Wednesday, February 20, 2008


There'll be a nine-day interruption in the Antipodes blog from tomorrow Thursday, 21 February up until Saturday, 1 March 2008.

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 4

Chapter 4 of my novel has now been released. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter, entitled Moving, introduces the logistics involved in transporting technological equipment from Western Australia to Israel. Jake has decided that the ideal solution consists of sailing there on a refitted trawler named Black Swan.

Besides Israel, the reader learns that another Mediterranean nation has a role to play in Jake's future operations: Morocco.

Walnut wine

Yesterday, I finally got around to bottling and labeling the remainder of my walnut wine. I had almost forgotten the existence of this stock of green walnuts macerated in strong red wine, which had been sitting for several years in an airtight plastic cask. It has aged remarkably well, and the resulting liquor is mellow with a delightful aroma of walnuts.

Fireball syndrome

I get a kick out of inventing theories in fields in which, a priori, I'm a complete ignoramus. In fact, some of my best discoveries and revelations occur in this way... and there's even a slight chance that some of them might not be totally wrong. For example, ever since I've been living here at Gamone at the down-river extremity of the vast oval-shaped canyon known as the cirque de Choranche (the Latin word circus used to designate simply a circle), I've been wondering about the way in which it was formed, and the time period in which this formation took place. Now, I've never studied geology or practiced speleology, so I'm out of my depth in this domain [a dangerous situation in the case of a mountain torrent such as the Bourne]. My "theory" is based largely upon common sense, and we all know that intuition is hardly a trusty yardstick in science. It's quite possible, however, that about half of what I have to say concerning the creation of the Bourne canyon [French-language explanations in my Choranche website] is more or less correct. It's a matter of deciding whether my half is more significant than the other.

I wish to turn my naive theory-making attention now to a totally different domain: the tragic shooting events that have been taking place over the last week or so in the USA.

Non-American observers often feel that the basic problem behind such horrible events is the ease of purchasing weapons. Many Americans would appear to be surprised by this criticism. Indeed, since last Thursday's massacre at Northern Illinois University, some students who were interviewed claimed that they should be allowed to carry concealed weapons into their classrooms, so that they would have the means of retaliating to an attack, instead of sitting there passively like ducks waiting to be shot. You have to admit that this kind of reasoning sounds logical for folk who're not dismayed by the thought of turning each US classroom into a potential OK Corral.

My theory concerns the curious behavior that consists of calmly murdering a bunch of fellow students before turning the weapon on oneself and committing suicide. This raises an obvious rhetorical question. Why are these individuals intent upon mowing down others as a messy prelude to their ultimate self-destruction? I used to imagine that a fellow who decides to shoot randomly at a crowd of innocent bystanders must be motivated by immense hatred, and that he kills in order to vent that hatred. Then, when he has done a fair amount of damage, he simply turns his gun on himself in order to end his terrible book of life, as it were. Well, today, I've revised this interpretation of happenings. I have the impression that the shooter, at the outset, is essentially suicidal, but not basically murderous. His hatred is directed almost totally at himself, whereas the others are a mere backdrop. So, why does he nevertheless murder others instead of calmly killing himself, say, in his home bedroom?

I believe that the answer to that question hinges around the notion of courage... or, rather, a lack of courage. The slaughter of others serves as a kind of bloody prelude enabling the shooter to build up enough destructive adrenaline, so to speak, to have the courage to commit suicide. The preliminary killings exert a snowball effect upon the shooter. Each bullet aimed at an innocent victim is like a fiery lump of snow added to the emerging snowball... which is rather a fireball.

When the killer has attained a climax of destructive paroxysm, the fireball is big enough to hit the man with the gun: the ultimate victim of himself. And this suicide occurs in a spontaneous fashion, as if it were mere fallout from the preliminary killings.

If the existence and role of this fireball syndrome were to be fully recognized and analyzed by psychiatric specialists, they might be in a position to imagine some kind of substitute solution to the senseless slaughter of innocent bystanders who happen to find themselves on the path of the killer. Maybe the would-be shooter could be persuaded to consume a pharmaceutical product—a mysterious fireball cocktail—that would give him the courage to commit suicide quietly, in solitude, without the murderous preliminaries.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Breakage in the Antipodes

Pursuing their attempt to break the round-the-world sailing record known as the Jules Verne Trophy, the 35-year-old Provençal yachtsman Franck Cammas and his nine crew members aboard the trimaran Groupama 3 were doing well when they reached New Zealand waters. Last night on French TV, in their daily live video clip, I saw them joking about the quality of their meals.

