Showing posts with label offbeat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label offbeat. Show all posts

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Next week: an earth-shaking TV moment

In less than a week, Australia has been invited to perform actively and directly in the Eurovision Song Contest… though not strictly as a contestant. Truly, this is the biggest planetary media happening since the marriage of our queen in 1947. History—as they say—is in the making.


Click here for an exciting article on Australia’s presence at these Olympic Games of song. Above all, there’s a great possibility for the victory of an outsider such as France. This year, for the first time since the Abba epoch, the odds are stacked against all those nasty ex-Communist nations who always get in the way of good music. No doubt for the first time ever, next week, Russia is unlikely to vote massively for Ukraine, and Ukraine is equally unlikely to vote massively for Russia. The world will be turned upside down, and victory in the contest is truly up for grabs.


One point, Australia!

And here, to get you in the right spirit: “Vutta Loe” (as the lovely lady in pink put it).


PS Maybe I’m weird, but whenever I see the tall blonde Agnetha Fältskog prancing around in her shiny blue kitsch costume, she reminds me immediately—at least from the knees down—of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. Worse still, I have the disturbing feeling that the lower section of one of her slender silver legs might get disjointed and snap off. And how can I possibly enjoy their award-winning song when crazy thoughts like that are going through my mind?


Shame on me: I almost forgot to sign off with the great old Eurovision theme music from my former employer, ORTF [French Radio-Television Broadcasting System], the Te Deum of Marc-Antoine Charpentier [1643-1704].

Thursday, May 1, 2014

If you tease a monkey…

… you might get slapped in the face. I love the determined behavior of this smart little beast.


I can almost hear him saying: “Don’t fuck around with me, lady.”

PS It's nice to be fooled by an innocent little monkey act. Clearly, the trainer has taught cheeky Wilson to perform the face-slapping act. Outside of the world of movie cartoons, a monkey wouldn't normally bear a grudge against a human who had teased him by withholding a piece of food. Besides, if the monkey really wanted to "teach a lesson" to another creature, biting would be a more normal form of punishment than face-slapping. Wilson's act could be made better still (in an anthropomorphic sense) if he were to stick up his middle finger in the lady's face, or maybe even turn around, pull down his pants, and bare his bum.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How French are you?

Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin in the role of
Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, aka OSS 117,
a very French but less-than-brilliant spy
at the time of Président René Coty.

Click here to access a funny quiz… which was obviously made in the USA, where they cherish stereotypes, and seem to be totally incapable of moving on beyond their favorite simplistic visions of non-American people who happen to be “sharing” the planet Earth with them.

I was almost surprised to find that I ticked quite a few boxes… but I won’t tell you which ones, and how many.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bon voyage

I would have liked to publish this blog post yesterday... but (as Bill Shakespeare put it, so succinctly) better late than never. The last time I spoke about links between the French railway system and the city of Sydney in Australia was almost 7 years ago in a blog post entitled Silly sendup of Sydney by French railways [display]. Happily, things have evolved a lot since then. Yesterday morning—on April 1, 2014, a great date in links between France and Australia—the electronic departure board at the train station in Lille, France’s great northern capital near the Belgian border, announced the inauguration of the first-ever train service from France to Sydney, with its departure set for 11h40 (exactly 23 minutes after the departure of the regular train from Lille to Los Angeles).


As a former resident of Sydney, and now a naturalized French citizen, I must admit that I was totally shocked by the absence of our ambassador at Lille, to bid farewell and Bon voyage to the adventurous inaugural passengers. To understand the full meaning of “adventurous”, simply take a look at a map of the world. Fortunately, the trip is remarkably cheap: a mere $1000 for a return trip. If interested travellers care to send me that meagre amount (multiplied, of course, by the number of people in their group), I’ll make a point of obtaining tickets as soon as possible.

