Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What a privilege to be a French citizen in France today!

It's a privilege to be a French citizen living in this splendid country. Those words came into my mind spontaneously as I watched, on my Macintosh, the news from France's new TV channel. It's not that event in particular that prompted my patriotic thoughts, but rather a whole series of reasons. I'm tremendously proud to have a French passport, to own a French house, and to be living in France. For the moment, the only negative affair is the current plague of disgusting moths! But I have faith in French science and technology to find a solution.

New French news channel


You might be interested in clicking here to see if you can pick up this new TV channel. It's rather buggy for the moment, but it should be a powerful broadcasting vector when it works smoothly and correctly. You might be wondering why I don't try to insert the channel directly into my blog. Don't be bloody stupid!

This anchor fellow, Louis Laforge, is a TV celebrity in France:

For the moment, he's reappearing regularly to explain that there's a slight technical hitch. (We could have worked that out all on our own.) In fact, the quality of this inaugural demonstration (it goes into operation tomorrow) is very good indeed.

Their brains might teach us a few tricks

An article by Nathaniel Herzberg in Le Monde says that dogs capt the sense of human words and tones of speech. I've just told my friend Fitzroy that he should take a glance at this article.
« Les travaux récents ont montré que les bases de l’empathie, de la coopération, de la cognition, du maniement des nombres existent bien au-delà de l’espèce humaine. Nous nous inscrivons dans un arbre évolutif qui nous dépasse très largement et qui impose des contraintes. Une sorte de naturalisation de la culture. » Le chien, assistant du philosophe ?
Lionel Naccache, neurologue à l’hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière

Blind man loses his cane

The cane bore a name : Macron.

Moths across the world

The moth plague is bad at Choranche, but click here to get glimpses of a similar plague that took place a few years ago in Australia. Just as Australia is a much bigger land than France, their moths are bigger too. My sister told me that Aborigines have cooked and eaten them for ages. There's even a local chef who serves up moths to his customers.

Our moths at Choranche have such a nasty stench that a lot of ketchup would be necessary, to make them tasty.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Emmanuel Macron has resigned

Serious rumors have indicated throughout the day that Emmanuel Macron was in the process of resigning from his job as Minister of the Economy in the French government. An hour ago [I am writing at 19:20], his resignation was confirmed.

Not a particularly exciting subject

Few readers will be moved by this image, nor by the French-language article that it accompanies here:

But their subject means a lot to me. Jobs I carried out back in the days when I was earning my living now result in a monthly payment that provides me with my daily soup and puts a spoon of margarine in it.

That last statement might persuade my readers that I don't eat spinach and that I probably avoid butter. Neither belief is correct. Look at these two products in my refrigerator:

At the top, you have one of the finest Brittany butters. At the bottom, it's a soft butter from Normandy. As for my spinach, it's hidden away somewhere in the freezer.

The most interesting fact in the above-mentioned press article about retirement funds is that my automatic benefits will almost certainly go on for as long as me. It's nice to know that. My sole aim now is to survive comfortably for a while at Gamone... while consuming dabs of the world's finest butters from Brittany and Normandy, not to forget an occasional bit of spinach. The global picture is one of contentment.

Monday, August 29, 2016

American smart-ass

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, is so smart at an intellectual level, and so proud of his superior thinking, that he’s turning into an obnoxious smart-ass, capable of fooling countless ordinary people who can’t always read between his lines. He has been raving on constantly about Donald Trump, as if an understanding of the behavior of this foul idiot required intelligence and imagination of the Adams variety. The inflated cartoonist (who never stops trying to flog his latest book) is now starting to be a similar self-proclaimed specialist on Hillary Clinton. Why won’t Adams simply shut up for a while, to protect the world from evil, at least until the end of the US elections?

A more down-to-earth French correspondant, Frédéric Autran, has simply said that the US presidential campaign is “un duel puant” (duel that stinks). Click here to access Autran's article.

UPDATE [7 September 2016] : Scott Adams remains one of the smartest humans in the known universe. Click here to see yet another typical example of our hero talking down to us like a smart-ass, seeing himself as a fearless observer and analyst of Trump, a brilliant hypnotist and a superior thinker, and then flogging his book. His Dilbert stuff remains amusing, but repetitive. As for the rest of Adams, he bores me. I dislike pompous people who, as the French put it, pètent plus haut que leur cul (fart higher than their anuses).

