Friday, October 24, 2008

Nails and pins

In the context of the US presidential campaign, it has just been revealed that work has started on a spoof porn movie whose title is Nailin' Palin, starring yet another look-alike actress. The script is pretty basic, but potentially rich in Arctic images. A Russian tank happens to be jogging along an Alaskan road when it breaks down... just in front of a gubernatorial hunting lodge. (What an ugly expression!) The tank's occupants, two Russian soldiers, go inside to get help, and they come upon a local lady in sexy attire, reclining on a sofa and reading.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I would imagine a big warm room whose walls are adorned with skins of grizzly bears, elk horns and moose heads. In any case, we can guess the rest of this exciting tale of east-west relations.

A wag pointed out that, whatever its weaknesses, this forthcoming porn movie is sure to be far more popular—Betcha!—than a similar production on the other side of the political fence: Ridin' Biden.

With all this fine political humor being aired shamelessly in God's Own Country, I'm frankly disappointed to see that, here in the Old World, our Prince Nicolas has got all upset about a trivial little affair involving voodoo dolls.

An enterprising toy manufacturer imagined the idea of marketing a blue doll that's meant to represent Nicolas Sarkozy, and a pink doll for Ségolène Royal. On the body of each doll, a dozen or so textual labels evoke specific themes associated with that individual. Obviously, depending upon your personal tastes and political attitudes, you'll react either positively or negatively to each label. Each doll is accompanied by a stock of a dozen pins. If ever such-and-such a label were so unpleasant that you wished it had never existed, you have the opportunity of jabbing it violently with a pin... whereupon, according to voodoo science, that entity disappears instantly into oblivion. For example, one of the labels on the Sarkozy doll evokes his friendship with Tom Cruise, who earned himself an appalling reputation here in France through his links with Scientology. Apparently, this zone of the doll gets an exceptionally high number of hits... like a good blog.

What could be more stupidly innocent than such a doll, sold for 13 euros? Surprisingly, the president seems to be taking this affair quite seriously, because he's determined to pursue the manufacturer through the French law courts. What fabulous publicity for the manufacturer!

This anecdote supports an amusing theme that has often been handled by atheist intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins, writing about the tenacity of superstitions, even when such beliefs have been explicitly and unequivocally abandoned. Nobody would seriously contend for an instant that a distinguished French statesman might believe in remnants of primitive witchcraft. And most educated folk are aware that you can wear yourself out sticking pins into images, day and night, without ever influencing the outside world in any imaginable way... except, of course, if your story gets taken up by the media, bloggers and presidents. Be that as it may, when an otherwise intelligent individual starts to imagine that somebody in the mysterious outside world is maybe sticking pins into his photo, a tiny group of archaic neurons in a corner of his cerebral cortex is likely to cry out "Ouch! "

BREAKING NEWS: Sarkozy's lawsuit against the manufacturer of his effigy was thrown out of court today (Wednesday, 29 October). In the judge's words: "That unauthorized representation of the image of Nicolas Sarkozy constitutes neither an attack upon human dignity nor a personal attack. It falls within the legal limits of the freedom of expression and the right to use humor." Apparently the president doesn't see things in the same light, because he immediately launched a formal appeal against this finding. Meanwhile, Sarkozy's Socialist opponent, Ségolène Royal, is taking advantage of the situation to make fun of the president's lack of a sense of humor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two blacks in the big shit

Fairy tale. Hairy tale. Scary tale. A Senegalese couple tried to make a few euros by pirating an online bank account. They managed to bill an ordinary victim, who happened to be named Nicolas Sarkozy, for a fake subscription to an Internet service provider. Everything seemed to work perfectly. The Senegalese couple had no trouble in acquiring 200 euros. Then their ill-gotten gains hit the proverbial fan.

"Holy shit, man, you're joking? You really mean to tell us that this dumb bastard we pirated happens to be the fucking president of the French République? Man, I reckon we're in real shit. We must be humble. If it were possible, we'd be most happy to refund those two fucking hundred euros..."

It would surprise me greatly if our otherwise gentlemanly president were to agree to a gentleman's agreement. For once, I agree with Sarko.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Famous French postmen

French postmen have often become famous in one way or another. For example, a rural postman named Ferdinand Cheval [1836-1924] devoted his off-duty hours to building an extraordinary naive-art concrete edifice in the village of Hauterives, not far from where I live.

[Click the photo to access a video about the Postman Cheval.]

For many observers, the Postman Cheval [whose name in French means horse] was a crazy idealist, motivated by a strange architectural passion. He spent 33 years erecting his so-called Ideal Palace, and another 8 years in building his personal tomb. We can suppose that, during all this time, the mail got through normally. In the '60s, the great writer André Malraux, who had become the minister of Culture for Charles de Gaulle, decided that the palace of the Postman Cheval should be classified as a French heritage masterpiece in the category of naive architecture.

In a quite different domain, some of France's legendary aviation pioneers might be thought of as postmen, since their employer, the Aéropostale company, started out as an airmail delivery service.

When he wasn't risking his life flying over oceans and mountains to deliver mail to distant lands, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) and the fabulous philosophical tale of the Little Prince.

One of France's best-known postmen was a fictional character invented by the cinéaste Jacques Tati [1907-1982].

In his enthusiasm to deliver the mail rapidly and efficiently, Tati's extraordinary village postman, played by the cinéaste himself, was obliged at times to overtake an entire bunch of competitive cyclists.

Today in France, a 34-year-old real-world Parisian postman named Olivier Besancenot is renowned in the political arena.

In last year's presidential elections, Olivier Besancenot was the candidate of the extreme leftwing party, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, and he obtained an honorable score of over 4 percent of the votes: that is, almost a million and a half votes.

Insofar as the outdated adjective "Communist" sticks out like a sore thumb in the name of Besancenot's party, it was decided in 2007 that a new party would be created, in a modern European context, to replace the aging French LCR. For the moment, its tentative name is Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, but its inaugural congress won't take place until next year, so everything is still in a state of flux. It goes without saying that, for a new political party whose name includes the adjective "anticapitaliste", the current world economic crisis has been an immense promotional godsend. But Besancenot has had another extraordinary windfall of a totally unexpected kind.

In May of this year, the French weekly magazine L'Express revealed that Olivier Besancenot and his female partner were being spied upon in a totally unacceptable old-fashioned style, recalling the habits of former Soviet nations. Besancenot immediately filed a legal complaint. A week later, as the guest of France's most popular talk show, hosted of a Sunday afternoon by Michel Drucker, Besancenot had the good fortune to be able to evoke this intrusion into his private life. Finally, over the last week or so, we've learned that the spying would appear to have been organized by a certain Antoine Di Zazzo, who's the French importer of Taser stun guns, which are now issued to French police. [I'm expressing myself cautiously, because this is an ongoing legal affair, and an accused individual is considered to be innocent up until a French law court decides otherwise.]

In 2007, Olivier Besancenot dared to state publicly that this weapon could be lethal, whereupon the French importer accused him of slander. This affair will be judged tomorrow in Paris, and Besancenot will be defended exceptionally by a high-profile barrister who doesn't normally practice law any longer: the former TV journalist Noël Mamère, now a member of parliament associated with France's "green" party. In other words, tomorrow, Di Zazzo will be the accuser, and Besancenot, the accused. Because of the espionage inquiry and findings, we now know that, in a forthcoming trial, their respective roles will be inverted.

In any case, a brilliant political future can henceforth be predicted for this charismatic young French postman.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Early bird

As children, we were told that the early bird catches the worm... and our juvenile minds were meant to interpret this metaphor as an incentive to get out bed before everybody else. Personally, I don't recall having ever been motivated in the intended way, no more so than by the proverb: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. I grew up believing that the only poor folk who were obliged to crawl out of bed in the cold darkness were so-called cow cockies such as my uncles Eric and Ken, running dairy farms, who had to milk the cows. In France, there's a similar saying: The world belongs to those who get up early.

Over recent years, I've started to accept this belief, in the sense that I find that my personal creativity is maximal when I wake up, whereas it declines steadily throughout the day. In concrete terms, this means that I try to write in the morning, while awaiting the evening to read or watch TV. This difference in performance levels is particularly true in the case of computer programming... as when writing ActionScript code for a Flash website, for example. Of an evening, I can hammer away unsuccessfully at attempts to get something working in Flash, only to give up and go to bed. The following morning, as soon as I wake up, I can often solve the problem immediately.

At a planetary level, the situation is completely biased, because all the Earth's early birds are located—for better or for worse—on the left-hand side of the following map:

Bloody lucky Antipodeans! They're all up and about on a new morning, at work, at the same time that we tired Old World folk are thinking about crawling into bed, or maybe dreaming already. Americans are even worse off still. By the time they get up and start working, the rest of the world—the Antipodes and Europe—has already terminated their deeds and misdeeds for the day in question. You might say that, on any particular day, the following series of events is enacted:

• Australians react to the morning's happenings in Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. Big deal!

• Asians turn their regard to what has been happening Down Under.

• Faraway Europe gets out of bed and tunes into news from the Antipodes.

• Finally, America has the opportunity of looking at "the day that was" in Australia, Asia and Europe. But America is rarely humble enough to do so. Instead, New York prefers to imagine in the morning that a new day is about to dawn in California. This is both true and false at the same time. Datewise, California's "new day" is condemned eternally (at least for as long as the International Date Line stays where it is) to be yesterday.

For me, in concrete terms, this global situation means that, every morning, the first thing I do on the Internet is to tune in to news from Australia. To a limited extent, this reflects the obvious fact that I'm curious about happenings in my native land. But I do so, above all, because Australian journalists have been active for hours (while I've been sleeping), describing yesterday's events on the planet, particularly those that closed the day in America. It's a weird situation. For us Europeans, there are no better up-to-date accounts of happenings in America than what we can read, of a morning, in the Australian media... for the simple reason that Aussie journalists have been "up all night" (from the point of view of our temporal reckoning) describing yesterday in America.

At an Internet level, I've been living in this global context for at least two years now (ever since my access to top-quality broadband services), and I'm becoming adjusted to it. Australian relatives and friends probably imagine that my awareness of local happenings indicates that I'm hooked up on nostalgia. Yes and no. I bow down to the undisputed fact that the location of the International Date Line means that my Down Under compatriots have a huge advantage with respect to the rest of humanity. In a timewise sense, we Europeans are mere followers of Antipodes. The people in France who are most aware of this situation are the TV producers in charge of Christmas and New Year shows. They never fail to show us images of Aussies celebrating such dates in Australia at about the same time that most late-night Europeans are thinking about going to bed in order to rise, tomorrow morning, as early birds.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Beautiful woman

Once upon a time, the juvenile beauty of Brigitte Bardot was purely on the outside, for all to admire. Personally, I have fuzzy adolescent recollections of admiring her fresh photographic image in a down-to-earth sexual manner... if you see what I mean. I imagined her home territory at Saint-Tropez as some kind of exotic and erotic earthly paradise. When I happened to drop in there for a few hours with Australian friends in 1963, I purchased an expensive deer-skin coat in a seaside boutique. I wore it fondly for years. This leather coat always reminded me of my brief encounter with Bardot's sophisticated and elegant Mediterranean village... but I've since learned that the former sex goddess would not necessarily have approved of an admirer wearing a coat made from the leather of an innocent beast.

These days, the beauty of Brigitte Bardot is still there, as always, perfectly intact, but it has moved to the inside. Over the years, she has surprised and annoyed us at times, through her apparent adherence to extremist right-wing political folk. But we have continued to admire Brigitte as a constant outspoken defender of the rights of animals. Who would have ever imagined, back in the '60s, that our superficial French sex symbol would evolve gently into a profound and fabulous friend of all those countless creatures, our dear cousins, whose chromosomes and genes don't happen to coincide totally with those of our Homo sapiens species?

Today, Brigitte Bardot is a stateswoman of planetary stature, with an eye on all that's happening on the planet Earth. So, it's normal that BB should feel like addressing a harsh word or two to Sarah Palin.

"Speaking on behalf of the respect and preservation of Nature, I hope you'll lose this election, in which case the world will win. Madame Palin, your refusal to admit the responsibility of human beings in global warming, combined with your encouragement of gun ownership and the right to fire at all and everything, make you a disgrace to women. You are a terrible menace, representing a veritable ecological catastrophe."

Brigitte Bardot then turns to Sarah Palin's support of oil-drilling within the Arctic sanctuary, evoking the plight of polar bears. Bardot tells Palin that her actions "reveal your total irresponsibility and your incapacity to protect, or simply respect, animal life".

Brigitte Bardot takes up Palin's ridiculously pitiful self-description about being "a pit bull terrier with lipstick". Bardot, who's an expert in the canine domain, states that Sarah Palin has no right to compare herself with dogs. "Mrs Palin: No pit bull terrier, no other dog, nor even any other animal is as dangerous as you are."

Needless to say, I agree 100 percent with my heroine Brigitte Bardot.

Monday, October 06, 2008

French discoverers of Aids get half a Nobel

The virologists Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes Aids were rewarded with half the 2008 Nobel Prize for Medicine... shared with the German scientist Harold zur Hausen who detected a link between human papilloma viruses (HPV) and cervical cancer. This is the first time since 1980 that French researchers have received a Nobel prize in medicine. This attribution of a Nobel prize to Montagnier and Barré-Sinoussi should end the dispute with the American Robert Gallo concerning the honor of having discovered the Aids virus. The Nobel citation insisted upon the fact that science and medicine were exceptionally rapid in discovering this new disease entity, identifying its origin, and providing treatment for victims.