A few hours ago, after 24 days at sea, their adventure came to an end when an outrigger hull suddenly broke in two, causing the yacht to keel over. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and the ten crew members were hoisted aboard a helicopter and taken to nearby New Zealand. So, the Frenchman Bruno Peyron retains his record time: about 51 days.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Was the hang glider invented in my native town?

For a blogger such as me, who's struck with vertigo as soon as he climbs up onto a chair [an act that literally brought about the accidental death of my 93-year-old grandfather Ernest Skyvington on Australia Day 1985, when he climbed onto a swivel chair to change a lightbulb in his Gold Coast apartment], it's pretentious to get involved in discussions about hang gliding. But that's my own fault. I brought up the question of Grafton's possible role in the history of hang gliders back in 2002, when nobody in my native town in northern New South Wales was aware of the relevance of such a subject. You'll find my account of things in my article of October 16, 2007 entitled Grafton in aeronautical history books [display].

I'm returning to this subject today in order to point out that a US reader named Joe Faust contests my facts. He certainly gives the impression that he masters the subject. Consequently, instead of adding unnecessarily my two cents worth of naive sentiments on this interesting debate, I recommend that you consult directly the lengthy and detailed comments of Joe Faust, at the end of the above-mentioned blog article. You can then acquire further information, if you so desire, by following up this subject with the help of Google. It goes without saying that Joe Faust and others are free to make use of my blog as a convenient forum for the pursuit of this debate... at least insofar as it concerns, say, the Grafton context.

Surprisingly, apart from my email acquaintance Graeme Henderson (the New Zealand fellow who delved deeply into the role of Grafton's John Dickenson in this context), I have the sad impression that few local folk have been interested in this historical question.

Archaic case of alleged blindness

For a long time, Catholics have looked upon Jews as potential Christians who have the misfortune of not seeing the Light, for they have been blinded. To hammer home the point, the medieval Church often represented Judaism in sacred art as a blindfolded female, suggesting that she might be enlightened by removing the blindfold... which has always been a theme of Christian proselytism.

Today, few people get worked up about such an interpretation of religious beliefs. Pope Benedict XVI is one of the rare religious leaders who persists in considering that such a matter still lies in the domain of valid contemporary preoccupations. Accordingly, he has just released a revised version of the Latin wording of a prayer in the traditional Tridentine Mass. Before Vatican II, the prayer evoked explicitly the "blindness" of Jews, and exhorted God to "lift a veil from their hearts", enabling them to be converted to Christianity. The new wording from Benedict XVI is slightly more soft: "Let us pray for the Jews. May the Lord Our God enlighten their hearts so that they may acknowledge Jesus Christ, the savior of all men."

Jews are unlikely to be reassured. I often have the impression that the Lord has bestowed a rare gift upon Benedict XVI: a subtle talent for stirring up constantly an optimal quantity of shit.

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 3

Chapter 3 of my novel has now been released. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Ascension. The action starts in a magnificent cove on Rottnest Island, enclosing a rusty wreck. Jake has been experimenting with an amazing technique that uses a laser knife to cut out a block of seabed rock, which can then be made buoyant by the injection of a gas mixture.

Once perfected, this method is applied to float the wreck of the Gypsy.

In Israel, learning of Jake's technology, archaeological authorities envisage an application of this method to save for posterity the ruins of an ancient seafront structure: Herod's Promontory Palace at Caesarea.

Meanwhile, the Kahn sisters have invested in a cottage in the charming Jerusalem neighborhood of Yemin Moshe. Plans are also under way to export to Israel a method for desalinating sea water developed in Western Australia (as a sideline activity) by Terra, the family enterprise of the Rose/Kahn elders.

Israel active and on the alert

Israel has her own particular way of commenting upon assassinations such as that of Imad Moughnieh, a Hezbollah chief in Lebanon.

The Jewish nation denies officially any direct responsibility for the act in question, but makes no attempt to conceal a certain satisfaction that the assassination was perpetrated. Smart diplomacy. Even smarter operational skills in this murky domain.

Following a cry for vengeance from Hassan Nasrallah, the top Hezbollah man in Lebanon, Israeli authorities have placed Tsahal in a state of alert.

Exceptionally, Israelis traveling abroard have been warned of the increased likelihood of isolated attacks, even at remote places throughout the world.

In a distinct but related domain, that of the Hamas stronghold of Gaza, the Hebrew state would appear to be engaged in preliminary operations announcing some kind of major intervention.

It was reported last night that a blast near Gaza City killed a senior chief of the Islamic Jihad movement, Ayman al-Fayed, along with six other Palestinians. Meanwhile, there are increasing signs that something will soon happen to unblock the terrible situation in the Gaza Strip, whose civilian inhabitants lack food, power and essential supplies. If the Jewish neighbor is indeed envisaging a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza (reflecting the hopes, as revealed in a recent poll, of 67 percent of Israeli citizens), the motivation is essentially military: to find and destroy the rockets that are being regularly launched into Israel from Gaza.

As an Israeli spokesman recently put it, in a nutshell: If the Palestinians refrain from doing it themselves, Israel is prepared to step in and overthrow Hamas. It's high time for such a clarification... whose organization has nevertheless necessitated a certain delay. Since it's likely that Israel will carry out this operation in a surprise manner, when observers (not to mention the enemy) are least expecting it, I've been wondering whether it might take place when everybody has their eyes set, as at present, upon Israel's problems with the Lebanese Hezbollah. The Hebrew nation has always operated in a mode that computing people would designate as multiprocessing, which simply means doing several different things at the same time.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Children deported from France

I've found that an attempt to approach a mind-boggling manifestation of evil such as the Shoah involves a series of steps. For many years, it was an abstract event in my mind, akin to the pilot's vision of the city he has just bombarded. It wasn't until I was in my early forties, settled near the Jewish heart of Paris, that I started to acquire a more complete concrete awareness of the exact nature of Nazi monstrosities. Since then, I've been trying constantly, not to "understand" such unfathomable cases of Man's inhumanity towards his fellow men, but to resolve my conception of these events into a vast but vague philosophical context.

In asking French schoolchildren to adopt, as it were, the memory of young victims of the Shoah, Nicolas Sarkozy is no doubt inspired by fine and profound intentions. But I find that he's asking far too much of young minds, not yet capable of grasping the existence of total evil. It's a risky operation, in that nobody can know beforehand the extent to which a particular child will succeed in assimilating the horror of what happened, and how that child is likely to attempt to resolve his/her revelations. There's a danger, I believe, of traumatizing children. Visions of the Shoah are too heavy a burden for tender eyes. There's time enough, later on in life, for such images of Hell.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

New brand of ready-made pastry

I've noticed that the quality of uncooked pastry, sold in supermarkets, changes considerably from one brand to another. Some are good, while others are poor. Obviously, none of them are as good as home-made pastry, but I find it convenient to use the commercial stuff whenever I want to make a tart quickly. The other day, I noticed a new brand of pastry at the supermarket. A test, last night, revealed that it's excellent for my traditional 20-minute apple tart recipe.

The topping is simply a whipped mixture of an egg yolk and thick cream. [It's amusing to see that the color of my cooking blends in well with that of the old pine family table from our former Parisian residence at 16 rue Rambuteau.]

The only hitch is the brand-name of this new pastry:

In French, it's OK, because "crousti" evokes the English adjective "crusty", whereas "pate" is French for "pastry". But I'm incapable of glimpsing this term (on packets in my refrigerator) without imagining that I've seen the word "constipate"... which is not exactly appetizing for the name of a foodstuff.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Principality in turmoil

The geographical boundaries of France are shaped in such a way that French people often refer to their country as the Hexagon. Inside this six-sided territory, besides Monaco and Andorra, a new principality came into existence recently. It's a fuzzy fairy-tale region of a virtual kind, named Sarkozia, whose monarch is Prince Nicolas. Well, during the weekend, the principality was in a state of turmoil because of electoral maneuvering in the well-heeled Parisian suburb of Neuilly, of which Nicolas Sarkozy was the mayor for a couple of decades. The president recently nominated one of his men as a candidate for the forthcoming municipal elections in Neuilly. The individual in question, David Martinon, was a close friend of Sarkozy's former wife Cecilia, and he now occupies the role of presidential spokesman. The president's son, Jean Sarkozy, has been a prominent member of Martinon's operational cell.

A few days ago, a confidential poll revealed that the people of Neuilly did not appear to appreciate this candidate who was "parachuted" upon them by their former mayor. For the president, whose popularity is currently at an all-time low, it would be an additional catastrophe if his Neuilly nomination were to turn out to be a loser. So, it was safer to remove Martinon immediately through the method referred to in French as an assassination politique. The president's son Jean [whose voice and personality, but not his physical appearance, resemble eerily those of his dad] was called upon to be the golden bullet, to do the dirty work. On Sunday, he simply announced publicly that he and his tiny band of close associates would no longer be supporting David Martinon.

Few observers believe that, as a consequence of this act, the principality will revert overnight to being a quiet and nicely-organized family affair. On the contrary, there are other signs that something is rotten in the state of Sarkozia. A prominent weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, dared to reveal recently that the president once left a phone message with his ex-wife Cecilia stating that, if she were to return home, he would instantly drop his plans for marrying Carla Bruni. Now, this alleged information may or may not have been valid, and it's not easy to verify such a claim. Normally, the president should have shrugged his shoulders and allowed this would-be revelation to be either confirmed or rejected by facts, or simply forgotten. Instead of that, Sarkozy lost his self-control and dragged the weekly and their journalist into a criminal court of law.

Regardless of predictions for March's electoral results in Neuilly, or the outcome of the court case against Le Nouvel Observateur, one has the impression that little Prince Nicolas is piling more and more straw onto the unfortunate camel named Sarkozia, whose back is starting to sag like the results of the president's popularity polls.

Friday, February 8, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 2

The initial chapter of my novel ended with a picnic excursion to sunny Rottnest Island, whose coastline is studded with wrecks. In a casual conversation with his brother Aaron and their cousins Leah and Rachel Kahn, Jake Rose (as he is called) evoked the challenge of inventing technology that would make it possible to raise the hull of a small 19th-century wreck named the Gypsy, and cause it to float like a raft.

I've just released chapter 2 of All the Earth is Mine. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Discovery, evoking encounters with faraway places. Leah, Rachel and Aaron set foot briefly in the European context of their grandparents. Then they travel to Israel and start to explore the Jewish homeland as tourists.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, Jake has become involved in academic research in the geological domain. At a practical level, he has been able to count upon assistance and technological resources from the family business: a mining company called Terra. The theme of his work is related to the question that came up during the Rottnest picnic: Would it be possible to find technical means of increasing the buoyancy of a subaquatic mass, transforming it into an artificial raft?

Little by little, Aaron and the Kahn sisters are enchanted by their encounter with the Jewish nation, and contemplate the idea of investing in a small house in Jerusalem, enabling members of the family to become acquainted with the Holy Land. An unexpected event adds momentum to the idea that the Australians could well establish a permanent relationship with Israel: Aaron becomes attached to a young Israeli woman named Anne Levi.

After these two initial chapters of All the Earth is Mine, readers should be able to sense that the novel has something to do with Jake's technological research in Western Australia, and that future happenings are likely to unfold in Israel.

May we all get the justice we deserve

I'm impatient to see how my Anglican compatriots in Australia, not to mention their Catholic mates, are going to react to the suggestion of Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, that certain elements of the Islamic sharia system should be introduced into everyday British law, enabling Muslims to choose between having certain cases resolved either in normal courts or before Islamic authorities. Similarly, I would consider that Catholics should be free to bring their legal conflicts before a traditional papal tribunal of the kind that once dealt with Galileo.

As for atheists, I believe it would be fitting if judicial affairs concerning humble beings of my kind were to be submitted to a charming court on the other side of the looking-glass in which I would be seated between Alice and the White Rabbit, and defended by the Mad Hatter.

Talking about weird English notions of personal freedom [which we weren't, really], I watched an amazing TV documentary last night on the Mitford sisters. Wow, what a crazy family! Unity Mitford [1914-1948] was a devout groupie of Adolf Hitler up until she botched up an attempt to blow her brains out with a revolver that the Führer had given her. Diana Mitford [1910-2003] was the enchanted wife of the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley [1896-1980]. Jessica Mitford [1917-1996], who had married a leftist nephew of Winston Churchill who fought in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, ended up as a member of the Communist Party in the USA. Individuals of that kind make me feel so terribly dull and undistinguished.

I realize that, from time to time, I get so carried away with my Francophile sentiments that I no longer think of myself as an ordinary Australian. On such occasions, to return abruptly to reality, and convince myself that I can't escape my cultural roots as a genuine 6th-generation small-town Australian, far removed from England and certain kinds of British behavior, there's no better personal antidote than to sit in on a few words from exotic folk such as the Mitford family, the archbishop of Canterbury, etc.

Knee power

By the age of twelve or so, having grown up in a competitive cycling environment, I was perfectly capable of riding my ordinary racing bike, unattached, on a set of rollers [often referred to, particularly when the bicycle is fixed to the device, as a home trainer]. Since then, I continued this activity... even in my flat in Paris. The whirring noise was such that neighbors imagined that I was playing some kind of strange wind instrument. Friends who saw me pedaling like a crazy devil on the rollers would ask, inevitably, whether there might be some way of using all that wasted energy for some kind of noble purpose. I often imagined that it would be interesting to wire up a system, say, for frying eggs.

Apparently the authorities in Salzburg have decided to carry out research and development work in this domain. Judging from this recent photo that I found on the Internet, they've set themselves the challenge of powering up a doll house. Why not? In my article of 31 October 2007 entitled Fabulous educational project [display], I evoked the idea of using this electricity-production approach to power computers for children in developing countries.

An interesting variation on this theme has just been revealed by US and Canadian researchers who are intent upon unleashing the hidden power in the human knee.

When you think about it, it's outrageous to realize that many folk walk for the sole purpose of getting from one place to another or, worse still, for personal pleasure... when their energy could be devoted to the generation of much-needed pollution-free power. For the moment, there's a minor problem in that the walker whose knees are being used to generate electricity [more than enough, so it's said, to operate a phone or a GPS gadget] must be prepared to wander around with a device of 1.6 kg strapped to each leg. But the extra weariness at the end of a pleasant day of hiking through the mountains, say, would be compensated for by the joy of knowing that you were making a positive contribution to the exciting challenge of clean energy.

I'm convinced that imaginative scientists could think of other everyday physical activities in which wasted human energy could be harnessed by means of a few well-placed wires and state-of-the-art gadgets. As in all high-tech projects, however, there are risks. It would be silly and indeed regrettable if an especially athletic fellow were to generate such an intense burst of self-produced power that he electrocuted himself.

Education... for what purpose?

An article in today's press reveals that Australian universities are ranked by foreign students as the third best in the world (just behind the UK and the US) as a preferred location for studies. This was the conclusion of a report produced by an independent research service called the International Graduate Insight Group, based in London. In view of the identity of the essentially English-speaking clients of this organization [display], this conclusion is hardly world-shaking. In fact, it smacks of what the French call nombrilisme [from the word for navel], which designates the pleasant activity that consists of acquiring narcissistic joy by admiring at length, and in depth, the beauty of one's own navel.

A distinguished member of Australia's academe stated that the study was "a positive reflection on Australian education". I don't wish to squabble with that point of view. But wouldn't it be more meaningful to evaluate Australian education, not through the opinions of foreign students, but in terms of the annual number and quality of brilliant graduates joining the creative and productive work force in Australian science, industry, technology, business, etc?

Avant-garde French train technology

Just when the French acronym TGV [train à grande vitesse] has even found its way into English-language dictionaries [such as on my Macintosh] to designate French high-speed electric passenger trains, we'll be obliged soon to become familiar with a substitute: AGV [automotrice à grande vitesse]. I'm not sure how we should translate this expression. Maybe simply as high-speed train motor (a little awkward)... unless somebody attempts to introduce a neologism such as automotive, as a rail equivalent of automobile.

In the context of an AGV system, the power does not remain solely in the locomotive. Instead, it is distributed out to each carriage in the train. This means that the velocity of a train can be stabilized, no matter how long it is. And there are gains both in speed and in energy consumption. The Alstom manufacturer states that the new trains will be lighter than TGVs, through the use of new composite material.

Alstom has made it clear that it aims to export this revolutionary train. The Italian NTV operator has already ordered a batch of 25, and Argentina plans to use this train on its line between Buenos-Aires and Cordoba, for an investment of 1.5 billion dollars. The success of the TGV has been largely a matter of prestige. Unfortunately, as we all know, mere prestige won't buy shoes for the kids, or (as they say in French) put butter in your spinach. This time round, with the AGV, France would like to earn a lot of that old-fashioned stuff called money.

Europe in space

It was great to learn that the Atlantis shuttle was finally launched successfully yesterday from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Aboard, there's the European-built laboratory named Columbus, which weighed in at 12.8 tons: a lot of excess baggage! The laboratory will be operated by the European Space Agency [website].

The French astronaut Léopold Eyharts will be staying up in the sky for a while to install Columbus at the ISS [International Space Station]. There's also a German astronaut in the crew. The arrival in space of this laboratory, 7 meters in length, will be a momentous event for European research. The ESA director general, Jean-Jacques Dordain, declared: “When the hatch is opened and the astronauts enter Columbus to switch on and commission its science payloads, this will be a great day for Europe, and I see this day coming very soon now.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Uluru news

I received a few more excellent photos of Uluru from my Young mate Bruce Hudson. [Well, he's no older than me, and he happens to live on the outskirts of a New South Wales town of that name.]

I was intrigued to hear that, in pools up on the rock, there are tadpoles.

Does this mean that Mr and Mrs Frog climbed (jumped) all the way up there in order to copulate and procreate on the sacred rock? Probably not. I would imagine that it's the familiar story of frog spawn being swept up by gusts of wind and deposited on the surface of Uluru rock pools. Unless, of course, there is some kind of mysterious Aboriginal magic at play...

When I was a child, I was prepared to believe in the spontaneous creation of tiny creatures such as tadpoles from festering mud. Why shouldn't such reptiles suddenly spring into existence, even without the intervention of progenitors? It took me ages to learn that you don't get babies of any kind whatsoever without primordial acts of sexual intercourse... even among frogs. My enlightenment would have been so much more rapid if only my parents had taken me aside, one day, and explained to me: "Billy, we screwed joyfully to produce you... and you'll do the same thing to produce your own children." Funnily, though, parents don't talk to their children like that. Me, for example: I would have never imagined using such crude language in the context of Manya and Chino. Our children, while believing for a while in the possibility of magic tadpoles on top of Uluru, are expected to get around to learning unaided on the bush telegraph that, if they literally don't give a screw (not an unpleasant task), they won't produce offspring.

Would you believe it? The great Charles Darwin believed in pangenesis. In the Origin of Species, he writes: "... every unit or cell of the body throws off gemmules or undeveloped atoms, which are transmitted to the offspring of both sexes..." In other words, Darwin would have found it perfectly normal that his mysterious gemmules might ascend Uluru, with or without help from a stiff breeze, and that these "undeveloped atoms" (!) might participate by devious means in the creation of the tadpoles observed by my friend Bruce.

I remain intrigued (?) by [trick] questions of the following kind:

Accustomed to the influx of tourists, are new generations of Uluru frogs becoming more and more familiar with tourists?

— Have baby frogs inherited this familiarity to the extent that they now hop along to tourists and beg for food?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Is there a pilot in the plane?

If you want to see some really crazy figures, take a look at the chart of comparative data in the CIA World Factbook concerning the lengths of coastlines of the nations of the globe [display]. According to their data, the total length of Indonesia's coastline is equivalent to that of Russia, and well over twice as long as Australia's coastline. Even the Philippines and Japan have coastlines longer than that of Australia.

The Wikipedia article on this subject provides clues as to what might have gone wrong. Common sense tells us that, if you were to hire a team of surveyors armed with tape measures, and ask them to take into account the curved lengths of every nook and cranny in a section of coastline, they would end up with a much larger figure than if the curved lengths were to be represented roughly by linear segments. Inversely, if a lazy surveyor were to place markers around the Australian coastline at intervals of 500 km, and then obtain the total distance by adding up the linear segments between his markers (which is more or less what happens when you evaluate the length of a coastline using satellite data), he would conclude that Australia's total coastline measures only 12,500 km... which is equivalent to that of the UK in the above-mentioned chart. To obtain the figures in the chart, each nation has been left with the responsibility of calculating the length of its own coastline, using its own particular technique of measurement, but we ignore the so-called scale interval employed by each country... which means that the respective figures cannot be compared. So, we can safely conclude that all that data is a bunch of crap.

Be that as it may, we realize intuitively that the huge island continent of Australia has a very long coastline. Consequently, our nation is faced with a gigantic task of administering all those coastal waters, from the Pacific in the east to the Indian Ocean in the west. Alongside our defense forces, one of the major government bodies in this domain is AMSA [Australian Maritime Safety Authority], whose website [display] states its vision: To be a superior provider of maritime safety, marine environment protection, and maritime and aviation search and rescue. To help them in this challenge, AMSA awarded a contract in 2005 to a private company named AeroRescue, based in Darwin, with a background in pearling.

And the Australian government provided funds of some $200 million, through AMSA, enabling AeroRescue to acquire a fleet of five Fairchild-Dornier 328-120 turboprop search-and-rescue aircraft.

