Showing posts with label Jean Sendy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jean Sendy. Show all posts

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bicycle thieves

This weekend, I'm looking forward to discovering the celebrated Vélib phenomenon: the free bikes of Paris. It's funny to think that I used to belong to the audacious minority who rode bikes through the dangerous streets of Paris back in the '70s.

Paris has always abounded in bicycle thieves, and the police have a hard job tracking them down and apprehending them.

I've just heard that, during the time since the Vélib system was set up, in July 2007, some 700 bikes have been stolen, and that many offenders have been blacklisted.

In France, a prestigious organization called the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés [CNIL: National Committee for Computing and Liberty] makes sure constantly that the rights of French citizens are not being attacked or eroded, maybe surreptitiously, through the use of computers. The existence of this committee reflects an excellent French republican idea, and it appears to be effectively operational. For example, I was rather excited about the idea of seeing my name in the Journal Officiel, last month, when I was naturalized. But a polite note appeared on my computer screen stating that the CNIL did not authorize the explicit display of the identity of new citizens. Great stuff, I won't complain about that.

On the other hand, the CNIL has authorized Parisian authorities, not surprisingly, to computerize its blacklist of bicycle thieves, so that the police will find it easier to track them down. Once again, great stuff!

In his tongue-in-cheek Plaidoyer pour un génocide [Plea for a Genocide], my writer friend Jean Sendy [who died back in 1978] surprised us with the following affirmations:

Tout logicien sait qu'un crime parfait est très difficile à réussir, très long à préparer ; un criminel assez intelligent pour ne pas se faire prendre ne met donc pas la société en péril : au pire, il ne recommencera pas de sitôt ; au mieux il sera assez intelligent pour comprendre que ce n'est pas rentable et ne jamais recommencer. En bonne logique, les petits voleurs, les voleurs de bicyclette, doivent au contraire être éliminés aussitôt le délit établi : la médiocrité de leur entreprise les contraint à récidiver sans cesse, et prouve qu'ils sont trop bêtes pour être utiles à la société ; au mieux, on ne peut que les empêcher de nuire, en leur assurant vivre et couvert dans des prisons ruineuses pour le budget. Le seul défaut de ce raisonnement est son indifférence à la morale.

For readers whose French does not allow them to understand Jean Sendy: He says that great criminals don't really hurt society, whereas mediocre bicycle thieves, who annoy us constantly, should maybe be executed immediately... were it not for our moral qualms. Sendy was both a brilliant thinker and a good writer. A great friend, too. I think of him constantly, like Pierre Schaeffer and Albert Richard. Those three men, my cultural forebears, made me wish to become French.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Working with wood

I’ve spent much of the weekend building a kitchen cupboard out of 18 mm plywood, to be fixed to the wall above my refrigerator. Yesterday, after assembling the basic rectangular shell, about a meter and a half wide, and 40 cm high, I was annoyed to discover that I had made my measurements too carelessly, and the cupboard was a few millimeters too tall to fit in the space between the top of the refrigerator and the ceiling. So, I had to saw off the top side of the shell, drag out the screws, tear away the glued plywood and clean it all up in such a way that I could assemble a slightly smaller shell. That’s what I like about woodwork. If the structure you’re building is not coming along OK, you can usually break it apart and start again. For me, woodwork allows the same empirical approach that I use in computer programming.

Long ago, back in Paris, I used to know a remarkable fellow named Jean Sendy, who wrote books on scientific themes that might be described as esoteric. For example, Jean was convinced that extraterrestrial visitors had set up a base on the far side of the Moon, which had enabled them to alight on Earth and initiate a gigantic anthropological experiment, using a selected group of human guinea pigs: the Hebrews. When he was not writing on topics such as this, Jean used to earn his living translating English -language films into French, for directors such as Polanski. Well, one of Jean Sendy’s books won a literary prize, earning him a good sum of money, which he immediately invested in a rather unexpected acquisition for a Parisian intellectual. He purchased a huge professional wordwork machine, which he installed in the middle of the empty living room in his big flat on the upper floor of an old building in Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, near the St Eustache church. Using the machine, Jean set to work building the tables and chairs that would furnish his flat. When I met up with Jean (after hearing him talking on the radio about the origins of life), he had just finished building the dining room table, which was a masterpiece in joinery, incorporating several different species and hues of wood.

At that time, I had a young Jewish girlfriend named Nadine Blum, and Jean (whose ancestral origins were Russian and Christian) once spent an entire evening telling us how he had decided to study Hebrew in order to pursue his research into the alleged extraterrestrial background of Judaism. In fact, he was advising Nadine and me to do the same thing. That was around 1974. A few years later, in 1978, I heard (again on the radio) that Jean Sendy had died of cancer. And it wasn’t until a decade later, in December 1988, that I finally discovered the Holy Land and concretized Jean Sendy’s advice about the merits of studying Hebrew.

Since then, whenever I find myself working with wood (which is surely one of my favorite activities), I soon get around to thinking about Jean Sendy, lovely Nadine, the splendid woodwork machine in the middle of a Parisian living room, extraterrestrial Jewish missionaries approaching the Moon in spacecraft like Ezekiel’s celestial chariot, the Hebrew language...