mine and cannot be blamed on the sources quoted. Here goes...

24 May 2002 The UN Food Programme announces that up to 1 million Africans may face starvation in coming months.

May-June 2002 Zambia and Zimbabwe announce they will reject GM food aid shipments.

10 July 2002 Zambia reverses its opposition to GM food. Seeing that GM maize is cheaper than the non-GM varieties, the Zambian government asks the World Food Programme to buy US maize at $190 per tonne (including shipping) compared to $260 per tonne for non-GM maize from South Africa. [Scientific Alliance]

29 July 2002 Depending on who you talk to, Zambia either rejects GM food or plans to import it from the US. [One World]

16 August 2002 Zambian Information Minister Newstead Zimba announces on state television that the government will "take the precautionary principle on this matter" and cease GM food shipments. [Foodsecurity.net]

28 August 2002 The World Health Organisation Director-General declares that "GM foods are not likely to present human health risk.” [Scientific Alliance]

23 Sep 2002 A senior Zambian public servant declares, "The food crisis is there all right, but I don't think it's as huge as has been reported - it's been blown out of proportion. The situation is manageable." [IRIN News]

9 Oct 2002 Zambian politician Vitalis Mooya claims that three of his elderly constituents have died of starvation, contradicting official government statements that there have been no drought-related deaths. For making this statement, Mooya is charged with the criminal offence of “making false statements aimed at causing public alarm.” [IRIN News]

16 Oct 2002 Hungry villagers ransack CLUSA stores, stealing 500 bags of GM maize. Police make nine arrests and recover 200 bags. [IRIN News]

17 Oct 2002 UN reports on the success of “conservation farming,” a low-cost, low-tech system that increasing yields to subsistence farmers. The key agency involved in training farmers is CLUSA, in association with the UN World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and the Zambian National Farmers’ Union. [IRIN News]

22 Oct 2002 The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation makes a special plea for more international aid to Zambia and Malawi. The Catholic Relief Services sends a special delegation to raise international awareness of the crisis. [IRIN News]

28 Oct 2002 Queries are raised of the Zambian government’s preferred plan to ease starvation: winter maize crops. The Zambian government ploughs millions of dollars into planting maize in winter instead of the traditional wet season. This requires expensive irrigation to keep the maize alive during the dry season, electric fences, and electricity, which puts it out of the reach of subsistence farmers and is effectively a subsidy to rich commercial farmers. Nobody knows if it will work. Even the project managers don’t believe they will turn a profit. Winter maize. Doesn’t anyone remember Trofim Lysenko? [IRIN News]

29 Oct 2002 The Zambian government finally makes a definitive announcement. It will not accept GM food, calling it “poison”. It cites a scientific report claiming that it might carry long-term health risks and could contaminate crops. A spokesman for the Zambian Department of Agriculture said, "Government is taking this precautionary measure to protect the local crop varieties and also feels there is a risk of losing its export market if it grows GM crops." The ban also applies to milled maize, despite the fact that milled grains cannot be planted and cannot inter-breed with existing crops, and therefore pose no risk of contamination. [IRIN News]

6 Nov 2002 Inflation in Zambia erodes food security. Police officer Mulenga Kabungo earns US$ 26 a year, and it costs him US$ 7 - 10 for a bag of maize. Kabungo has been forced to raise chickens and grow vegetables in his garden. Meanwhile, half of the recently pledged international aid has not been dispensed because of concerns that President Mwanawasa rigged the last election. Zambia’s Central Bank estimates that there has been a 634,000-megatonne shortfall in maize shipments due to “the handling of the importation.” [IRIN News]

15 Nov 2002 The Zambian Supreme Court hears “damaging evidence” that President Mwanawasa interfered with the election. International observers claim that the election result did not reflect the will of the electorate. Evidence is also given that Mwanawasa received US$ 31,000 a month for party political events from the state treasury. [IRIN News]

19 Nov 2002 Food becomes even scarcer. CARE-Zambia scrambles to find alternative foods to feed 500,000 Zambians. CARE has 27,000-megatonnes of GM maize that it is not allowed to distribute and almost no non-GM food. Locals have been forced to eat mantembe, a poisonous tuber that requires careful and extensive preparation to be edible. [IRIN News]

21 Nov 2002 The World Bank pledges US$50 million to assist Zambia. US$20 million is a direct cash grant and the other $30 million a loan. [IRIN News]

