Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Darwin guy close to getting a Darwin Award

In this blog, here, I’ve already mentioned the prestigious annual Darwin Awards. They’re necessarily posthumous awards, because a winner has to have done something immensely stupid, to such an extent that he kills himself, whereby benefiting humanity through the removal of his ugly chromosomes from the human gene pool. The standards for receiving this award might appear to be excessively high, but the underlying idea is that, if a candidate doesn’t kill himself, then he wasn’t stupid enough to deserve a prize. You might say that such a failed candidate demonstrates, through his survival, that he wasn’t sufficiently altruistic or self-abnegating, with respect to his fellow men, to be a winner.

In the case of the following fellow, with a shirt hiding his face, all I can say is that he came bloody close to getting an award. The ATM [automated teller machine] that he succeeded in blowing up knocked him backwards onto the ground, but the explosion didn’t have quite enough force to blow his stupid head off. Pity.

I was most impressed by the way in which the guy got back up immediately onto his feet, tore the shirt off his face, and headed off away from the camera. When I was a kid in Australia, we had a nice expression that sums up this kind of sporting prowess:
He took off like a bat out of Hell.

This would have been a particularly poignant Darwin Award, because the fellow’s act took place in Winnellie, which happens to be a suburb of the Northern Territory town of Darwin. What a shame he failed.

Incidentally, among the comments of well-wishers who appreciated this fascinating video, I was really pissed off by an American who talked as if our hero were a citizen of God’s Own Country… and moreover a Republican. Bloody pretentious Yanks. It’s time they realized that, Down Under, we’ve got individuals who are just as brilliantly idiotic as the dumbest US specimens.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Luxuriant flames

Here at Gamone, it would be an exaggeration to claim that it’s cold… unless, of course, you were to go wandering around on the slopes—Aussie style at this time of the year—dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and thongs. I prefer to be wrapped up constantly, day and night, in garments made out of the fabulous textile known as polar fleece. I believe that the latest stuff I purchased (through the Internet) is made out of recycled plastic bottles.

Meanwhile, I burn a lot of wood, non-stop, almost day and night. Sure, it’s a luxury, but Fitzroy and I lose no sleep fretting about the idea that we might be privileged rural dwellers. I’m too preoccupied by the tasks of cleaning up the stove every morning, and carting in a new supply of firewood. Then I think of nothing more than warming up my toes, while my dog (often in my lap) likes to combine the warmth of my body with the heat hitting his backside. It’s all very calculated, almost scientific.

Utter luxury (in which I’ve never yet indulged) would consist of lighting up simultaneously the closed fireplace at the other end of the living room. I’ll do this (I promise) if one or other of our children—or maybe even me—were to decide to organize, say, a marriage reception here at Gamone in the midst of winter... and if it were truly cold enough, of course, to justify all the flames. In fact, I’m so enchanted by that luxurious idea of utter flaming warmth in my living room that I really must start looking around for a bride. Or maybe my dog might reveal his secret nuptial plans.

Escaping from DNA detection

Over the last month or so, in the context of my work on a future book about Gamone, I’ve been investigating haphazardly and half-heartedly the genealogy of various local families, just to obtain (if possible) a slightly less fuzzy idea of who’s who. At one point, I happened to say to one of our female municipal representatives that it would be an interesting idea if some of the people here were to carry out DNA-testing, in order to gain a better understanding of the evolution of certain time-honored families. It was if I had suggested that they should grab a shotgun and fire at their feet.

In my enthusiasm for science and technology in general, and for genetics in particular, it’s true that I often tend to forget that many of my fellow citizens look upon DNA analysis as some kind of necessarily evil. For them, it belongs to the morbid category of crime detection, forensic tests, unsolved murders, Big Brother… At a less dramatic level, DNA analysis is likely to land you in trouble when it reveals that you’re not really the individual you thought you were, and that your alleged biological ancestors weren’t exactly the individuals they claimed to be. Eons of prehistoric experiences have taught us that there’s no point in waking up sleeping dogs. There are things that are better left unknown. And how might a genealogist such as myself disagree? Click here for a summary of a sleeping dog that was rudely awakened in our Skyvington household, recently, by DNA analysis.

Maybe, therefore, we should look into ways of protecting ourselves from the inevitably nasty consequences of DNA testing. Click here to see an imaginative video on this theme.

Why doesn’t a bright scientist simply invent a gadget (maybe a smartphone app) that would simply neutralize our personal DNA, turning it off (a little like unsubscribing from a Facebook account), so that nobody—not even Islamic jihadists or North Koreans—would be capable of attacking us?

