Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reality of revels

In about five minutes, the first decade of the 21st century will be drawing to a close in France. And festivities are under way.

I've just noticed a press article indicating that, throughout France this evening, some 45,000 police and gendarmes are deployed to make sure that peace prevails.

Ray of hope for our devils

For many years, the marsupial known as the Tasmanian devil has been the victim of a terrible form of facial cancer that is so contagious that it could well drive these precious creatures to extinction.

An article in The New York Times reveals the existence of a ray of hope [display]. It has always saddened my heart to hear that these fabulous beats have been suffering and dying, and it would be utterly marvelous if modern genetics could save them.

In another cancer domain, concerning human beings, scientists at the UK-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have catalogued the genetic maps of skin and lung cancer, and identified specific DNA mutations that can lead to malignant tumors.

There's something beautifully harmonious in the idea that we humans and the Tasmanian devils are all awaiting the magic benefits of scientific research. There's no sense in our praying, of course, since devils—like atheists—don't seek salvation from God.

Changed my Twitter name

I've noticed that hardly anybody uses an underscore character in their Twitter name. So, I've changed mine from William_Sky to Skyvington.

Within the system, this modification appears to be transparent. So, I don't have to notify anybody in any way whatsoever.

It might look a little pretentious of me to refer to myself by a simple surname... like Charlemagne. In fact, it's great to have a surname that is so rare (maybe due to a spelling error committed by an ancestor) that no other user of Twitter has ever seized it. Now, if some other Skyvington decides to use Twitter, I'm afraid that he or she might be obliged to decline their identity by adopting a precise name such as Emmanuelle_Skyvington or François_Skyvington, for example. Sorry about that. But, as they say in the Bible: First come, first served! Besides, I get a kick out of thinking of myself (once again, as they say in the Bible) as a patriarch... like, say, Mr Moses, Esquire.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bertrand Russell on God

Throughout my younger years, the books of the English philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell [1872-1970] were no doubt my main non-fictional reading. Even today, my copy of Russell's big History of Western Philosophy (which I bought in Paris in 1962) is located permanently on a bookshelf just alongside my bed.

Whenever I stroll through London's Trafalgar Square, I recall this photo of the 87-year-old white-maned philosopher standing among the lions at the foot of Nelson's Column at a 1959 rally of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

This evening, it was a pleasure for me to discover this interview on the Dawkins website:

Naturally, I always imagined Russell first and foremost as a philosopher and a mathematician (whom I approached initially through his work in the domain of symbolic logic), and only then as an outspoken freethinker and a nuclear-disarmament campaigner. He impressed me greatly, of course, by describing himself explicitly as an atheist... at a time when this term was hardly fashionable. I tended to interpret this, however, as Russell's way of telling us that he simply didn't have the time or the inclination to be concerned about questions of divinity. That's to say, I imagined him rather as an agnostic, since I never really felt that Russell had provided us with convincing proofs that God did not exist... if indeed such proofs were thinkable.

Today, looking back upon my admiration of Russell, I see him retrospectively as a precursor of Richard Dawkins. Or, rather, I imagine Dawkins as an intellectual descendant of Russell. There is something similar in their elegant style, their power of inquiry and expression, and their profound humanism.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In God we don't trust

Theoretically, in the USA, the national legislative body has no power to deal with religion. That's to say, church and state are separated, as stipulated in a clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Nevertheless, the nation's official motto is "In God we trust".

Since 1978, an association of freethinkers named the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Wisconsin, has been striving to erode the grip of God's trustees. Among other things, they've got around to designing what look like stained-glass windows of a new kind. Here's their Dawkins model:

[Click the banner to display a humongous version]

The word "trust", with financial connotations, can be found in French dictionaries. The presence of this verb on US banknotes lends weight to the view that the power of the dollar is, in some mysterious way, divine. This money is backed by God, as it were. I used to feel the same way about the basic monetary unit of modern Israel, the shekel.

Here in Europe, we've got a lot of work to do before the euro shines divinely like a piece of silver warmed by the hand of God. The underlying problem, of course, is that the mythological pagan creature Europa was not exactly the kind of female who would be welcomed into the home of a normal God-fearing family. As for the idea of "In Zeus we trust", this just wouldn't sound convincing to a serious banker.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Letter from Polanski to French philosopher

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has received a letter from the cinéaste Roman Polanski, who authorized its publication.