28 Nov 2002 The Famine Early Warning Systems Network announces that food deliveries to Zambians are "far below what is required". [IRIN News]

5 Dec 2002 USAID pledges US$100 million to World Vision, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services in Zambia. World Vision hopes to tie in HIV/AIDS education at aid distribution points. [IRIN News]

10 Dec 2002 A bumper crop of cassava in northern Zambia promises to relieve the hunger. A group of ninety NGOs and church groups co-operate to raise US$60 million to buy the surplus cassava. Gregory Bunda, an agricultural scientist, insisted there is no food shortage in Zambia and never was, but only a shortage of maize and a lack of management. "It all comes down to planning," he said. [IRIN News]

18 December 2002 Transparency International’s survey of international corruption gives Zambia a score of 2.6 out of 10 compared to 9.7 for Finland and 9.5 for Denmark and New Zealand. [Transparency.org]

30 December 2002 The Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicts a 60% reduction in Zambian crops in the southern region compared to the 2000 harvest. [IRIN News]

2 Jan 2003 Between 1990 and 2000, life expectancy among Zambian adults falls by eleven years. This is largely due to HIV/AIDS. [IRIN News]

16 Jan 2003 UN predicts “daunting” year ahead. [IRIN News]

29 Jan 2003 A senior Zambian scientist reveals that the report against GM food was derived almost exclusively from the British Medical Association’s 1999 position statement that "we cannot at present know whether there are serious risks to the environment or to human health involved in producing GM crops or consuming GM food products ... and adverse effects are likely to be irreversible." The Zambian scientists interviewed 150 scientists and groups, including the British Royal Society, the French Academies of Sciences and Medicine, the World Health Organisation, the American Medical Association, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Chinese National Academy of Science, Indian National Academy of Science, Mexican National Academy of Science, and the Third World Academy of Sciences, all of which gave cautious support to the safety of GM food. The Zambian scientists were not swayed by these approvals, and instead relied on a statement that the BMA's own secretary called the worst report they'd ever issued. To explain the influence of the BMA report, the scientist said the BMA “is considered an authoritative body because of Zambia's historical links with Britain.” She does not explain why being British makes an organization authoritative, nor why the Royal Society, which is equally British and much more highly regarded, was not authoritative -- and its report was two years more up-to-date and written by experts in the field. She also fails to explain why the Zambian government described GM food as "poison" when even the BMA report contained no such negative assessment. [Life Sciences Network, Scientific Alliance]

30 Jan 2003 The World Food Program delivers 80,000 megatonnes of non-GM grain. [IRIN News]

6 Feb 2003 US government delivers 30,000 megatonnes of non-GM sorghum and bulgar wheat. The World Food Program announces they now have “a good food pipeline.” [IRIN News]

10 Feb 2003 Despite the “good pipeline”, in many regions families are surviving on 38% of the recommended daily food intake. [IRIN News]

19 Feb 2003 The former president of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba loses his immunity from prosecution for corruption charges, including US$20 million paid for military equipment that never arrived and a US$60 million undervaluation on cobalt from the nationalised mines. [IRIN News]

25 Feb 2003 Aid groups target maternal and child health as a high priority. Although 2.77 million Zambians face food shortages, aid agencies are reluctant to release large amounts of grain in case the donations undermine local food markets and ruin the economic prospects of local farmers. [IRIN News]

12 Mar 2003 Heavy rains cause flooding and disruption of some local aid programs, but overall the rains are expected to result in a good harvest for farmers who planted late. Estimates for the harvest are as high as 1 million megatonnes. The World Food Programme scales back its projected aid needs. [IRIN News]

26 Mar 2003 Rains cause havoc. In Gwembe, a southern province, floods have left 10,000 people homeless, cut powerlines, roads, and bridges, and destroyed 2,000 hectares of maize. [IRIN News]

8 Apr 2003 The IMF disburses US$450 million in debt relief to Zambia, but reveals concerns that the money has been misdirected. [IRIN News]

6 May 2003 Germany cancels US$207 million in debt owed by Zambia. [IRIN News]

8 May 2003 Early predictions of a good harvest are strengthened by good conditions. [IRIN News]

13 May 2003 Crop predictions continue to be optimistic, but this applies to the total Zambian crop. Up to 40% of rural households are expected to suffer crop failure. [IRIN News]

14 May 2003 The Zambian government halts maize imports in the expectation of a good crop. [IRIN News]

20 May 2003 The Zambesi floods. Over 120,000 people require assistance. [IRIN News]

5 Jun 2003 Oil tankers go missing. Nobody knows where the oil is. Audits reveal that shipments to the Zambian National Oil Company were short by 1,000 tankers. [IRIN News]

Summary: By and large, it looks as though Zambia weathered the famine without GM food despite its on-again-off-again equivocation. But it’s hard to be sure given the rampant corruption, the misdirection of aid funds and shipments, the criminal prosecution of politicians giving evidence of starvation, and the apparent lack of interest by Western journalists. Please note the reference to the Precautionary Principle by the Zambian Information Minister right at the outset. We will return to this point.

In the next instalment, we will look at the reasons why the Infinite Precautionary Principle is so appealing to green-left groups -- and one of the main culprits is self-serving politicking by the US. Forced to invent a label to describe the US policies in question, I have come up with this: bloody-minded international obstructionism.


     

Tory the Tank Engine

03 AUG 2003 | source Dr Eva Wry

TORY THE TANK ENGINE

by Dr Eva Wry

Tory is a Tank Engine. He has a big cowcatcher, a tall funnel, and a rounded dome. In the tourist season, he takes passengers along the seaside. The passengers laugh gaily and take holiday snaps and eat the railway sandwiches, which have been marked up in a humorous fashion.

He has a coach called Iris, who is very old-fashioned and much loved by the passengers. Iris is a polite carriage and knows that it is not her place to have an opinion. That doesn’t stop some naughty engines from pressing her for one though!

One day, Tory sang a song to Iris while she giggled and rattled in time to the song.

You are so du-ti-ful.
To-oo meeeeeeeeeeeee!

All that singing used up a lot of steam. Soon Tory had to stop to fill up at a water tank. While he was drinking, Klapper came the other way. Klapper was pulling a long line of trucks and was heaving with the effort. He stopped beside Tory and Iris so his Driver could check the engine.

Klapper is a red diesel. He always gets the dirty, stinky jobs because he is a bad engine. He is always whingeing and whining and none of the other engines like him a bit. They are glad that he gets all the awful jobs.

Klapper knew the other engines did not like to talk to him, so he talked to Iris instead.

“Hello, Iris,” he said. “Still being pulled around wherever Tory leads you?”

Iris did not want to talk to Klapper, but it would be rude to ignore him. “Of course I go wherever Tory goes. What a strange idea that I could go somewhere by myself!”

“Of course you could, Iris. You only think you must follow Tory because that it what you have been told all the time!”

“But I like following Tory.”

“Silly! It is much more fun to go where you want to go. You must have thought about it,” he said slyly.

Iris blushed. “Of course I have. I won’t deny it. When I was young and full of silly ideas, I sometimes dreamed of going by myself, but then I read The Surrendered Carriage and it changed my life. Now I couple with Tory whenever he likes. He is much happier, and that makes me happier too.”

“Shush!” said Tory. He had finished drinking and could speak. It had been a terrible strain listening to all that utopian nonsense without being able to reply. Tory had been fit to burst! Now he had his steam back.

“You, Iris, should know better than to talk to a red diesel like Klapper. He will fill your head with bad ideas.”

Klapper was in a huff. “Well, come the Revolution, you will be the first engines sent back to the factory to have their works mended!”

And then Klapper pushed off before his Driver had finished inspecting the engine! He trundled down the track while his Driver let out a great shout. Klapper looked back and saw that the poor Driver had lost his left hand in Klapper’s engine.

The Fat Managing Director heard about the accident and came immediately. He kindly decided not to fine the Driver for such a serious accident. Although the Driver would lose his pension, at least the lack of a fine meant he would only have to send one of his children into the coalmine. The Fat MD thought about giving the poor Driver a gold watch, until he realised it would be in bad taste now that the Driver only had one wrist on which to wear it.

He praised Tory and Iris for being Very Sensible. He had very harsh words for Klapper.

“You are a Not A Useful Engine,” said the Fat MD. “You shall go to the factory, and no more of your sedition or you will be turned into a chicken shed!”

Klapper rolled away unhappily while Tory and Iris laughed.

“That’ll teach him to confront our bucolic pastoral-industrial nostalgia.”

“Yes, dear,” said Iris. “Whatever you say.”

They trundled away, with Iris singing joyfully.