Happy Winter Solstice greetings to all of my friends
in the Northern Hemisphere,
and complementary Summer Solstice greetings
to those in the Antipodes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sydney loony

Here in France, as elsewhere, Sydney’s terrible ordeal was front-page news, and we could follow events in real time, not only through the Internet, but on French TV news. At an early stage of the affair, I was impressed by a short video by a Wollongong academic, Adam Dolnik, who pointed out that the armed guy with hostages in the Lindt coffee shop on Martin Place was surely a lone loony, rather than a dyed-in-the-wool Islamic terrorist, because the dumb bugger hadn’t even been able to turn up with the appropriate “Islamic State” flag for his evil purposes.

As the day wore on, and fragments of information started to appear concerning the guy’s criminal background, I couldn’t understand (and I still don’t) why Australian media refrained from even hinting at his identity. After all, this dangerous fruitcake had become a minor media celebrity in Sydney… and I even stumbled across a Wikipedia page [click here] concerning the fake sheikh.

A photo of the Lindt window, flashed throughout the world, displayed an extraordinary juxtaposition of contrasting elements: the sort of image that will surely go down in the annals of news photography.

In the early hours of a sad morning, we learnt that there were two innocent martyrs: Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson.

I've just watched a fine video summary of the tragedy, from Channel 7, entitled Window two, hostage down. [I refrain from trying to provide a workable link to this video, but you might be able to use the title to access it.]

This calamity unfolded in a Sydney street, Martin Place, that was transformed long ago into a sanctuary devoted to the victims of warfare. On the eve of the centenary of Gallipoli, the Islamic loony committed a senseless crime whose consequences will be etched forever—in the spirit of this place—in the memory of the nation.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


The awkward term “de-extinction” designates the idea of recreating a living organism that had become extinct. This idea gives rise to two quite different questions:

• First, of course, it’s a matter of deciding how to attempt to perform such a de-extinction operation, at a purely technological level.

• Second, there’s the question of the ethical implications of such an act. In other words: Would we have a right, morally and socially, to perform such-and-such a de-extinction operation?

The de-extinction of dinosaurs would appear to be a failure at both levels. So, you should feel free to go ahead with plans for a nice wedding, say, with no fear of unexpected interruptions.

Things get somewhat more complicated when we envisage the de-extinction of Neanderthals.

Let’s suppose that we did in fact succeed in carrying out a successful de-extinction operation. What would you then do with such a fellow? It would be unwise to let him wander around freely as if he were a normal citizen of the world, because he would surely run into trouble, for countless obvious reasons. You could always try to get him adopted by a nice family of well-off God-fearing American Republicans. Or maybe you might think about packing him off to an outback cattle station in Australia to work as a jackeroo. But, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, there would be certain unknown unknowns… including the ugly idea that our Neanderthal friend might be enticed into becoming a militant in a jihadist organization.

The de-extinction of a woolly mammoth would appear to be a far more reasonable project.

On the one hand, with the help of modern elephants, the operation is probably feasible, and there would be room enough in the wilderness of lands such as Canada or Siberia to organize an ideal home-place for the resurrected creature, and maybe create a family environment.

In my native Australia, there are two fascinating candidates for de-extinction. The first is an amazing creature that was last seen as recently as 1985: the Gastric brooding frog.

Its mode of reproduction was really weird. The female swallows her fertilized eggs and then uses her stomach as a womb, finally giving birth to baby frogs through her mouth (as you can see in the above photo).

The other perfect candidate for de-extinction is the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which became extinct in 1936.

An Australian scientist, Mike Archer, has made a brilliant presentation of the case for de-extinction of these two creatures. Click here to watch his fascinating talk on this subject. At one point in his talk, Archer presents an old-timer who led him to his bush hut which used to be visited by Tasmanian tigers. And he introduces the marvelous theme of maybe keeping these animals as pets. Personally, I almost broke into tears of emotion when I heard Mike Archer making his case for this aspect of a de-extinction project. I looked fondly at this painting of a Thylacine and her pup:

And I said to myself that, since my dog Fitzroy has now developed the regular habit of sleeping inside the house, his charming old kennel is free to receive a guest.

So, if ever Mike Archer were looking for a nice place to house one of his future Thylacine pups, Fitzroy and I would be more than happy to receive such an adorable creature at Gamone. As for the idea of also accepting the Neanderthal fellow, to look after the tiger pup, I’m prepared to look into the question… but I would probably prefer a Neanderthal maiden who wouldn’t mind combining her Thylacine-care activities with housekeeping work at Gamone.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


It has just been revealed officially that this evil trio—Donald Rumsfeld, George W Bush and Dick Cheney—allowed the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] to torture inmates in their prisons.

Insofar as torture is considered to be totally illegal, it would be good if these three fellows could be brought to trial, and punished accordingly for condoning knowingly the use of torture. Unfortunately, this will probably never happen.

Today, it’s sickening to realize that the orange jumpsuits worn by terrorism suspects at Guantanamo have become the standard garb for victims of Islamic beheadings. This ugly outfit will go down in history as part of the heritage of Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney.