that droning noise

I notice that apart from the widespread complaint that the German pilotless planes ‘seem so unnatural’ (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and ‘an indiscriminate attack on civilians’.

After what we have been doing to the Germans over the past two years, this seems a bit thick, but it is the normal human response to every new weapon. Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day. Every weapon seems unfair until you have adopted it yourself. But I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won’t stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out. In other words, you are hoping that it will fall on somebody else. So also when you dodge a shell or an ordinary bomb—but in that case you have only about five seconds to take cover and no time to speculate on the bottomless selfishness of the human being.’

George Orwell, 30 June 1944


“Said a day laborer, “I can’t sleep at night because when the drones are there … I hear them making that sound, that noise. The drones are all over my brain, I can’t sleep. When I hear the drones making that drone sound, I just turn on the light and sit there looking at the light. Whenever the drones are hovering over us, it just makes me so scared.” Added a politician, people “often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming because they are hallucinating about drones.”


Would you have nightmares if they flew over your house?


“When children hear the drones, they get really scared, and they can hear them all the time so they’re always fearful that the drone is going to attack them,” an unidentified man reported. “Because of the noise, we’re psychologically disturbed, women, men, and children. … Twenty-four hours, a person is in stress and there is pain in his head.”

‘Every Person Is Afraid of the Drones’: The Strikes’ Effect on Life in Pakistan


Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Although as a child I was aware of The Troubles on my doorstep I was too young to worry about the state of the wider world.  Things such as the Cold War didn’t effect me. But it must have played on the minds of people like my parents.
I remember dad mentioning in passing that some people thought a meteorite that fell in the late 1960’s over Ulster  was a nuclear bomb. What else would have caused the night sky to light up like that?
Ever since reading Hiroshima last week I have been reflecting on the nuclear arms race and wondering why men raced to produce bombs so powerful and destructive.
It seemed like as good a time as any to watch Dr Strangelove. My feeling about the film is that it is overrated. Yet I am watching now in a world that hasn’t just experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis. So maybe it is like Bob Dylan. I think he is over-rated as well, but if I had been living through the 60’s how would that change my perspective?

There is one line in the film that stands out, a line about one B-52 carrying bombs with the same amount of explosive power as all the bombs exploded by all the sides during World War II. And as for things going wrong by mistake, this is the sort of incident that happened in the 60’s. Part of me is grateful for not being aware of this stuff growing up.

Hiroshima, a terrible book


I liked the retro look of this Penguin book yesterday, it seemed vintage and cool. Never judge a book by it’s cover though as it is easily the most horrific book I have ever read.

First published in 1946 it  recounts the experience of six  eyewitnesses on the day that the first first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima . What follows is hell on earth as far as I can see, human beings suffering or in pain and literally not knowing what has hit them.

In general John Hersey shows little emotion and just tries to tell the story of these survivors without adding too much of his interpretation on events. At one point though when describing the effect of radiation on survivors he writes:-

‘And, as if nature were protecting man against his own ingenuity, the reproductive processes were affected for a time; men became sterile, women had miscarriages, menstruation stopped.’

One thing that caught me of guard was the two of these eyewitnesses (and survivors) where Christian  voices, one a German Jesuit and the other a Japanese Methodist minister.

At one stage in the unfolding carnage this Methodist minister, Mr Tanimoto is called to the house of a dying wealthy man in the city, a man who had been anti-Christian and accused Mr Tanimoto of being a spy for the Americans. He goes to help this Mr Tanaka and finds him in a tomb like shelter, his face and arms puffed up, eyes swollen shut, covered in pus and blood, As John Hersey recounts:-

‘Standing at the shelter stairway to get light Mr Tanimoto read loudly from a Japanese-language pocket Bible: ” For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told…”
   Mr Tanaka died as Mr Tanimtoto read the psalm’

the black road by Doolough

We came this way home this afternoon from Westport. A sad place, though beautiful.
As the entry in Wikipedia explains:-

‘The Doolough Tragedy is an event that took place during the Great Irish Famine in southwest County Mayo.[1]

On Friday 30 March 1849 two officials of the Westport Poor Law Union arrived in Louisburgh to inspect those people in receipt of outdoor relief to verify that they should continue to receive it.[2] For some reason the inspection did not take place and the officials went on to Delphi Lodge – a hunting lodge – 12 miles (19 km) south of Louisburgh. The people who had gathered for the inspection were thus instructed to appear at Delphi Lodge at 7am the following morning if they wished to continue receiving relief. For much of the night and day that followed therefore seemingly hundreds of destitute and starving people had to undertake what for them, given their existing state of debilitation, was an extremely fatiguing journey, in very bad weather.[2]

A letter-writer to The Mayo Constitution reported shortly afterwards that the bodies of seven people, including women and children, were subsequently discovered on the roadside between Delphi and Louisburgh overlooking the shores of Doolough lake and that nine more never reached their homes. Local folklore maintains the total number that perished because of the ordeals they had to endure was far higher.

A cross and an annual Famine Walk between Louisburgh and Doolough commemorates this event.[3] The monument in Doolough valley has an inscription from Mahatma Gandhi: “How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?”[2]DSCN1811

an independent (and beardy) people

So I watched the first episode of  ‘An Independent People‘ , a  3 part BBC Two show telling ‘the dramatic story of Ulster’s Presbyterians’, something I didn’t realise that we Presbyterians had. We’re box office material.

Saying it is such a dramatic story I would have perhaps preferred an art house film starring Daniel Day Lewis. Daniel could have perhaps thrown himself into the part by enrolling at Union Theological College and becoming a real life Presbyterian minister for a number of years complete with superb facial hair just to get a real life feel for things. For the role of Presbyterian arch nemesis I would have gone for someone like Liam Neeson (though I’m not sure about his facial hair capabilities).

My initial reaction was that this dramatic story of Ulster Presbyterians seemed to involve a lot of beards, which reassured me that I actually do stand in the tradition of Presbyterianism (contrary to those who think I might look a bit more like someone out of The Dubliners or even Mohammed)

It actually places me in the line of every illustrated Biblical character I remember including Jesus himself, but the ‘Gerry Adams effect’ is a powerful force to be reckoned with that means fellow beardys may feel excluded in some current Presbyterian circles. (‘Would you wear that beard if you were meeting the Queen young Ronnie Drew?‘)

My other initial reaction was that this show seemed to be a nicely shot celebration of people I know, or people I used to know or people I nearly know.It was like having a tribute to your Presbyterian friends mixed with a Sigur Ros video made in Northern Ireland.  Oh look, there is your man! Oh, I know him! I remember that guy from university! I’ve been to that church! He gave us a lift home from Cookstown! (moody music plays in background)

I have to admit I feel a bit confused by the actual history of our church though.

I still don’t really understand what was going on and even feel a bit disillusioned by what was going on (if it’s possible to feel disillusioned hundreds of years later?)

So much of it seems to have been about power struggles or striving for freedom or their rights. And bloody as well.
Someone in the show pointed out that the first Presbyterian congregation was set up by members of the Scottish army who came with the Bible in one hand. There are so many blurry lines and things that are complicated, things are messy.

Part of me knows that is just the way things are, life is messy and people are broken and have feet of clay.

On the other hand part of me struggled to see how God was working in the Presbyterian Church. Or too put it another way, watching the program last night I didn’t see too much evidence of people acting like Jesus. I know it was a TV show but if a Christian is a follower of Christ and a church is made up of Christian then those early Presbyterians would be Christ like. Did I get some sense of that coming through the nicely shot camera work? I’m not sure. Can you be Christ like holding a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other?

I know that the right answer should be yes otherwise there isn’t hope for someone like me. Sometimes I can act in a Christ like way, but a lot of the time I don’t. So it would be hypocritical or unrealistic to point out the faults in other people even if that was hundreds of years ago. Also perhaps if someone was acting in a Christ like manner around Ahoghill in the 1700s or Ballycarry in 1800s on a Monday morning it mightn’t make sexy TV. Someone sharing a potato with a hungry neighbour mightn’t make the most dramatic viewing on a Sunday night whereas stories of a woman throwing a chair at the minister in the pulpit and rioting does.

Yet there is something about the way that our church was planted (or officially planted) that doesn’t seem particularly Christian.

Another thing which I’ve just realised is that the story is telling the story of Ulster Presbyterians. I wonder if that story is the same story of Irish Presbyterians? We’re officially known as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland but everything about the Presbyterian Church in Ireland seems to centre around Ulster so sometimes the Presbyterian Church in Ulster would be a more accurate description of the way things really are? The Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland would be even more accurate.
A few months back marked all the current Presbyterian congregations in Ireland on a map and ended up with this. (If a gap is appearing in North Antrim its only because Google can’t load them quick enough. )

Annie Edson Taylor

So I had a few hours doodling today at the library and came across this amazing lady, Annie Edson Taylor who at the age of 63 yrs old and ‘because she could not pay her mortgage and wanted the notoriety‘ became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

After her journey on the 24th October 1901 Annie is reported as having said:-

‘If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat… I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.’