[Click the portraits to display the letter]

An English translation of Lévy's initial reaction to the Polanski case was published on 27 October 2009 in the US liberal news website co-founded by the Greek-American author and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington. [Click the banner to read this article]

Announcing blog posts via Twitter

For the moment, I'm definitely not an addicted user of Twitter. In fact, I've only ever sent out three "tweets" (I hope my use of jargon is correct), and I only follow one "tweeter": an interesting Parisian woman (working in the medical field) who once let me use her excellent photos taken inside the Hôtel Dieu hospital.

However, I'm thinking of using Twitter systematically to announce new blog posts. For the moment, I haven't made up my mind whether to make such announcements in English, in French or in both languages.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fabulous fig story

I'm intrigued by the power of Richard Dawkins as a writer, and I've often tried to determine the ingredients of his amazing artistry.

First, of course, this erudite Oxford professor has a profound mastery, not only of zoology (his basic field), but of neighboring sciences such as biology and paleontology. Besides, Dawkins is quite at ease in fields such as games theory and statistics, and he's even a competent computer programmer. The second obvious ingredient of Dawkins' success as a writer is his virtuosity in the domain of the English language, which he handles constantly with the sensitivity of a poet. His scientific and literary achievements are reflected in the fact that Dawkins, in Britain, is both a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. When appropriate, he can fall deliberately into the casual vernacular of a journalist writing in a popular magazine, just as he can switch on instantly, if need be, the didactic language of a schoolmaster. He can throw a tender personal anecdote into the middle of pages of scientific explanations:

I was driving through the English countryside with my daughter Juliet, then aged six, and she pointed out some flowers by the wayside. I asked her what she thought wildflowers were for. She gave a rather thoughtful answer. "Two things," she said. "To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us." I was touched by this and sorry I had to tell her that it wasn't true.

Ever since 1976, through ten splendid books, Dawkins has been explaining that many commonly-held beliefs are simply not true. But above all, he has been telling us, more importantly, what is true, especially in the Darwinian domain of evolution.

The first Dawkins book I read was The Blind Watchmaker, which stunned me instantly. That was the first time I had ever heard of the possibility (today, I would say the certainty) that, on the early inanimate planet Earth, a crude mineral self-copying entity composed solely of clay or crystal had evolved into the fabulous DNA replicator that has since become the unique basis of all life on the planet.

Dawkins comes through as a great animal-lover. I'm not talking of the ordinary kind of person who gets carried away (like me) by dogs, donkeys, squirrels, hawks and so forth. No, the love expressed by Dawkins would be better described as awe when confronted with the inbuilt technology found in countless creatures. In the Blind Watchmaker book, he devoted an entire opening chapter to the amazing design of the navigational system of bats.

Several of these delightful creatures are lodged here at Gamone, where they offer me aeronautical shows in the twilight on late summer afternoons... like the fruit bats in my native Grafton.

In Climbing Mount Improbable, Dawkins expresses his utter amazement concerning another creature of which there are ample specimens here at Gamone: the spider. Their web-building operations, as explained by Dawkins, are fantastic.

Towards the end of the same book, we are presented with an even more amazing story: that of the common fig.

Now, insofar as I'm particularly fond of figs (receiving fruit from Madeleine and Dédé, as well as from Bob's tree... while waiting for my own—given to me by Natacha and Alain—to become productive), I had imagined that I probably knew at least a thing or two about this fruit. Well, it turns out that, before reading Dawkins, I was totally and dismally ignorant on the subject of figs. First, what we imagine as the so-called "fruit" is not at all a true fruit. It's rather a strange garden of countless delicate fig flowers. What we see as the fig's skin might be thought of as the "earth" in which these flowers are growing. And the garden has curved, over evolutionary time, into a concave bulb that hides the flowers. Furthermore, inside this closed garden, the fig flowers live and procreate thanks to the complex services rendered by a community of devoted little male and female wasps, whose entire existence and survival are inextricably linked to the fig tree in question. In order to understand what happens in this mysterious garden, I started to draw a few diagrams like this one, which indicates the four principal actors: male and female fig flowers, female wasps and wingless male wasps.

The female wasps (made pregnant prior to their actual birth) stuff pollen from male flowers into their breasts and escape from the fig garden through holes in the "earth" burrowed by males. As soon as a female wasp locates another "garden" with female flowers waiting to be pollinated, she crawls in through the tiny hole at the extremity of the fig, maybe tearing off her wings in the process. Apparently we crunch such microscopic Agaondae wasps every time we bite into a fig, but they can do us no harm. Within the confines of this blog, I certainly don't intend to try to delve more deeply into the fabulous fig story. In any case, Dawkins has already told this story fully and splendidly. I recommend his book to everybody who's sensitive to all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

Planting peonies

Near Crest, a half-hour drive to the south of Choranche, a reputed nursery named Rivière specializes in peonies (pivoines in French).

[Click the photo to visit their website.]

At this time of the year, bare-roots peonies can be purchased for planting. You have to order them by phone or Internet, indicating the precise varieties that you want, and there's a delay of a few days before the packages are ready. I ordered eight different peonies: four tree plants and four herbaceous plants.

Each plant is packaged individually in a sealed cellophane bag crammed with natural moss. This packaging enabled me to wait for the snow to melt at Gamone before starting to plant the peonies. Finally, I carried out the planting last Tuesday morning, in unpleasant cold and muddy conditions. But the pleasure of opening up each package and taking care of the precious plants compensated for the discomfort. Here's an unopened package:

When you slit open the cellophane, the contents emit a wonderful aroma of damp moss and wood.

Once the moss is shaken off, the moist bare peoney roots have such a delightful wine-hued aspect and vegetal aroma that you might feel like eating them. (Well, that's what I felt.)

I'll wait until spring before describing exactly what I've now planted at Gamone in the way of roses and peonies.

More fallen rocks

Last Monday morning, I set out early to drive into town. Half a kilometer down the road, a roadblock had been set up just before the Pont Picard (which marks the entry into Pont-en-Royans) due to rocks that had tumbled down from Mount Baret during the night. This sight is becoming familiar.

The employee told me that several rocks had fallen, reaching the roadway at distinct spots over a distance of fifty meters. There seemed to be four separate rocks.

The "footprints" of rock #1, before it terminated its itinerary in the middle of the road, can be seen in the macadam. Rock #2 must have bounced off the slopes at a certain height and landed directly like a bomb on the edge of the roadway, where the violence of the impact shattered it into fragments of creamy limestone.

Rock #3 was halted by the protective net, whereas rock #4 smashed a wooden post, broke through the netting and left a telltale hole in the roadside earth where it bounced before ending its trajectory down on the edge of the Bourne.

An hour later, a civil-security helicopter was flying over the scene, taking a close look at the spot on the top of the mountain where the rocks had been dislodged. Their verdict: Bigger rocks were poised, ready to roll down the slopes. So, the road was immediately closed... probably for several weeks. To escape from Gamone without going through Pont-en-Royans, there are several solutions, all of which involve roundabout routes up over the surrounding mountains. You might say that this is the price I pay for living in such an exotic setting as Choranche.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sophia's latest larder

I put a bag of old walnuts onto the compost heap, because some of them had been attacked by insects.

Not surprisingly, Sophia saw this as wasteful behavior, which she's not prepared to tolerate. So, on wintry afternoons, whenever Sophia feels that she hasn't consumed a sufficient quantity of calories to keep out the cold, she'll have a handy larder.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Time-honored season's greetings

A French website offers marvelous specimens of the season's greetings over the years.

A thought enters my mind, but I have trouble expressing it: Has the Internet replaced the Xmas season... as it were ?

Sophia recycling

Maybe you've got a surplus wad of insulation material in your attic, and you don't know what to do with it. Well, Sophia can give you an idea for recycling it... as an excellent dog mattress!

Normally, this kind of stuff shouldn't be lying on my kitchen floor. I had taken this wad out of the attic with the intention of stuffing a few strands into a crack on top of an outside door frame. Then, when the tempest started to blow up yesterday, I rapidly collected everything that was scattered around outside. So, overnight, the wad remained on my kitchen floor. This morning, returning from a trip into the village, I found my Sophia stretched out comfortably on top of it. I believe that both cats and dogs have a remarkable intuition for detecting cozy places to lie down. They're surely equipped, in their chromosomes, with some kind of a soft-mattress-detector gene.

Gérard dislikes automobiles

Mounted on his old horse, Don Quixote attacked windmills with nothing more than his knight's lance.

France's celebrated actor Gérard Depardieu is suspected (but not yet formally accused) of having attacked an innocent automobile parked in a Paris street in the vicinity of Gérard's apartment. He operated almost barehanded, so it appears. The damages are brutal: a broken windshield and doors kicked in.

Observers are wondering what might have motivated such an assault. It has been suggested that this act of destruction might be interpreted as fallout from Copenhagen's failure to achieve what had been expected in rules stipulating cuts in carbon dioxide emissions. It's a fact that the automobile is looked upon as a major culprit in this domain, along with farting cows. So, maybe the actor's behavior was a symbolic personal expression of his profound desire that our children might inherit a cleaner planet. In that case, though, why did he perform this noble act in the middle of the night, in a somewhat stealthy manner, instead of operating in broad daylight, in front of a crowd of environmental activists and joyous spectators?

If indeed this hypothesis of an aversion to automobiles turned out to be correct, then it would be nice if Gérard were to go along to the police station, when he is summoned, on horseback, like Don Quixote. This would make a huge positive impact upon global-warming protagonists throughout the world... and might even persuade the municipal authorities in Paris—who have already reintroduced bicycles with much success—to examine the possibility of reverting massively to horses for transport inside the City of Light.

Realistically, we must not exclude the possibility that alcohol and aggressiveness might have played a role in this act of violence. If that were the case, then the lucky car-owner should look forward to the pleasure of soon being able to drive around Paris in a famous pristine vehicle. He could put photographic banners on his brand-new doors to thank publicly the benefactor... referred to affectionately as Gégé.

This automobile—the Gégémobile—could rapidly become a unique and highly-priced collector's item.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sun's trajectory will not vary for a while

Today, December 21, is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It's called the Winter Solstice (where solstice means "standing still") because the trajectory of the Sun, low in the south-eastern sky, remains fixed—as it were—for several days. For me, alas, it's not easy to witness this standing-still phenomenon, because the sun rises behind one mountain, and sets behind another. At around 9.45 in the morning, the Sun makes its appearance from behind the cliff on the right-hand side of the Cournouze.

Then it spends the day moving towards Pont-en-Royans (as it were, to the right of the photo), and finally disappears below the crest of the Baret (seen, in the following photo, from my bedroom window).

Soon, the Sun will be appearing, not to the right of the Cournouze, but further to the left, above the mountain. And, since it needs extra time to "climb" to the top of the mountain, this means that, for me, the Sun will in fact appear in the sky of Châtelus later than at present. But, as of today, the days will, of course, be growing longer. As you can see, understanding what's happening in the heavens is complicated when you live in a place such as Gamone, surrounded by mountains. But I've grown accustomed to this environment, and I would surely be unhappy if I had to wake up every morning in the middle of a plain.

The Cournouze and the Baret are located a mere kilometer from each other. The saddle-shaped neck of land between them is called the Col de Mézelier, and this was the mountain pass used by the Chartreux monks on the 15-kilometer journey (no doubt astride donkeys) between their monastery of Val du Sainte-Marie down in Bouvantes and their vineyards in Choranche.

POST SCRIPTUM: I've often discovered with dismay that it's not easy to behave as an efficient amateur astronomer at Gamone, since the sky's covered inevitably in an opaque veil of clouds. If Galileo had been a Gamonian, he wouldn't have been bothered unduly by the Inquisition.

Instead of going down in History because of his "Eppur si muove", he would be remembered through a prosaic mea culpa: "My thinking was screwed up by the haze above the Cournouze."

This morning (22 December 2009), I waited vainly to see the point at which the Sun would appear in the sky above Châtelus. Let's simply say, in non-astronomical terms, that it didn't...

Personally, I'm most unanimous

And what—you might ask—am I unanimous about? I'm totally unanimous in my belief that the concept of unanimity is ideal, say, for a couple deciding whether or not to get married... but it's utter nonsense in most other real-world decision-making situations. What I mean to say is, even those silly old guys in red don't insist upon making a unanimous decision when they're electing a new pope. And jeez, that's an awesome decision, because the selected fellow becomes the chief representative of God himself on our planet. Sure, a priest is not supposed to go ahead with a marriage unless there's unanimous approval from the congregation. This means that an old boyfriend of the bride or a disgruntled parent or even a loudmouthed fuckwit could theoretically veto the ceremony by yelling out no. But I think that, unless he or she had highly pertinent breaking news to reveal, the naysayer would run the risk of getting thrown out through a side door of the church. [My example has a distinctly Christian flavor. That's because I have no idea how other religions handle the concept of nuptial unanimity... and, as they say in certain spiritual circles, I really don't give a shit.]

In any case, I'm unanimous in considering that it's outrageous to use the United Nations approach, based upon unanimous decisions, when it comes to making plans to save the planet Earth. Something will have to change fundamentally in the decision-making process to avoid the risk, in the future, of wasting the time and energy of heads of state and environmental experts from all the nations of the globe. While they're at it, maybe it would be a good idea to take a close look at the logic (or lack of logic) that enables a tiny country such as Tuvalu, say, to speak with the same weight as a great nation. You will have guessed that I've never been wildly enthusiastic about the concept of democracy... although it's difficult to imagine a sound system to replace it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

One of my ancestors was a bastard

I can imagined being admonished by a relative: "William, that's no way to talk about our ancestors!" Well, it's the literal truth. The ancestor in question is referred to technically—whether we like it or not—as a royal bastard. The story starts with King John.

In my article of 3 September 2009 entitled Genealogical breakthrough [display], I indicated that this monarch was one of my countless great(x22)-grandfathers. As every English-speaking schoolchild knows, one of the only positive acts of this appalling king consisted of his being forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. If you read his biography, you'll see that John married twice, to two women named Isabelle, the second of whom was the French matriarch of the Plantagenêt dynasty of English kings. But who was this alleged offspring of John named Richard FitzRoy, born in 1187, who was an ancestor of mine? Well, he was an illegitimate son of the 20-year-old future king and his cousin Suzanne de Warenne.

It's interesting to examine the names by which this bastard son is known. Sometimes he is given the Chilham surname, simply because he was born at Chilham Castle in Kent. (By coincidence, centuries later, this castle happened to be the residence of the late John Skeffington, 13th Viscount Massereene, with whom I once exchanged a series of letters about Skeffington genealogy.) I've seen him referred to as Richard Fitzjohn Chilham. Most often, though, he's known simply as Richard FitzRoy. Now, the elements of this apparent surname, FitzRoy, are synonymous with the French words fils (son) and roi (king). A FitzRoy is therefore a son—generally illegitimate—of a king, and this surname has always been a commonly-used generic title for royal bastards. After my ancestor Richard Fitzroy, there were two other famous FitzRoys:

Henry FitzRoy [1519–1536], 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, was the bastard son of King Henry VIII and his mistress Elizabeth Blount.

— A century later, another Henry FitzRoy [1663-1690], 1st Duke of Grafton, was the bastard son of King Charles II and Barbara Villiers.

I insist upon the fact that all the three Fitzroys I've mentioned carried this false "surname", not because they were related, but simply because they were bastard sons of a king.

A descendant of the Duke of Grafton, Charles Augustus FitzRoy [1796-1858], was the governor-general of Australia, and he named the New South Wales town of Grafton in honor of his grandfather Augustus FitzRoy [1735-1811], 3rd Duke of Grafton. And that's where I happened to be born (funnily enough, in a maternity clinic named Runnymede) in 1940.

For French readers interested in genealogy, I might point out that my ancestral line back up through King John and then William the Conqueror runs into a brick wall (maybe I should speak rather of a stone wall, or a wooden palisade) at the level of a fine 10th-century fellow named Conan I de Bretagne. (I assume he was a fine fellow, and I imagine that he might have been an ancestor of my ex-wife Christine, but the truth of the matter is that I know nothing whatsoever about him.) Besides, nobody will be surprised to hear that, at the level of King John, we're exactly 14 generations down from Charlemagne.

POST-SCRIPTUM: Here's a photo I took in August 2006 of the maternity clinic where I was born:

The former verandahs of the original building have been closed by insipid weatherboard walls with modern windows, and the base of the façades has been bricked in, producing the global effect of a dull cube. All the old-world architectural charm of the original edifice—which used to be of a greenish-gray color—has disappeared.

Having learned a few months ago that I descend from a royal bastard named Fitzroy—son of the future monarch who would sign reluctantly the Great Charter of Freedoms at Runnymede on 16 June 1215, laying the foundations of constitutional law as it still exists today—I'm amused to discover allusions to these events (of a strictly fortuitous and superficial nature) at the spot in the Antipodes where my peephole opened on 24 September 1940.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

White weather

Sophia is a Labrador, and her ancestors came from the island of Newfoundland in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (marked here by a red pin), up in the vicinity of Greenland:

This means that she has snow in her genes. For Sophia, whenever Gamone is all white, she considers that the weather has returned to its normal state, as it should be all year round.

She rolls in the snow with bliss, as if she were floating in a bath. Motionless, with closed eyes, soaking in the "warmth" of the snow, she looks like a frozen Arctic beast dug up out of the ice.

Then she jumps up and slides down the slopes as if she were skiing.

Meanwhile, Moshé looks down at us with a puzzled expression, as if to ask: "Where has all the green grass gone?"

As for me, I'm wondering whether friends might happen to drop in unexpectedly for tea and biscuits out on the lawn. Funnily, the outside temperature is quite mild, and there's not even the slightest cool breeze.

It's unlikely, because no ordinary vehicle could ever drive up here today. [BREAKING NEWS: At the moment I was writing that last sentence, the village snow plow went by, and Gamone is now perfectly accessible.] Inside the house, of course, a fire is burning non-stop in the living room.

Along with the all-embracing whiteness, the most magical aspects of a Gamone snow scene are the luminosity and the silence.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sleep problems

Fortunately, I've never been affected by insomnia or sleep problems of any kind. Admittedly, I have early-morning dreams of a vivid and often disturbing nature, on precise subjects that I generally recognize. I often have the impression that I would be less anguished and generally happier during the day if only I were to cease having lugubrious dreams during the night... but that's no doubt bad psychology. Still, I mention that silly possibility because I'm in good company. Shakespeare, after all, suggested (in Hamlet's famous To be or not to be speech) that even death would lose its sting if only we could be certain beforehand that we won't have bad dreams. Consequently, if researchers were to inform us that they've located a tiny organ, or maybe a gene, that causes us to dream, I would gladly think about having it removed surgically. For the moment, though, it's a little too early to start looking around for such a medical specialist... and I'm not at all certain that the otherwise-generous French medical-benefits infrastructure would reimburse the costs of such an intervention.

But I'm getting sidetracked (railroad metaphor). Let me return to the case of people with insomnia and sleep problems. I would recommend that such individuals attempt to get in contact immediately with a 19-year-old French student in Brittany who surely deserves the title of the world champion sleeper. Maybe he could be coaxed into revealing his secret solution for sound sleep. In fact, I think I can already say that the quality of his sleep resulted from a powerful sedative of alcohol and cannabis. But let me describe the exploit for which he deserves some kind of survival award. Everybody has heard of those fantastic high-speed French trains called TGV.

Well, at the end of a September evening of copious drinking and smoking, our hero wandered off on foot, in a dazed state, into the misty Breton countryside. Feeling a little drowsy, he decided to bed down for the night between the rails of the TGV line between Paris and Quimper. Not unexpectedly, a few hours later on, a TGV happened to pass by, at a speed of a few hundred kilometers an hour. The train driver had the visual impression that he had run over a human being. He promptly stopped his train, 800 meters further down the track, and walked back to inspect the situation. He came upon our hero, apparently unharmed, and fast asleep. Finding it impossible to wake him, the train-driver phoned the local gendarmes, who soon arrived on the scene. With all these intruders gazing down on him, and trying to shake him out of his deep slumber, our hero was disturbed, indeed rightly annoyed. He sat up, yawned, half-opened his eyes, discovered the gendarmes, and promptly made a meaningful greeting sign with his extended middle finger, of the following kind:

He would have liked to get back to sleep, but the gendarmes insisted upon taking him to a cozy spot down at their barracks. Yesterday, a judge ordered him to pay 3,000 euros to the French railway authorities, to cover the expenses incurred by stopping the TGV and arriving late in Quimper. The wise judge said: "It's rare for a judge to tell an offender that he's lucky to be brought to trial. But you're a miracle case." Hearing this boring admonition from a wide-awake judge, our hero no doubt yawned and resisted with difficulty the desire to fall asleep.

PS: Do you know how we refer to wooden railroad ties in Australian English? They're called sleepers.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Balls and holes

Friends assure me that, when you get addicted to golf, you can't get it out of your system, and you can't get enough of it. Come rain, sleet, snow, hail or high winds, all you can think about is getting it into the hole. It? I'm talking of balls, of course, rock-hard balls. When I was a kid in South Grafton, I recall that serious golfers hired a person referred to as a caddie to talk care of their sporting equipment. This US guy named Tiger appears to have got together a whole harem to handle his sporting equipment.

Wow, what a drive he must have! A hole-in-one every day he hits off. Surely a great mattress-putter, too. In any case, a splendid role model for horny youths who yearn to become top players, indeed champions.

Cute religion

When referring to religious beliefs, people generally use adjectives such as "ancient", "sacred", "profound", etc. To my mind, the fabulous American belief system known as Mormonism is simply cute. There's no better adjective to describe it. Compared to old religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Mormonism is cute in the same way that babies are cute, in the same way that this old Kodak poster is cute:

And here's a terribly cute video presentation of Mormonism that I found on the web:

I ignore the origins of this video. Was it really produced by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If so, they're dauntless folk. There's a French proverb: "Ridicule kills." What it means is that, once somebody has acquired a reputation as an object of ridicule, he's basically dead. It's almost impossible to recover his status as a person to be taken seriously. So, from that point of view, it could be said that the Mormons don't seem to fear death.

I've had two kinds of personal contacts with Mormons. Whenever I visited Jerusalem, back in the '80s and '90s, I invariably ran into small groups of cute Mormon girls from Utah, who were exceptionally friendly. Later, in Grenoble, LDS church members helped me enormously in my genealogical research by lending me precious microfilms of English census data. These days, I continue to use constantly their splendid Family Search website:

If ever a miracle were to occur and the voice of God were to boom out from the heavens above Gamone, informing me that it was time for me to choose a religion and pay up my church membership fees, I think I would become a Mormon. To borrow the language of Some Grey Bloke in my earlier article entitled Nasty stuff, should be censured [display], I like their options. I mean, those laid-back Utah spirit-chicks in Jerusalem were really angelic, in a cute way. Besides, at a deeper spiritual level, if you were to ask me to sum up my impressions of the fabulous theology of Mormonism in a single word, I would not hesitate in saying that it's truly... cute.

Clearly, if I'm going to spend Eternity in nice company, while pursuing my favorite hobby of computer-assisted family-history research, then the Mormons sound like the right people to get mixed up with.

Flag counter

At the end of this blog, I recently installed a gadget that purports to determine and count the national flags of visitors to this website. Here are the current results:

[Click on the image to display a larger version.]

To all these anonymous citizens of the planet Earth, who are surely just as concerned as I am about what might or might not emerge from Copenhagen today and tomorrow, I transmit my best wishes for the survival of our children's future world.

Nasty stuff, should be censored

The list of nations intent upon censoring the Internet is not very long: China, Iran, Egypt... and, soon, Australia. Nice company! Think of it as a select little club, with visionary guides such as Stephen Conroy, and well-tested high-tech means to impose the desired censorship.

This hilarious guy is known as "Some Grey Bloke":

Click the picture to visit his website, where you can appreciate his broad and profound wisdom on many subjects. If you happen to be Australian, you should hurry. One never knows. Progress is such that you might not be allowed to watch this fellow in the near future.

Here's an encounter between Some Grey Bloke and a Man of God:

Members of the new generation (?) of Aussie Christian pollies are likely to be moved by these videos.