Amazingly, AMSA has just revealed publicly that, a fortnight ago, on Australia Day, all five planes were grounded because of technical problems. In other words, it would have been a nasty moment for vessels that might have run into serious trouble off the Australian coast at that time.

The following job ad, which I discovered on the Internet, makes me wonder whether the Dornier problems were indeed purely technical:

It's no doubt a pure coincidence that applications for this pilot's job closed on the eve of Australia Day: the day on which the entire fleet was grounded with problems. Freaky.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Non-standard food product

These days, consumers are accustomed to highly-standardized food products. If you make two quite separate purchases of a foodstuff X, at two different stores, on two different dates, you generally expect to obtain quasi-identical products... except, maybe, in the case of fresh fruit and vegetables. That being the case, I find it almost an exciting privilege to discover that my favorite everyday cheese—a local variety of Saint-Marcellin—appears to be quite different from one week to the next, even though its name, packaging and price remain constant.

One week, it's soft and creamy [as in the above photo]. A week later, it can be hard and chunky. The taste, too, evolves slightly, while remaining essentially constant. [Fortunately, my Saint Marcellin never gets around to tasting like Norman camembert or Swiss gruyère!] I like to think that these variations reflect in fact the changing seasons and weather, which influence naturally the quality of the fodder on which the local cows are grazing.

It's funny to think that, while industrialists in most fields make huge investments in order to produce standardized goods, consumers can look upon the surprises offered by non-standard products, such as my cheese, as a latter-day luxury.

I'm reminded of an anecdote in a quite different domain: hand-weaving. Many years ago, a fashionable Parisian department store had decided to employ Breton craftsmen with their spinning wheels and handlooms for a marketing gimmick. After a day or so, however, the manager realized that there was an unexpected problem concerning a charming old fellow who spent his time carding wool from a greasy fleece in a wicker basket on the floor, and then spinning it into a fine regular thread. In fact, his woolen threads were so regular that they looked as if they might have been produced by a modern machine... and that, of course, was not what the customers were expecting. They wanted hand-spun wool to look as if it had been produced by hand... with lumps, knots and all the irregularities that you expect to find in this kind of old-fashioned production. When the manager asked the old guy whether he could maybe work a little more carelessly and roughly, the craftsman was rightly offended. He had spent all his adult life mastering the art of wool spinning, so that the quality of his work was now impeccable, and now he found himself face-to-face with an employer who was asking him to work deliberately in a sloppy manner!

I hope they don't get around to introducing sophisticated quality control, one of these days, at the local cheese factory.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

No time to lose

In the words of Edith Piaf:

Quand il me prend dans ses bras,
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose.

[When he takes me in his arms, and speaks to me softly, I see life with a rosy color.]

The new Madame Sarkozy once made it known that she supports the French Left. In other words, this wealthy young lady (the French press quoted a global figure, today, of over 18 million euros) used to see the world, from a political viewpoint, with a rosy color. Naturally, in the course of the last 71 days [since her encounter with the French president], she may have changed her political outlook. Everybody has the right to evolve, and to see the world in whatever color they desire. In any case, it will be interesting to hear for whom she votes in France's forthcoming municipal elections.

A short article on this romance in the New York Times stated that the public relationship of Nicolas Sarkozy with an Italian-born heiress—once involved with a variety of males such as Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and former French Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius—struck many French observers as "lacking taste". I love that fuzzy notion of mild disparagement, which sums up the situation perfectly. On the other hand, it's a fact that French polls reveal a spectacular drop in the president's popularity, and it's not unlikely that this negative result can be attributed to Sarkozy's apparent failure to halt the decline of purchasing power in France, combined with his running around ostentatiously with an Italian pinup.

High-speed tra-la-la

Click the following banner to visit an exotic French-language website that appears to have something to do with high-speed trains, because it carries the French railways SNCF logo. But I warn readers that they might not understand anything whatsoever in this website, above all in the animated films that you're invited to watch. I say this, not because the website is allegedly in French, but because of what you might call its "style". Above all, don't search around in this website if your aim is to book a seat on a French train. By the time you start to fathom out what this website is all about, your train will have blown its whistle and left the station. On the other hand, enlightened adolescent viewers of all backgrounds [not necessarily French] will probably find this stuff perfectly comprehensible, indeed ingenious and awesome.

Need I say more? Or more exactly: Am I capable (even though I understand the French language) of explaining things to any greater extent? Well, I can at least provide you with a few superficial clues, but I wouldn't claim that they'll help you in understanding the profound sense of this website.

— First, the website has been created by folk who call themselves iDTGV. Here, the final three letters stand, of course, for train à grande vitesse: high-speed train. This acronym is so familiar now that it even exists in the standard English dictionary of my Macintosh. The first two letters, iD, would appear to be an Apple-inspired way of evoking the French word idée: idea. So, iDTGV is no doubt a group of creators with ideas for marketing train travel to adolescent clients. And the website and its animated videos starring Zen and Zap are probably their first major production.

— The hero Zen is a young male, and the heroine Zap a young female. They happen to be traveling in the same high-speed train, but it goes without saying that they would have never met up personally were it not for the creative efforts of the nice and thoughtful iDTGV folk.

Well, that's as much help as I'm going to give you [as I'm able to give you]. You should be able to take it away from there. I vaguely suspect that, through iDTGV, adolescents on train trips will be able to make their presence known, get in contact with other adolescents on the same train, and participate in all kinds of high-speed tra-la-la during their brief time in the TGV. Awesome, no? Let me know if you've understood the situation differently or better than I did.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 1

I've decided to distribute my novel All the Earth is Mine through the Internet in the form of freely-downloadable PDF files, one chapter each week. In all, there are 16 chapters, so the full distribution will take several months. You can read these files directly on your computer, using a PDF tool such as Acrobat, but I think it's preferable—more comfortable from a reading viewpoint—to print them out on A4 paper, even though this will finally result in 300 printed pages.

Today, I'm releasing chapter 1 of my novel. To obtain it, click the following button, which takes you to the novel's website:

The main action of this initial chapter, entitled Origins, takes place on a magnificent antipodean island, Rottnest (which I know quite well), off the coast of Western Australia.

Readers will meet up with the hero of the novel: a student of geology and mining technology named Jacob Rose. In choosing his family name, I was no doubt influenced by my recollections of a splendid place in Jerusalem called the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden, created with funds from a US philanthropist named William Rosenburg [1899-1966]. I liked, above all, the way in which this name might be interpreted as if it were the opening words of a prophetic declaration: Jacob rose in the midst of his brethren!

Besides Jacob's brother Aaron, we meet up with their cousins Leah and Rachel Kahn. And we hear of the recent history of the Rose and Kahn ancestors who fled to Australia from Nazi-dominated Europe and went on to become prosperous industrial leaders in the mining field.

Above all, this initial chapter of All the Earth is Mine sets the maritime tone of the entire novel, which might be described in a nutshell as a fable about sailing.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Saying sorry to indigenous Australians

The antipodean continent chosen by the British authorities as an excellent abode for social outcasts had been inhabited for many millennia by a vast community of Aborigines whose tribal culture and pantheistic religion were exclusively oral.

These innocent and relatively peaceful natives were no match for the European invaders—convicts and settlers—who simply snatched the plains, rivers and mountains away from the indigenous Australians, using violence, if need be. Later, the colonial authorities stole, not only the natives' land, but their children too, in view of an absurd eugenic principle according to which the only survival strategy for this people would consist of educating them in a European context and inter-breeding them with white individuals.

Today, it would appear that the prime minister of Australia is at last about to apologize officially to the so-called "stolen generations" of indigenous Australians, victims of cruel acts perpetrated in the past by white Australians. It's far from easy, of course, to decide upon the most effective and morally just way of making such a formal apology... and this explains, no doubt, why it has taken such a long time for this event to become a reality. We current Australians tend to say, or at least think, that our ancestors, not us, were responsible for these crimes against the Aborigines. So, why should we say we're sorry for acts that we didn't actually commit, personally?

Although the respective situations and tragedies are profoundly different, Australia's forthcoming apology to the Aborigines reminds me of the French government's complex relationship with Jewish citizens and residents of France during the terrible Nazi period. Justifications of a similar kind were advanced for decades to postpone the fateful act that would consist of saying explicitly: The nation, today, is sorry for all that happened!

Whatever we might say concerning the errors and foibles of former president Jacques Chirac, we must give him credit for being largely responsible for this official act of contrition, on 16 July 1995, at the former location of the notorious sporting stadium (the so-called winter cycling track of Paris) where Jews arrested by French police were assembled before being deported to concentration camps. In a fortnight, in the Antipodes, Kevin Rudd will be performing a solemn act of the same order.