Friday, February 26, 2010


French drivers have grown accustomed to the ubiquitous presence of automatic radar devices that catch speeders.

Road-users have reacted by perfecting ways and means of not getting caught by such machines. The most obvious method consists of simply slowing down at the approach of the device... and then speeding up again as soon as it's behind you. When I say "behind you", I should add that some devices, placed on the far side of the road, are designed to flash speeders from behind... which makes it possible to catch motor-cyclists (whose unique number-plate is located at the rear). The latest evolution imagined by the authorities consists of a pair of devices capable of calculating the average speed of a driver over a distance of several dozen kilometers. Meanwhile, some road-users in France are installing illegal hi-tech instruments that start beeping as soon as the presence of a nearby radar device is detected.

This cat-and-mouse process reminds me of a situation in nature that is presented in detail by Richard Dawkins on pages 382-390 of The Greatest Show on Earth. He speaks metaphorically of "arms races" between species that have an unfriendly attitude to one another, such as predators and prey, or parasites and hosts. Each evolutionary improvement to one creature provokes a counteractive improvement on the opposite side. The combined developments produce a spiraling effect as in the context of man-made weapons and defense systems.

We've just heard about a new French law that will make it obligatory to install a smoke detector in every home. This is weird, because I believe that people still have the right to smoke in private homes. With smoke detectors installed, young people in the following situation—a much-maligned poster imagined recently by the association Droits des non fumeurs (rights of non-smokers)—would bring about the arrival of the fire brigade.

Indeed, the world is becoming such a complex place, for ordinary folk like you and me, that we'll soon be needing clear labels à la Magritte in order to distinguish between old-fashioned good and evil.

Here at Gamone, if there were a smoke detector in my living-room, it would be ringing alarm bells and flashing its red lights every winter evening when I light up a log fire. And this would upset, not only me (in front of my beloved TV), but Sophia too... who would be instantly convinced that the terrifying dinosaurs and mammoths of Choranche are attacking us once again.

The device I would dearly love to purchase, if ever I could find one, is a bullshit detector. I would install it on my desk, just alongside the Macintosh, so that it could be beamed down permanently upon everything that comes up on the screen. Naturally, I would probably get a little upset whenever the device started to beep at some of my own stuff, but you can't have it both ways.

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