Friday, March 28, 2014

As dumb as they come

Lots of dumb folk, thinking themselves smart, send fake comments to my Antipodes blog, with links to their own dull blogs. In doing this, they hope that their comment will get published and bring traffic to their own blog. Here’s a nice example, which deserves a prize for stupidity:
Anonymous has left a new comment

Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I'll definitely be back.

Feel free to surf to my homepage: buying nail clippers () 
It so happens that I did in fact write a book on the subject of my blog post, which is full of pictures. Fake comments of this kind get filtered and they end up rapidly, of course, in my trash can. So, my family-history research is not going to help this fuckwit to sell his nail clippers.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two tickets for Gambais, one return

In my blog post of 22 March 2010 entitled First rural residence [display], I described a simple roadside house in the country to the west of Paris that Christine and I rented in 1968-9 for six months or so.


Our neighborhood had a funny name, Mocsouris, which seems to mean, nonsensically, “making fun of a mouse”. This place name, sometimes spelt Moque-Souris, surely has more obscure etymological and historic origins of which I’m unaware. In a cadastral document of 1825 from Brittany, for example, this name reappears with an even more curious spelling.


Our house was located on the edge of a neighborhood called Maulette, which lies between Mocsouris and the town of Houdan. Our baby daughter Emmanuelle decided immediately that, at a rhyming level, “Maulette” sounded a lot like “toilette” (body-washing in French). So, she started to refer to her towelling for washing, in the form of a glove, as a “gant de Maulette” (Maulette glove-washer).

Meanwhile, Christine and I imagined naively—as the renting agency had informed us—that our postal address was Houdan. Today, thanks to Google Maps, I realize that we were in fact residing in the commune of Gambais, which was associated with one of the most notorious serial killers in French criminal history: Henri Désiré Landru [1869-1922], who was guillotined for the murder of 11 women.

Our house in Mocsouris had a vast backyard, which was an ideal summer setting for our 2-year-old daughter. Today, thanks to Google and the curious demolition of a section of our former neighbor’s garden wall, Emmanuelle is offered a glimpse of her first backyard.

Click to enlarge

This neighbor was a prosperous farmer. Today, my primary recollection of this fellow is that he taught me a French noun: tâcheron. The word tâche means a task. So, a tâcheron is somebody who's employed to perform tasks. In reality, it’s a disparaging term, evoking the use of unskilled workers for a brief period, at a minimal cost, before their being cast aside.

Getting back to Landru, you can find out all about him through an excellent Wikipedia article [display]. The title of this blog post is a celebrated line attributed to the mass murderer. From his Paris apartment, he used newspaper ads to find lonely females, often widows, offering them marriage. Their first (and last) outing was a visit to his country house in Gambais. Landru had the habit, at the train station in Paris, of requesting two tickets for Gambais, but only one return. (I traveled daily on that line when we were living in Gambais.) As soon as a victim settled down in Landru's charming house in Gambais, she was strangled, chopped into pieces and burnt in a kitchen oven. Then Landru made arrangements for recuperating all the dead lady’s possessions.

I was reminded of this sinister individual through a series of astonishing old photos of Landru’s trial that Gallica (website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France) has just published on the Internet.




Some of the witty interventions of the “Bluebeard of Gambais” during his trial in Versailles have gone down in history.

— Denying that he had ever killed anybody at Gambais, Landru called upon the court to “show us the corpses”.

— Landru declared: “If the women I knew have anything to complain about, then let them step forward.

— When a woman in the crowded courtroom couldn't find an empty seat, Landru proposed gallantly to give her his place.

Police investigations into Landru’s crimes had been concentrated, understandably, upon his house in Gambais.


A dramatic exhibit during the trial was the actual cast-iron kitchen oven in which Landru had transformed his victims into ashes.


After Landru’s trial and beheading, this oven was auctioned. Its most recent owner is the popular French TV personality Laurent Ruquier, author of a play about Landru. The house in Gambais, too, was soon sold by auction. Its first owner transformed it into an elegant restaurant, with a delicately-chosen name: Au Grillon du Foyer (Homely Grill).