Brussels bomb

In the middle of the night, a bomb exploded in front of the laboratories of the Criminology Institute to the north of Brussels. There was much damage but the police found no victims. For the moment, there are no theories concerning the origins of this act, which is clearly criminal.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

France also builds great trains

If you've visited France recently, you may have had an opportunity of seeing the great trains called TGV: Trains à grande vitesse (high-speed trains), which have become world-famous.

The French company Alstom has just succeeded in signing a huge deal of 1.8 billion euros to provide such trains to the USA... of all customers.

Whichever way you look at it, this kind of business feels more pleasant than the sale of military equipment. The two activities are actually complementary in a subtle fashion. You might say that French industry has many different feathers in its cap. And they're all fine feathers that earn our poor nation enough cash to put a bit of butter in our humble spinach... façon de parler!

War against nocturnal moths

We've been invaded by this tiny nocturnal moth called the Pyrale, which comes from China, India and Asia.

Of an evening, if you leave a lamp near a closed window, the moths rapidly form a blanket over the glass panes of the window. It's a frightening insect, because we run up against unexpected problems when trying to eradicate it. Even when you try to use a garden hose to wash them off a window pane, the moths seem to enjoy themselves. Neighbors tell me that the best way to eradicate the moths is to leave a bucket of soapy water alongside the place where they gather when attracted by a lamp inside the house. Here's a photo of moths killed by that technique in Pont-en-Royans.

I've prepared six buckets of soapy water for this evening's planned attack. Meanwhile, some specialists recommend the use of plastic traps containing a phial of a pheromone that attracts male moths. That would be fine if you wanted to castrate them, say. To destroy the entire horde at one fell sweep, I prefer the soap suds solution.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Views from my bedroom window

I signed the purchase of my Gamone property on 26 January 1994 (Australia Day). In the quaint office of the notary public François Guiliani in Saint-Marcellin, my daughter Emmanuelle, present as a witness, explained that she was amused to see her father buying an antiquated house in the depths of France (la France profonde, normally designating the deep old heartlands of France). Guiliani, offended, politely reprimanded her: “Mademoiselle, Saint-Marcellin cannot really be considered as the primitive backwoods of France.

The site of Gamone was spectacular (because of the magnificent view of the Cornouze mountain), but the house was a shambles. Here are photos of the façade:

Nobody had actually lived there for ages. Inside, there was neither electricity nor municipal water, let alone a WC. Looking back, I realize that I was slightly brain-damaged to have invested in such a ramshackle place. The truth is that I had so little knowledge of this kind of affair that I didn't have the least idea of how much time, money and imagination would be required before people could actually live there.

I won’t go through details of the time and vast efforts that were required in order to convert the Gamone mess into a home. For the moment, I simply wish to draw attention to my discovery, long after my purchase, of an ugly pylon (in fact a pair of wooden posts) right in front of the house. It's still there today, directly visible from my bedroom window.

Click to enlarge slightly

In my regular photos of the valley, you never see this pylon… for the simple reason that I make a point of hiding it. But it’s still there, even though it has ceased to annoy me greatly.

That was up until a few weeks ago. I had received a letter from the French electricity company, EDF, giving me an appointment for the arrival of an employee of the company that reads the electricity meters. Well, my meter is in fact attached to the bottom of that pylon. In a straight line, it’s less than 20 yards from my front door, but the land between my house and the pylon is steep and rugged, and the only way of reaching the counter consists of scrambling down a track that starts on the other side of my house. In other words, that pylon was obviously never placed there with the goal of supporting a domestic electricity counter. Now, this is where my story starts to become interesting but complicated, so I beg readers to bear with me.

If you look carefully at the above photo, you'll notice that the wooden pole carries two distinct sets of cables

• Near the ground, and halfway up the pole, a pair of cables is covered in black rubber protection. This is the supply of ordinary domestic electricity. One cable is for my house, and the other for my neighbors Jackie and Fafa. A little further up the pole, you can see the black cable that runs back up to my house. That cable passes through my electricity meter, located down near the ground (hidden behind the bushes).

• At the top of the pole, you can see three heavy steel cables for medium-voltage electricity. On the right-hand side of the photo, these lines bring in electricity from nearby Pont-en-Royans. On the left-hand side of the photo, after leaving the pole at my place, these lines travel up the hill, on the other side of Gamone Creek, transporting the medium-voltage electricity in the direction of Presles. It is important to understand that, at the level of my property, not one of these cables brings any kind of electricity into my house. In other words, it is totally ridiculous that these heavy cables, carrying medium-voltage electricity, happen to be located just a few yards in front of my bedroom window.

The presence of these high-voltage lines has brought about a dangerous situation. In front of my house, more and more slender saplings have branches that rise high enough to enter in contact with the cables, creating a life-threatening danger. I must attempt to find a solution to this dangerous situation, as soon as possible. In a nutshell, I intend to ask the electricity people to move the medium-voltage lines further down the hill. I now know exactly the people I have to contact, and how to do so:

Crumbling of a small section of French cliffs

Chalk cliffs of Normandy, just north of Fécamp, are known as the Alabaster Coast.

Yesterday afternoon, a section of a hundred yards fell down onto the beach, apparently without victims. From time to time, I see TV documentaries about seaside towns on the northern coasts of France that are regularly losing territory to the sea. It’s a frightening but quite normal predicament, affecting flat coastlines and cliffs alike. The presence or absence of the cliff problem depends upon their geological nature. In Brittany, for example, most cliffs are made of granite, which doesn't usually crumble. The overall situation in France is quite trivial when compared to the dangers of coastal sites in Florida, say.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Messy end to a theft

Inside a Parisian metro carriage, a fellow grabbed a lady's handbag, then left the train just as the doors were closing. The poor fellow couldn't have realized, but it was his last theft on Earth. The lady whose bag had been stolen managed to ring a bell that halted the train, then she left the carriage and started to run along the platform after the thief. He decided instantly to jump down onto the rails and run across to the opposite platform. He never reached the other side. Another train appeared, and ground him into a mortal mess. So sad. Too bad.

Maybe we have nearby cousins in the universe

When I was a student, the only star whose name I could remember was Proxima Centauri. That was because I had been told that it was our closest stellar neighbor. Today, we learn with excitement that this star has a planet, known as Proxima B, that sounds as if it could be relatively similar to our Earth. Inevitably, we ask the breathtaking question: Could there be, or have been, life on this exoplanet?

That sphere in the foreground is an artist's impression
of the Proxima B exoplanet, which gravitates around
the little orange star in the background.

It’s not exactly just down the road. The distance between Earth and Proxima B is over 4.2 light years. That’s to say, over 40 thousand billion kilometers. But that’s neither here nor there. In more down-to-earth terms, it will probably take our human scientists another ten or so years to use new scientific instruments to tell us whether or not there might be, or might have been, life of some kind on Proxima B.

Old individuals continue to disappear

Michel Butor chez lui en Haute-Savoie le 19 mars 2016. (ULF ANDERSEN / AFP)

Michel Butor, 89, was a member of the Nouveau roman movement, along with Nathalie Sarraute and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Sonia Rykiel à Paris le 26 novembre 2013.  (CHRISTIAN HARTMANN / AFP)

Sonia Rykiel, 86, was a celebrated Paris fashion designer and interior decorator.

Sensing nerve "repairs" in my body

After my fall down the Gamone stairs, just over a year ago, medical staff examined me to discover if there had been any brain damage, and they said no. Later, in Bretagne, I had several clear indications that my brain seemed to be working successfully. Above all, I found that my technical computing skills on the Macintosh were still perfectly intact (regardless of how family members looked upon this question).

I was still intrigued by the undeniable existence of certain traces of my accident in parts of my face and head, not to mention minor eyesight problems. For example, I have a document that presents an image of a part of my head (I won't provide details) containing a small "pool of muck" that flowed there after my accident. Obviously, I often asked myself how and when this "pool of muck" might disappear, if ever. That's to say, I couldn't imagine that it would simply dry up magically. Surely the liquid "muck" had to flow somewhere.

Well, believe it or not, there have been moments, quite recently, when I suddenly "picked up" an unexpected series of "movements" in my head, as if a process had started. It might continue for ten minutes, during which time I would remain totally incapable of deciding what was happening. There would be no unpleasant sensations, and certainly no pain. Only unexpected noises, like static in an old radio. Then the noises would suddenly stop, just as rapidly as they had started.

Today, I'm persuaded that I was in fact listening to various nerve-repair operations. Besides, these alleged activities have been accompanied, in more-or-less the same time frame, by clear demonstrations that my thinking and memory were returning to normal.

To be "tired of" can indicate brainlessness

When I decided to leave Paris and move to the Dauphiné province, I had the ridiculous impression that I was becoming bored with the French capital. To be honest, it was William Skyvington who was becoming boring, not Paris. Samuel Johnson [1709-1784] illustrated this kind of situation in the case of the British capital.

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual,
who is willing to leave London.
No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;
for there is in London all that life can afford."
I recently published a few stupid blogs about blogging. I soon realized that it was akin to saying that I was tired of London. So, I deleted those silly posts.

Silence of death

Today, I am Italy.

Human lives can be snuffed out in an instant, and the traces of an ancient village can be reduced to rubble.

We humans have never understood sudden disappearance, and we never shall.

We cannot grasp the way in which the sounds of life might be suddenly reduced to silence.

Survival becomes the only meaningful goal, but we shall never understand why one friend survives whereas countless others are no longer there.

Do we really understand anything whatsoever about our human existence? No, our brains are not powerful enough for understanding. But our eyes are strong enough to weep, and our voices, to cry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Young Aussies killed in France in March 1966

When I moved to the Alpine village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse in the summer of 1993, I came upon an Australian tomb in the church cemetery, just opposite the building in which I had found a tiny flat.

Click to enlarge slightly.

It was the grave of two young Australian students who were killed in March 1966 when they were leaving the village in their car, bound for Grenoble. Blinded by the early-morning winter sun, they skidded off the road and rolled violently into the valley, a hundred yards lower down.

The driver Nicholas Jager, 17, died instantly.

His sister Christina Jager, 18, died three days later,
in the Voiron hospital.

Their 16-year-old brother Michael Jager survived.

Two younger children — Jeremy, 11, and Claire, 10 — were attending a local school on the day of the accident. Here are two photos of the fatal corner that I took in 1993.

On that day of 7 March 1966, when the Alpine sun in the ancient monastic village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse blinded Christina and Nicolas, forever, one of the world's most popular songs was The Sun ain't gonna Shine Anymore by the Walker brothers.

On the web, today, you can find a short article about the accident from Melbourne's The Age of 9 March 1966. [Curiously, the article confuses the given names of the two brothers, Nicholas and Michael Jager.]

The children's father, Charles Henry Jager [1919-2008], was a well-known Melbourne cattle breeder and bookmaker.

Submarine leak

Let’s suppose you’ve just ordered an impressive automobile, made in France, and that you suddenly learn that detailed technical descriptions of the manufacturer’s electronic devices for automobiles have just been stolen. As a future owner of a product from that French manufacturer, you might feel worried.

That kind of situation has just arisen in Australia concerning their massive order for French submarines. In a nutshell, the Australian press has revealed that a massive leak has been detected, apparently in India (?), concerning a model of the Scorpène submarine, manufactured by the French shipbuilder DCNS, and sold to the navies of India, Malasia, Chili and Brazil.

Worker at DCNS

Scorpène submarine

Let me point out immediately that the Scorpène is not the model sold to Australia, whose order concerns the Barracuda submarine, quite different to the Scorpène. Not surprisingly, France and the French manufacturer DCNS will be carrying out an in-depth investigation into the Scorpène leak. For the moment, nothing indicates that this Scorpène leak might present the slightest problem to Australia's future maritime defence.

You might subscribe to The Australian in order to obtain an original article on this leak. Here are some extracts of this article that were sent to me this morning by a political contact:

Our French submarine builder in massive leak scandal

The French company that won the bid to design Australia’s new $50 billion submarine fleet has suffered a massive leak of secret documents, raising fears about the future security of top-secret data on the navy’s future fleet.

The stunning leak, which runs to 22,400 pages and has been seen by The Australian, details the ­entire secret combat capability of the six Scorpene-class submarines that French shipbuilder DCNS has designed for the Indian Navy.

A variant of the same French-designed Scorpene is also used by the navies of Malaysia, Chile and, from 2018, Brazil, so news of the Edward Snowden-sized leak — ­revealed today — will trigger alarm at the highest level in these countries. Marked “Restricted Scorpene India”, the DCNS documents ­detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s new $US3 bn ($3.9bn) submarine fleet and would provide an ­intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals, such as Pakistan or China.

The leak will spark grave concern in Australia and especially in the US where senior navy officials have privately expressed fears about the security of top-secret data entrusted to France.

In April DCNS, which is two-thirds owned by the French government, won the hotly contested bid over Germany and Japan to design 12 new submarines for Australia. Its proposed submarine for Australia — the yet-to-be-built Shortfin Barracuda — was chosen ahead of its rivals because it was considered to be the quietest in the water, making it perfectly suited to intelligence-gathering operations against China and others in the ­region.

Any stealth advantage for the navy’s new submarines would be gravely compromised if data on its planned combat and performance capabilities was leaked in the same manner as the data from the ­Scorpene. The leaked DCNS data details the secret stealth capabilities of the six new Indian submarines, including what frequencies they gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance — all sensitive information that is highly classified. The data tells the submarine crew where on the boat they can speak safely to avoid ­detection by the enemy. It also discloses magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data as well as the specifications of the submarine’s torpedo launch system and the combat system.

It details the speed and conditions needed for using the periscope, the noise specifications of the propeller and the radiated noise levels that occur when the submarine surfaces.

The data seen by The Australian includes 4457 pages on the submarine’s underwater sensors, 4209 pages on its above-water sensors, 4301 pages on its combat management system, 493 pages on its torpedo launch system and specifications, 6841 pages on the sub’s communications system and 2138 on its navigation systems.

The Australian has chosen to redact sensitive information from the documents.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was important to note the submarine DCNS was building for India was a completely different model to the one it will build for Australia and the leaked information was a few years out of date. Nevertheless, any leak of classified information was a concern.

“We have the highest security protections on all of our defence information, whether it is in partnership with other countries or entirely within Australia,” he told the Seven Network today.

“But clearly, it is a reminder that, particularly in this digital world, cyber security is of critical importance.”

Influential senator Nick Xenophon said he would pursue the security breach when parliament returns next week.

Senator Xenophon, who leads a bloc of three senators, said Australia needed serious explanations from DCNS, the federal government and the Defence Department about any implications for Australia.

“This is really quite disastrous to have thousands of pages of your combat system leaked in this way,” the senator told ABC radio.

Sea trials for the first of India’s six Scorpene submarines began in May. The project is running four years behind schedule.

The Indian Navy has boasted that its Scorpene submarines have superior stealth features, which give them a major advantage against other submarines.

The US will be alarmed by the leak of the DCNS data because Australia hopes to install an American combat system — with the latest US stealth technology — in the French Shortfin Barracuda.

If Washington does not feel confident that its “crown jewels’’ of stealth technology can be protected, it may decline to give Australia its state-of-the-art combat system.

DCNS yesterday sought to ­reassure Australians that the leak of the data on the Indian Scorpene submarine would not happen with its proposed submarine for Australia. The company also implied — but did not say directly — that the leak might have occurred at India’s end, rather than from France. “Uncontrolled technical data is not possible in the Australian ­arrangements,” the company said. “Multiple and independent controls exist within DCNS to prevent unauthorised access to data and all data movements are encrypted and recorded. In the case of India, where a DCNS design is built by a local company, DCNS is the provider and not the controller of technical data.

“In the case of Australia, and unlike India, DCNS is both the provider and in-country controller of technical data for the full chain of transmission and usage over the life of the submarines.”

However, The Australian has been told that the data on the Scorpene was written in France for India in 2011 and is suspected of being removed from France in that same year by a former French Navy officer who was at that time a DCNS subcontractor.

The data is then believed to have been taken to a company in Southeast Asia, possibly to assist in a commercial venture for a ­regional navy.

It was subsequently passed by a third party to a second company in the region before being sent on a data disk by regular mail to a company in Australia. It is unclear how widely the data has been shared in Asia or whether it has been obtained by foreign ­intelligence agencies.

The data seen by The Australian also includes separate confidential DCNS files on plans to sell French frigates to Chile and the French sale of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship carrier to Russia. These DCNS projects have no link to India, which adds weight to the probability that the data files were removed from DCNS in France.

DCNS Australia this month signed a deed of agreement with the Defence Department, ­paving the way for talks over the contract which will guide the design phase of the new ­submarines. The government plans to build 12 submarines in Adelaide to replace the six-boat Collins-class fleet from the early 2030s. The Shortfin Barracuda will be a slightly shorter, conventionally powered version of France’s new fleet of Barracuda-class nuclear submarines.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said his officials believed the leak had “no bearing” on the Australia’s submarine program.

“The Future Submarine Program operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future,” Mr Pyne’s office said in a statement.

“The same requirements apply to the protection of all sensitive information and technical data for the Collins class submarines, and have operated successfully for decades.”

Deadly bagpipes fungus

When I was a child in Grafton, I started to dislike bagpipes of the Scottish variety. I simply found their sounds unpleasant. More recently, in Brittany, I met up with so-called Celtic bagpipes, and found them equally unpleasant.

I was therefore intrigued by a story in the French press of the death in 2014 of a 61-year-old British fellow who had inhaled for years a deadly fungus that had proliferated in his bagpipes. Click here to see the original article on this affair of fatal lung disease that has just appeared in the Thorax medical journal. Musicians can apparently encounter mortal molds in other wind instruments such as saxophones.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Changes that don't really change anything

As of tomorrow, an allegedly major event will take place in the French national media context. A new name will come into existence. But don't ask me to explain what exactly it means — along with what it doesn't mean — to common folk such as me.

As I said in my previous blog post, France is a complicated nation, and the French are a complex people. There's a tendency to use the time label of midday for two o'clock in the afternoon [popular saying].

Montebourg asks Hollande to drop out of the race

After announcing his own candidacy, Arnaud Montebourg asked the president François Hollande politely to drop out of the forthcoming presidential course. Is the current president likely to follow this advice? I don't think so. Montebourg is indeed a powerful but fragile young athlete, whereas Hollande is an experienced Marathon Man.

Incidentally, Montebourg hasn't defined and announced his candidacy in clear terms. That's to say, he hasn't yet declared whether or not he intends to participate in possible "primaries" in the Socialist context. Count upon the French to render their elections as incomprehensible (for outsiders, in particular) as you might possibly imagine. They're a fine nation, but a mixed-up people. They refrain eternally from speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They prefer to beat around the bush.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Google Chrome will drop Flash by the end of 2016

The total disappearance of Flash is a major announcement from Google. The only thing that annoys me personally is that I have several old Flash websites sitting around in purgatory. People such as my friend Natacha and me can of course survive comfortably without the survival of our antiquated legacy websites... but it's nevertheless sad to see them disappearing slowly but surely.

Sarko announces his presidential candidacy

Nicolas Sarkozy lors d'un rassemblement à Arcachon (Gironde),
le 23 juin 2016. (THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP)

This is the biggest non-surprise of the year. The former president Nicolas Sarkozy has written a book, Tout pour la France (Everything for France), in which he announces his intention to abandon his present role as chief of the political party Les Républicains in order to become a presidential candidate for next year’s election.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Powerful cartoon by Plantu

Click to enlarge slightly

The first victims of terrorism
are Muslims.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ecology candidate

Photo Guillaume Souvant.AFP

Cécile Duflot has just confirmed that she will be a candidate in the French presidential election of 2017. She speaks the truth when she says that the battle will be tough (in French, rude). For Cécile in particular. In her declaration, she praises a recent papal encyclical named Laudato si, but I see no praise for the individuals who recently made COP21 a grand success.

Jérôme Monod [1930-2016]

Jérôme Monod was a prominent French industrial leader and a political figure in the context of Jacques Chirac. Member of a distinguished French Protestant family, he was the cousin of Jacques Monod [1910-1976], Nobel-winning biologist, and Théodore Monod [1902-2000], naturalist, explorer and humanist.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Richard Dawkins on language

Click here to see the article by Richard entitled Ban the voice-over.

I'm thrilled to rediscover my hero Dawkins joking once again about why ancestral giraffes magically developed long necks for the simple reason that they "needed" such long necks in order to reach up for leaves. I believe that many ordinary people, not familiar with evolution and genetics, would believe in that "need"... but I hope I'm mistaken.

A long-discredited alternative to Darwinism invoked ‘need’ as the driver of evolution: ancestral giraffes needed to reach high foliage and their energetic striving to do so somehow called longer necks into existence. But for ‘need’ to translate itself into action, there has to be another step in the argument. The ancestral giraffe mightily stretched its neck upwards and so the bones and muscles lengthened and . . . well, you know the rest, O my Best Beloved. The true Darwinian mechanism, of course, is that those individual giraffes that succeeded in satisfying the need survived to pass on their genetic tendency to do so.

Dishonest French TV shows

A popular fellow on French TV participates regularly in travelogues in which he gets filmed in the midst of local folk in all sorts of exotic places throughout the world. His friendly personality enables him (so it seems) to meet up with unexpected friends. He also has a taste for doing crazy things such as patting a wild animal.

In reality, these TV shows are dishonest, in that they've been assembled out of fake elements that were not at all spontaneous. I'll give you an example, so that you'll understand what I'm trying to say. Let's refer to this TV star as Fred. At one stage, you see Fred moving towards a group of locals, and asking them in French, with a friendly smile: "Can I join you?" Then you see the locals smiling back at Fred and saying something along the following lines: "Yes, please sit down. What would you like to know?"

Most French TV viewers would imagine that this guy has such a friendly personality that he can meet up easily with locals and communicate with them immediately. First, you must realize that, when Fred arrives in such-and-such an exotic place, he probably (?) can't speak the local language, and the locals surely can't speak fluent French. So, much later on, what French viewers seem to see on their TV screen has been totally contrived, well after the events, by a team of smart video specialists. It's as fake as false breasts, but the tricks are so smartly executed that most people fail to see that they've been tricked. In reality, the production operations would be carried out along the following lines:

1. The video director (let's call him Jacques) is in contact with a local native (let's call him Wombat) who understands a few words of French. Jacques asks Wombat to gather together a small group of locals who are prepared (no doubt for a small fee) to be filmed in a would-be contact and conversation with Fred, who might be thought of as a stooge (like the secondary actors in old-fashioned Chaplin comedies).

2. Once everybody is gathered together in front of a few video cameras, the director Jacques says to the stooge Fred: "Put on a big smile, say hello to the locals, and ask them if you can join in with them. Tell them that you would like to learn how to catch koalas." Easily said. Easily done. Smiles everywhere.

3. The director Jacques then calls upon Wombat, and explains: "Tell your friends to smile as if they're happy to meet up with our Fred. Then ask one of them to look into the camera and talk for a few minutes on the subject of catching koalas, saying anything that comes into his head." All this local gibberish will, of course, be replaced by everyday French in the edited video. The locals are then filmed, talking gibberish, and that's basically the end of this nonsense.

4. The director Jacques then says to Fred: "Let's imagine that these idiots have given you information on how to catch koalas. Let me film you now, smiling happily while you listen to their alleged explanations. Then finish your supposed listening by asking them, with a big smile, if koalas are dangerous animals that can bite you."

5. The director Jacques tells Wombat that he wants to film the locals once again, all laughing hilariously, and apparently making fun of Fred. Obviously, Jacques knows exactly how he's going to put together the fake conversation, once all the elements have been obtained.

6. My readers will have understood by now that Jacques will surely produce a sufficient stock of fake elements that will enable a video editor to put together a convincing would-be conversation between Fred and the locals. So, that's the end of my explanations.

I'm disgusted by this kind of fake TV, but it's an everyday phenomenon in France. If the cutting and editing are handled expertly, most viewers would fall into the trap of imagining that they're watching a real encounter between friendly Fred and a group of naive savages who are happy to teach him how to catch koalas.

As a former member of the French Service de la Recherche de l'ORTF, which enabled me to make authentic science documentaries in France, England, Sweden and the USA, I dislike intensely this new kind of fake TV.

Humble French athlete

Christophe Lemaitre is a splendid French athlete. His determination, intelligence and humble personality have always impressed me.

Statue of a naked man on Union Square in New York


This statue was erected rapidly (maybe I shouldn’t speak of erection) but it was soon removed (unfortunately?) by local authorities. Click here for more photos. There's even a short YouTube video that presents the making of this masterpiece, whose copies are springing up rapidly in several US places. Will the man in question survive this delightful and powerful attack, clearly well planned and executed? I hope not.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

We attach ourselves to familiar old objects

Early this morning, I was awoken by images of my old fountain pens that needed to be loaded with new supplies of ink. Now it's at least a quarter of a century since I abandoned forever the use of writing implements of that old-fashioned kind, before replacing them by ball-points, felt-tipped pens, typewriters and, finally, computers. But the name of the required ink, Quink, appeared clearly in my dream, along with its color and the appearance of its bottle.

I was so surprised by my dream that I awoke instantly and dashed to one of my desks, to see if I did in fact retain ink of that kind, and maybe even a few fountain pens. After a bit of hurried searching, all I found was an old forgotten box of plastic cartridges, but not the least presence of any kind of writing implement that might use such a cartridge.

In a state of bliss, I went back to sleep... and dreamed of nothing more. Later on in the morning, when I was soundly awake, I used my computer to check that this brand of ink still exists. My nightware is still functioning well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Australian refugee camp to be closed

There is news that Australia’s controversial Manus retention centre for refugees will be closed as soon as possible. For the moment, we don’t know what will become of the 800 inmates. Apparently Australia has a second refugee camp at Nauru, which will remain operational.

Nothing makes me feel more like a biological piece of meat

Many TV observers of Olympic events are no doubt charmed when they see twin competitors holding hands as they cross the line.

To my mind, alas, an image of that kind is troubling. Those identical ladies are not simply cute ; they're clones. The situation becomes more troubling when we move to triplets.

For the moment, this situation has not reached alarming proportions. But, what would happen if we were to end up with a group, say, of four identical Usain Bolt clones ? Would gold medals have to be chopped into pieces, enabling each clone to take away a fragment?

I don't believe that this clone phenomenon, all on its own, will soon be responsible for ending the Olympics. But, with everyday annoyances such as dope, biased judges and (last but not least) Brazilian boos for non-Brazilian athletes, the end is probably near. Another trivial but slightly disturbing subject (but not necessarily a problem) is transgender athletes: individuals born as males who end up competing as females. The case of Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old South African female athlete, is disturbing, to say the least.

So-called “gender verification” tests were called for by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). They indicated an “unusually high level of testosterone” in her body. A newspaper revealed that a coach of South Africa’s runners is a former East German coach named Ekhart Arbeit. The former shot-putt champion named Heidi Krieger says that this fellow fed her so many anabolic steroids that she finally underwent an operation in 1997 that made her a male, now known as Andreas. Is that what we once knew as sport?

One of the most troubling events of all is when a once-champion athlete finds himself or herself beaten by a new-generation competitor. Emotions rise to an almost suicidal level.

For me, as a TV viewer, an annoying aspect of the whole Olympic show is that various sports have risen to a degree of technical complexity that often prevents me from understanding what is actually happening. Often it's no longer fun to watch a TV transmission of a sporting competition than I can hardly understand. For example, in a canoe/kayak race, I'm totally incapable of realizing whether a competitor has handled a "doorway" correctly. In a fencing duel, I never know who touched whom in an acceptable or less acceptable fashion. In judo, I have no idea whatsoever of who's winning and who's losing. In diving, I don't have the faintest idea of which competitor hit the water in the best style. And I'm sure I'm not the only person who gets bored by watching synchronized swimming, which has always appeared to me as a silly joke that has never made me smile let alone laugh.

As silly and boring as twirling...

In any case, the Olympic spirit has existed long enough, like competitive sport in general. It can't go on forever...

Meanwhile, here's a funny video of a loser: