The Bran Report

It's good for parts of you that you'd probably rather not think about.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

99 Knights of the air

A discussion about Lynard Skynyrd led me to learning this fact:

6) October 25, 1962- Cuban Missile Crisis: Intruder in Duluth

At around midnight on October 25, a guard at the Duluth Sector Direction Center saw a figure climbing the security fence. He shot at it, and activated the "sabotage alarm." This automatically set off sabotage alarms at all bases in the area. At Volk Field, Wisconsin, the alarm was wrongly wired, and the Klaxon sounded which ordered nuclear armed F-106A interceptors to take off. The pilots knew there would be no practice alert drills while DEFCON 3 was in force, and they believed World War III had started.

Immediate communication with Duluth showed there was an error. By this time aircraft were starting down the runway. A car raced from command center and successfully signaled the aircraft to stop. The original intruder was a bear.

Sometimes I'm amazed that I exist.

Friday, January 12, 2007

America makes me sad and angry

To: America


I am on your side! Seriously, I'm one of the few people left in this country who wish that "the special relationship" was a real thing. I'm not marching on the streets or making documentaries celebrating the fact that we paid off our World War Two debts to you on January 1st this year. I think the Bill of Rights is up there with the most inspiring documents of all time, and I think the biggest failing of the American Revolution is that it didn't wake up the Old Dart a little more. I'm rooting for Feingold in '08. I care about you.

But sometimes you do things. You know what I mean. You know I'm still upset about Kyoto and Gitmo, but today it's this. Let me sidestep the whole science-versus-religion-which-do-you-teach-in-science-class debate and just deal with this part.

...if (the movie) is going to take the approach of 'bad America, bad America,' I don't think it should be shown at all," Gayle Hardison said. "If you're going to come in and just say America is creating the rotten ruin of the world, I don't think the video should be shown."

Scientists say that Americans, with about 5 percent of the world's population, emit about 25 percent of the globe-warming gases.

"My country right or wrong" went out of fashion in about 1917 over here. How are you guys still holding on to that?

At the very least, you could have come up with some defenses. Like "Yeah, but we have a lot of forest and sea compared to other countries, so we offset some". It's not a good argument, but it's a start. Or "We export a lot of products, so some of our gases really belong to other people". That could be quantified, though you wouldn't do as well by it as China would. Or you could say "Those gasses aren't really globe-warming." You'd be going against scientific consensus, but at least it'd be a debate and we could talk about correlations and non-linear systems. When you say "You're not allowed to say that"... I don't know. I guess it reminds me of some guys you used to dislike.

Betrand Intangible

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What we need more of is...

...gender-neutral pronouns.

For real! We (by which I mean Anglophones) could go a little way to that ideal of gender-blindness summed up by Pratchettian dwarves: where a person's gender is only discussed at that point in a courtship at which embarassment might otherwise occur. (A state that I also believe is how rational folk would deal with sexuality: instead, we have formulaic sitcoms.)

Anyway! We have already addressed this problem in some parts of grammar, mostly due to feminism. At risk of being characterised as "the biggest geek ever", I submit the opening dialogue in the Star Trek theme. boldly go where no man has gone before. (1964-1969) boldly go where no-one has gone before. (1987-present)

There's no better way to sound pre-sexual-revolution than to use "man" as gender-neutral, a bad habit that (as I understand it) goes right back to "Adam". Now you can use "one", "person", "human"... but we're still stuck on pronouns.

Probably most people are using plural, "they". I guess that's OK, but it's kind of awkward. Almost as bad as using "it", though given the choice I think I'd rather be plural than impersonal. What's most awkward of all is any attempt to make up a gender-neutral grammar.

Man, He, Him, His
Woman, She, Her, Hers
Thing, It, It, It's*
People, They, they, their
Person, Pe, Per, Pers
Xe, xir, xirs
Te, Tet, Tes
Ne, Nim, Nis

Though I like the idea that pronouns are derived from "Person", I think I like "xe" best, though the other forms from that are a bit awkward. Having said that, the shock of using an x detracts from the fact thay only rhyme with the female forms. Maybe I just like it becuase it uses an x to stand for a variable.

The irony of it all is that the lack is so fundamental that any attempt to fix it goes badly wrong. Adding a neologism to the most basic bastions of grammar is just uncomfortable.

The biggest problem is that most people, not being as abstract and petty as me, don't really care if the male pronoun is used to describe people in all cases except for describing mothers and housewives. Neologisms will never get off the ground unless a significant number of people start using them, much as making the possesive of "it" the logical way will be regarded as wrong as long as it is in the minority.

Actually, I seem to remember ancient Greek having gender-neutral words (Anthro, Andro, Gyno), and Latin and it's descendants have more tenses than they know whyat to do with... hey, you, the classically educated! What's Classical for "S/He"?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


A friend of mine who went to the states to study was recently asked if Britain has seasons. I can tell you that it does and that they are sometimes very distinct.

Case in point: last week I was at home in Devon, and it was definitely winter- you know, horizontal rain, dusk at 3 pm, lighting a log fire at lunch. Now I'm back in the Midlands, and it's starting to look a lot like spring. Given that this house has no heating, I've gone from miserable to comfortable. It is sometimes kind of bright. Most of all, we're experiencing the trademark of the British springtime: showers.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Three things that made me happy yesterday

I promise this is the last list I'll do for a while.

  1. Rainstorms that I'm not in

  2. Playing with a new way of doing things. Case in point: online grocery shopping.

  3. When Americans refer to 'pudding', meaning a particular substance. In my family growing up, the word was only ever used as you might use 'desert'. Pudding is whatever sweet food you eat after the main meal. The ONLY physical substance to be called pudding is Christmas pudding, because that's the only food you'd have for pudding eat at christmas. Sociological note: This is no longer neccesarily true. It's in the same category of words as the phrase "My first car" or "The second thing". The conflict of semantic categories produces an error message in my brain, and that makes me go "Ha ha, pudding".