Later, it became, for all intents and purposes, an ordinary house. During the time that we spent at Gambais, Christine and I never went out of our way to locate the house in question. Consequently, it’s only today that I realize—thanks to Google—that we were in fact close neighbors. A few kilometers after our house in Mocsouris, you reach the village of Gambais.


On the right-hand side of the road, there’s a lugubrious church and cemetery.


A few hundred meters further down the road, Landru’s house is nested alongside a row of prim and proper modern dwellings.





Throughout his trial, Landru persisted in claiming—against tons of evidence—that he had never harmed anybody. At the foot of the scaffold, at dawn on 25 February 1922, in the grand avenue of Versailles, Landru's lawyer made a last-minute request. Would the condemned man finally admit, in the face of God, that he had indeed killed all those women? The artist replied politely, before stepping aboard his steel-blade jet for Eternity: "The answer to that question, dear lawyer, is part of my hand luggage." And the severed head of the Bluebeard of Gambais soon found its way (God only knows how) into a Hollywood museum.


If only I had known of this proximity, back at the time we were residing in Gambais, I might have delighted my dear mother Kath Skyvington with horror stories about Landru. Indeed, I was so ill-informed and absent-minded that I didn’t even think of taking my parents to Gambais when they visited us in Paris. In fact, I don’t believe that any of us have returned there as pilgrims over the last 46 years.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Photographic blues

The following image shows a group of women attending an electoral meeting in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.


The name of the professional photographer who obtained the image that you see here, published by AFP, is Shah Marai. On the other hand, we know nothing of the identity of the attendee who was using a blue smartphone to take a photo of her surroundings, nor do we have a copy of the image she obtained. There’s no doubt about it: the blue tones create a soothing esthetic effect, disrupted strikingly by the lady’s bordeaux garments. Needless to say, it’s a huge challenge to reveal the essential human dimensions in the case of a refractory subject such as this, and few photographers can hope to succeed. Curiously, Shah Marai’s photo seems to be marred by a small but intrusive patch of blinding white light (no doubt a technical blunder, which could easily be Photoshoped out) near the right-hand-shoulder of the lady in blue. It would be interesting to know how the image might (or might not) have been enhanced by the use of a blue filter.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Prince Bonkers

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in Saudi Arabia, put on a costume that makes you look like a desert chief.


When my sister Jill and her family visited me recently, she told me she admires the behavior and style of the future British king. To my Cartesian mind, Charles Windsor has always been quaintly bonkers. And I have the impression that it’s getting worse as he grows older.

An idea that has just sprung into my mind. I think it would be nice if His Royal Highness were to go out to Australia (a land he knows well), strip down to his underpants and participate in a corroboree dance with Aborigines up in Arnhem Land.


He would simply have to take elementary jockstrap precautions to make sure that the royal jewels don’t bounce around too visibly in the red dust.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ugly image

I’ve tweeted my disgust (a drop in the ocean) of this ugly depiction of the victims of an earthquake in the Philippines, which has just received a Picture of the Year award.


To obtain such an award, all you need (apart from a good camera and good lighting) is a bunch of miserable victims, with a long-haired muscly hulk in the foreground, and a mysterious assortment of primitive objects such as Christian crosses and statues. The cunning photographer is banking on the combined human tragedy of poverty, ignorance and naked disaster... with a carefully-chosen background and setting.

As I said in my tweet, this kind of superficial photo-journalism—totally fake and arty—makes me want to vomit. I despise the would-be talents of the arty arsehole who created this nauseating image.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Longest European train ever

I suggest that you start the following video immediately. 


Like many people, I love to watch trains go past. I hope you share with me this passion. The merit of the above video is that the pleasure of watching this train go by is made to last for over a quarter of an hour. Your first view of the approaching train is a tiny white dot at the far end of the empty line on the left-hand side of the video. It only appears after you're about a minute and 20 seconds into the video. So stay calm, and wait. You'll recognize it as soon as it appears. Then the dot turns into a whitish blob, and the blob starts to get bigger and bigger. It's terribly exciting, but you've got to be patient.

When the train was in full view, I even had time to go downstairs and make myself a coffee… and, when I got back to my computer screen, the train was still going past. It’s the longest train in French railroad history, or something like that. That’s a great kind of a record, n’est-ce pas ?

I bet that strongmen are already contacting the French railway authorities, hoping to get into the famous Guinness book by showing that they can drag this train with their bare hands and arms over a distance of so many metres. That would be another great kind of a record.

Aussies are always going on about the length of their road trains on Outback roads.


But I reckon they wouldn’t get anywhere near the length of the French train.

Now, if ever you were bored, you don’t have to watch the video right up until the end. If you’re thinking of hitting the stop button, I can tell you what happens later on in the video. Nothing at all ! The train simply keeps on moving past.

POST SCRIPTUM: My son François Skyvington phoned to express certain doubts concerning this train video. In particular, he felt that neither the train nor the products being hauled appeared to be French. So, I’m inserting a few items of information that I discovered on the excellent websites of French TV and Challenge Nouvel Observateur.



The train seen in the video was 1.5 kilometres long and it weighed 4000 tons. As such, it was the longest train that has ever existed up until now in Europe. The experimental excursion whose departure is presented in the video took place on January 18, 2014. The departure was Lyon (Rhône) and the destination Nîmes (Gard). The train was composed by linking together two normal trains, each of a length of 750 metres and with its own pair of locomotives. (This kind of linkage is a standard operation in the case of TGV trains.) For the experimental run seen in the video, this linkage was carried out in a railroad freight zone named Sibelin, on the outskirts of Lyon.

In my title, I've replaced the adjective "French" by "European". The project, named Marathon, is not purely French, but European, guided by the European Commission and involving 16 financial partners. In the experimental train shown in the video, you may have noticed the presence of two French-made Alstom electric locomotives and two German-made Vossloh diesel locomotives. For this first experiment, as my observant son noticed, the rolling stock (wagons and goods) was indeed German, made available by the Kombiverkehr company.

In normal operational circumstances, train-watchers won’t have the luxury of spending a quarter of an hour admiring such a long train, because their cruising speed will be about 100 km/hour. At level crossings, drivers will therefore be held up for an extra 30 seconds. So, make the most of your opportunity to admire the above video. Viewing conditions won’t always be so leisurely once these trains become operational in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile, I thank my son for his keen observations and feedback.

Must change my thinking

In a split second of intense revelation, I was stunned by an amazing video produced by Infinite Circularity Ministries. It convinced me that I must change my thinking.


It’s a fabulous package deal. Every New Believer gets a wonderful free gift: a lovely colorful image of Saraswati (hope I've got the name right).


The message reached me in the nick of time (thanks to a tweet from Richard Dawkins). Up until then, funnily enough, I had been thinking seriously about contacting my Canadian cousins to ask them how I might become a Freemason.

Click to enlarge

I’m still not quite sure about whether we’re allowed to mix together all of this stuff... but I would imagine that it's feasible, mystically speaking.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Rubber duckfucker conspiracy?

In Taiwan, just a few hours before the start of the new year, a disturbing event took place. An 18m-tall yellow rubber duck created by the Dutch artist Florentjin Hofman suddenly exploded before the startled eyes of countless onlookers who had gathered there to honor the presence of the golden idol.


The explosion appeared to be spontaneous, as if the duck had decided to terminate its existence in a suicidal fashion before the advent of the year 2014. Maybe the poor animal realized that there would be no room for a duck in the context of the forthcoming Chinese astrological Year of the Horse.


On the other hand, certain news reports suggest that the duck’s destruction might be the deliberate dirty work of an evil band of stealthy duckfuckers, referred to by means of a police codename: the Eagles.


Let us hope that the Taiwanese authorities can get to the bottom of this mysterious affair before another duck disintegrates.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rotten luck

Maybe God exists, and He cares for all of us, even those amongst us who happen to be sinners… and criminals. But there are times when everyday crooks are likely to be so dismayed by their amazing rotten luck that they might be forgiven for wondering whether the Creator is indeed making an effort to protect them. Worse still, these run-of-the-mill lawbreakers, whose only preoccupation consists of trying constantly to earn a dishonest penny, might even be led astray into atheism of the worst kind…

Consider, for example, this item of news from rural France. Etampes is an ancient and charming small town to the south of Paris, midway between Chartres and Fontainebleau, which has often been used as a setting for movies.


As an enthusiast of pumpkin scones [click here to see my blog post on this subject], I’m impressed by the beauty of a famous red pumpkin variety that bears the name of this town.


Surrounded by such celebrated places as Paris, Orléans and Chartres, Etampes has always found it hard to shine in the domain of historical celebrity. In other words, it’s a quiet town, where nothing much ever happens these days. There’s not even an autoroute or a high-speed train line in the vicinity of the town, whose residents must get fed up with constant allusions to Etampes as a “gateway” into the Ile-de-France region surrounding Paris.

All in all, it’s the kind of environment in which low-level robbers might hope to earn a modest living, without taking too many risks. In any case, that was the intention of two naive delinquents who used a pistol, late last Wednesday evening, to hold up a young couple who happened to strolling through the wintry streets of the sleepy town. What could be more straightforward, more normal?

Now, to understand the rest of this trivial story (which nevertheless made its way into all the French media), you have to know that the outskirts of Etampes were chosen as an ideal site to set up the training school of the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group [GIGN = Groupe d'intervention de la gendarmerie nationale], the elite special-operations squad of the French Armed Forces, trained to perform counter-terrorist and hostage-retrieval missions throughout the world.


And sometimes, of an evening, both male and female members of this army unit are likely to don civilian clothes and go for a walk through the deserted streets of Etampes. Well, the future robbery victims chosen by the above-mentioned delinquents happened to be a pair of GIGN trainees (a young guy and a girl)… who noticed instantly that the pistol pointed at them by one of the would-be robbers wasn’t equipped with a charger. Now, that was indeed a silly omission, particularly when you happen to be holding up two members of the GIGN, in the hope of getting hold of their cash. Things happened so quickly that the pistol-wielder didn’t know what had hit him. His unarmed mate escaped, but was rapidly cornered by local police.

Normally, when residents of Etampes happen to get a glimpse of these GIGN guys engaged in training activities, they’re easily recognized, because they look something like this:



But how can an unskilled everyday delinquent be expected to recognize GIGN personnel when the crime-fighters don’t even go to the trouble of wearing their distinctive gear? Indeed, if GIGN members are allowed to roam around the quiet streets of Etampes of an evening dressed in civilian clothes, they must be considered as a potentially grave danger for unwitting robbers and miscellaneous delinquents... and there should be a law against situations of this kind.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fit to be worn by an Aussie PM

This morning, I was browsing around on the Internet, looking for stores that sell long winter underwear... which is the ideal solution for keeping warm whenever I'm wandering around outside in the snow. I took a look at the website of the French textile company named 3 Suisses.


Now I can already hear some of my readers complaining: "William is such a staunch Francophile that he's trying to pull the wool (or synthetic textile) over our eyes by suggesting that the 3 Suisses company is French. But we know enough French to realize that this company, in view of its name, is obviously Swiss." I'm sorry to disappoint such bright readers, but the explanations I'm about to reveal might enable them to succeed in a future French trivia quiz. In 1932, Monsieur Toulemonde set up the offices of his company in Roubaix, in the north of France. Opposite his office building, there was a bistrot run by a Monsieur Suis, who had 3 daughters. Customers got around to referring to the bistrot as chez les 3 Suisses. And that name rubbed off onto the textile company on the other side of the road.

After World War II, the annual 3 Suisses catalogue became required reading for families throughout France. And, as early as 1998, the 3 Suisses company glided effortlessly into the Internet era... almost as if they had been waiting for it to happen.

These days, when Internet users are reading the French news, they often find images of scantily-clad females, wearing 3 Suisses garments, floating across the top of the screen. And I know from experience that, whenever I've been tempted to take a closer glimpse at such a creature, I've been bombarded constantly, for days afterwards, by all kinds of 3 Suisses ads for female clothes... which are generally of a quite pleasant nature.

This morning, though, I was hit in the eye by the following 3 Suisses publicity:


I peered at the name beneath the photo on the left, and said to myself that this was no doubt a joke. Somebody had surely created this hoax name and image on the 3 Suisses website. No genuine manufacturer would dare to call his company "Aussie Bum". Maybe the site had been hacked by a gay guy from Down Under who was still under the spell of Mr Rabbit's budgie smuggling.


Well, it seems I was wrong. The company in question really exists, and you can click here to view their range of big-bulge products.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dad drinks

After an evening of heavy drinking up on the Gold Coast, an Australian fellow decided wisely that it would not be a good idea to attempt to drive his automobile. So, he asked his 7-year-old son—who had probably been drowsing on the back seat of the car, waiting for his dad—to take the wheel. At 3 o'clock in the morning, police stopped the vehicle after noticing that it was being driven slowly without headlights. Needless to say, they were surprised to discover a child at the wheel, and his drunken father in the passenger seat.

I reckon the kid should receive some kind of award for simultaneously obeying and taking care of his dad. I've always been moved by the little boy in this famous photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson [1908-2004]:


The child's vaguely supercilious expression—looking down his nose as if to say "We've all got a job to do, and I do mine well"—suggests that he's immensely happy and proud to be bringing home an appreciable quantity of precious nectar for his dad... who was probably already too inebriated to make the journey to the local wine shop. And I love the fleeting regard of the cute little girl in the background, who seems to be exclaiming to herself: "Wow, what a dutiful kid!"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Language miracle in Australia

In Mark 16:14-18, we must imagine that Jesus has already been raised from the dead, and he is giving an amazing short pep talk to some of his followers, who appear to be far from convinced that it's real.
Still later he appeared to the eleven while they were at table, and reproached them for their incredulity and dullness, because they had not believed those who had seen him after he was raised from the dead. Then he said to them: "Go to every part of the world, and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Those who believe it and receive baptism will be saved; those who do not believe will be condemned. Faith will bring with it these miracles: believers will drive out demons in my name and speak in strange tongues; if they handle snakes or drink any deadly poison, they will come to no harm; and the sick on whom they lay their hands will recover." So after talking with them the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.
I've always imagined Jesus seated alongside his father, looking down upon earthly happenings, and asking sarcastically: "Dad, do you think the silly bastards will really believe that crap about deadly snakes and poison?"


I've heard that certain believers in the USA have got around to snake acts... but their numbers are diminishing. As for the bit about speaking in strange tongues, it's designated by a weird technical term: glossolalia. And I have the impression that there might be a spectacular case of this miraculous happening down in Tasmania. Click here to read this true story. An aspect of this tale that amuses me is the idea that ordinary Aussies would indeed be capable of recognizing a French accent. And it's so funny to gather, reading between the lines, that the last thing in the world that the unlucky Tasmanian lady desires is to be mistaken for a bloody frog. Meanwhile, it would be a good idea to examine her hands to see if there are traces of stigmata.

Yellow submarine

You've got to admire the marketing flair of the fellow who had the brilliant idea of setting up a fleet of yellow amphibious vehicles (converted army equipment), in the Beatles city of Liverpool, known as duckmarines.


Click here to see the Royals themselves taking a trip around the Liverpool docks in one of these vessels. Now, it's important to understand that these amphibious vehicles are nevertheless not meant to operate as submarines. That's to say, in normal circumstances, they should never descend below the surface of the water. But that appears to happen at times, as you can see here. And, when one of these vessels goes down, as has happened twice in the last few months, passengers have no more than a few seconds to get out of the metallic carcass and start swimming to safety. Imagine the consequences for the kingdom if an accident of this kind had taken place when the royals were aboard!


On the other hand, a jolly rollicking new song could have been obtained simply by changing slightly the original lyrics:

They all drowned in a yellow duckmarine...

We might imagine Elizabeth and her husband going down in Titanic style if the royal yacht (which no longer exists) were to spring a leak... along with their son Charles and his wife, too, if possible. Truly, a drowning accident in a duckmarine in the Liverpool docks just doesn't sound noble enough. But it would appear retrospectively that the world was just a hair's breadth away from such a great front-page story for the British tabloids.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Toys for almost everybody

This simple graphic struck me as funny... but my sense of humor might well be atypical, if not frankly perverted:


I don't have a Facebook account, and I certainly don't want one, since I have no desire to get engulfed in so-called "social media" of that superficial kind. Consequently, I don't know the identity of the bright folk who gave us this graphic, retweeted by Richard Dawkins.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Now we know how he did it

I think that one miracle in particular has become more famous than all the others, for the simple reason that almost everybody has tried to perform it, at one time or another... and nobody has ever succeeded unquestionably in repeating the accomplishment of Jesus. I'm referring, of course, to the marvelous story about Jesus walking on the surface of the waters of the Sea of Galilee.

It was now late and the boat was already well out on the water, while he was alone on the land. Somewhere between three and six in the morning, seeing them labouring at the oars against a head wind, he came towards them, walking on the lake. He was going to pass by them; but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But at once he spoke to them: 'Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid.'
— Mark 6:47-50
According to Matthew 14:28, Peter decided spontaneously to have a go at this feat, and it seemed to work for a few seconds. But his faith collapsed almost instantly, and he started to sink into the water.

Recently, a small team of determined athletes, equipped with special water-repellent running shoes (of a brand that I'm not allowed to name here, because of my sporting sponsors), succeeded brilliantly in racing some 20 meters across the surface of a lake.


But these courageous fellows haven't yet deciphered the great Jesus secret that consists of having sufficient pure faith in God to believe totally that He will hold the walker's body above the surface at all times, making it possible to stroll peacefully and fearlessly across the water.

There was a gigantic breakthrough recently when marine archaeologists discovered a massive ancient stone structure under the surface of the Sea of Galilee. Click here to see this fascinating story. A diagram from Shmuel Marco makes it clear at last, after two millennia of mystification, exactly how Jesus was able to carry out his trick.


At that time, the depth of the Sea of Galilee was slightly less than it is today, which meant that the tip of this huge but hidden stone "iceberg" lay just below the surface. So, Jesus—who had no doubt practiced this feat tirelessly, to get it right for the day of his celebrated demonstration—simply paddled around on a small more-or-less flat zone at the tip of the structure, creating the illusion that he was walking on the water.

Archaeologists say that they can't explain who might have built this underwater mound. Nor why and when it was erected. I'm surprised by the archaeologists' lack of imagination. To my mind, it's clear that Jesus himself had collected funds enabling him to employ a team of stonemasons to build this structure, for the sole purpose of performing his spectacular miracle. In nearby Egypt, various pharaohs had found the means of erecting far greater masses of stone, the pyramids, in order to promote their theories of an afterlife. Since miracles play such a fundamental role in Christianity, I find it perfectly plausible, indeed normal, that Jesus might have gone to the trouble of building his own relatively small tumulus. Besides, since it was underwater, it didn't have to be as fancy as the Egyptian models, because the whole idea was that nobody should see it.

The only authentic miracle in this rather shabby tale is the fact that, as far as we know, no fishing boats ever ran aground on this big pile of rocks.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Champion liars

For celebrities who happen to be stupendous liars, the prestigious Pinnochio Award—which I'm thinking of organizing—will be a kind of annual Nobel prize.


Several brilliant candidates have already appeared on the scene. Ever since the interview of 17 January 2013 with Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong has been a n° 1 contender for the award.


Between now and the end of the year, however, many things can happen. Many monstrous untruths can be propagated. And it's quite possible that various excellent liars will be making an effort to overtake the Texan... which has become a perfectly feasible task now that Armstrong has stopped absorbing his customary cocktails.

In France, for example, the politician Jérôme Cahuzac provided us with a spectacular performance of blatant lying, not so long ago, when he swore to his comrades, in an eye-to-eye declaration, that he had never had a bank account in a foreign tax haven.

                                       — photo AFP/Jean-Pierre Muller

His claim to the Pinnochio Award must be taken seriously, since this was the first known case of a French minister telling lies to the president himself, then being revealed as a liar and obliged to resign. There are rumors, too, that Cahuzac has amassed vast financial funds, from mysterious donors, enabling him to envisage lobbying operations on a grand scale for the greatly-desired Pinnochio Award.

This morning, we heard of a humble but determined Pinnochio candidate from an unexpected domain: the Jewish religious hierarchy in France.


Gilles Bernheim, the 60-year-old chief rabbi of France, had admitted that his book Quarante méditations juives [Stock, 2011], created with the assistance of a ghostwriter, contained plagiarized excerpts. Prior to resigning, the distinguished rabbi also pointed out that he had falsified his curriculum vitae. Contrary to what has been declared in Who's Who and other places, Bernheim has never obtained an agrégation (high-level French academic distinction) in philosophy. Definitely not nice...

I would be a liar if I did not admit that, personally, I've been wondering whether I myself could maybe be considered as a serious candidate for the much-coveted Pinnochio Award. In that sense, let me start the ball rolling by revealing a well-kept secret. Up until now, I happened to be one of the rare individuals who knew that the French rabbi seen dancing in the following famous video was in fact Gilles Bernheim, disguised by means of a false beard, when he was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris (where he picked up doctorates in molecular biology and cosmology).


I swear to God—cross my heart and hope to die—that the secret I've just revealed is absolutely true and easily provable.

POST SCRIPTUM: In the Jewish folklore arena, I must include this hilarious image, for those who haven't seen it yet elsewhere on the web:


Apparently the passenger in a bag is an ultra-orthodox Jew who is using transparent plastic in an attempt to protect himself, during a flight to the Holy Land, from unspecified obnoxious emanations. Since the gentleman appears to be calm (sleeping?), we might suppose that this interesting method does in fact work. On the other hand, I must point out that I've been unable to find any factual evidence concerning the physical state of this pious passenger when he reached his destination. Was he still alive? Indeed, there's a credible rumor going around that the individual in the plastic bag was already dead when the photo was taken. Other passengers (well and truly alive) were simply taking their deceased relative back to Israel for burial on the slopes across from Jerusalem. It's surprising however (to say the least) that the corpse would have been accepted by the airline as cabin luggage.

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins has dragged out a spectacular video:


When you look at things objectively, compared with all these crazy cries and gesticulations (which might disturb, not only other passengers, but the flight crew), a few tiny lies in a curriculum vitæ or a few borrowed paragraphs in a book are neither here nor there. I can comprehend, in a way, why a distinguished religious leader might find it worthwhile to employ dubious methods in order to enhance his intellectual reputation. But I remain totally totally incapable of understanding what might be going on in the heads of those guys in the airplane.