Copernique Marshall's Essays


No. 061 to 070

(February 2nd, 2015 to October 5th, 2015)

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070 - 2015-10-05

Découragé, je suis au désespoir...

Well what ? Simon, Jeff and, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Perec himself have used English titles for their recent columns, so why shouldn't I refrain myself to use a French title for mine ?

So, okay, this one is bad, particularly since it refers to a top-ten songs of the early sixties written (?) - sung anyway - by a group called the Bel Canto who sort of disappeared in the late sixties when I turned eight or ten. Part of my childhood, not because I liked it, but because it used to be either sung or whistled by an old gardener of l'UdeNap when confronted by a task that was to take him hours.

You can hear it, in its original format on YouTube :

Hey : don't blame me : I didn't write the damned thing and I'm sorry it occasionnaly pops up into my mind. - I'm sure you have some annoying things like that regularly pop into yours.

That is what I have to say on bêtes noires.

(No italics, please, Mr. Editor : bêtes noires is English.)

Anyway :

When I look back at recent history, my recent history, I wonder if John Lennon wasn't too far from the truth when he said that the Beatles probably had a greater influence on human kind than Jesus Christ (or words to that effect).

I've spent most of my youth studying the likes of Aristotle, John Locke, Spinoza, Immanuel Khant, Darwin and - worst of them all - Bergson, than - when I think about it - should have spent on listening to, well not the Beatles (so overrated !) but, at least, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Bo Didley, Chuck Berry, The Temptations, Sly & the Family Stone, CCR, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones... - I could go on for hours. - Why ? Because it would have been more fun. And maybe - a real maybe -, I could have learned how not to read poetry.

THAT's my bête noire. And when it comes to my current (I insist : current) personal Rogue's Gallery, I'll give you three names - and only three :

3 - William Lane Craig whose basic argument against atheism is : "Prove to me that God does not exist". - Well, William, look at the palm of my hands. There's a pencil there. I know you can't see it but prove to me that it is not there ; or try to prove that Bertrand Russell's teapot never existed.- Your proofs that God exists (and not any God but your God) are based by unsubstantiated sayings dating back to 2,000 years ago. Update your brain. There's a new Window out there. It might entice you to say that your views are based on faith. At least, you'd be partially credible. Right now you ain't - And, oh, remember : religion is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods and that atheism is precisely not that. - But, in a way, you use less mumbo jumbo that the next guy on my list and you do appear to be logic. (1)

William Lane Craig

2 - Deepak Chopra, the prince of gibberish, gobbledybook, empty talk and smoke screens. - In my life, I have never heard someone stringing together, at a rapid rate, a bunch of scientific sounding words, new age sptiritual ideas, distorted facts pertaining to quantum mechanics and assorted religious pseudo-science experiments to say nothing. Genuine woo-woo. And if you question him on anything, he adds more woo-woo. - As Sam Harris one said to him : "Repeating and repeating something louder and louder does not make it right."

Deepak Chopra

Runner-ups : Wendy Wright, Michele Backman, Amy Kremer, Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper (read : ALL politicians) and, of course, Ted Haggart.

1 - George Galloway who is literaly against everything : the Zionist movement, the U.S. Senate and against any kind of interventions in Irak, Iran or the Middle East. - He also keeps denying that he saluted, in a meeting he had with Saddam Husseim, his (Saddam's) courage, strenght and infatiguilibility. Unfortunately, it was filmed. - Briefly stated, he asserts that the West created Islam fundamentalism and Al Qaida. Need I say more? - A "real pr*ck" would say Lewis Black.

George Galloway


P.-S. : Noticed recently that, in the only section in my library that is classified alphabetically, Pessoa was sandwiched between Montherlant and Queneau ; and that between Rimbaud and Verlaine were Rabelais and Ronsard... "La rencontre fortuite d'un parapluie et d'une machine à coudre sur une table à disséquer..." (Lautréamont)


(1) As Dennis Miller one said of Roberto Beligni : "[He] sounds like a laid-off insurance adjuster from Lincoln, Nebraska."


069 - 2015-09-07

On autobiographies and biographies

I was talking to Jeff [Bollinger]¸the other day. Could have been the day before or the day after. We do talk to each other, Hermy, Simon, Fawzia, George, myself and others regularly. On the street, at le Dragon Basané and, occasionnaly, at le bar L'Abri... I mean, we cross paths all the time. But that could be the subject of an entire article : how we happened, one day, to go from side of the street to the other while Mr. Perec was going in the opposite direction and what happened afterwards and so on. Problem is that we have so many things to talk about that we hardly listen to each other. But I was present and I did listen to the conversation Mr. Perec had with our distinguished head master, subject of the first column of this issue of Lee Castor™.

The question it raised in my mind was : why do people write autobiographies ? Which brought to mind another question : why do we read them ? - Even worst : why do we read pseudo-autobiographies of celebrities who wouldn't know how to write, on their own, a 140 letters tweet ?

I remember asking an ex - at the time - very well known retired chief editor of an important newspaper (in Montreal) why he wasn't writing his autobiography. His answer was direct and to the point : "Because, he said, I have read too many". - So have I, come to think of it ; of obscure but at one time important personnages who were said to have changed the course of history or, at best, had had some influence on some minor event.

To my astonishment, the other day, I found out that I was currently reading not one but two autobiographies and one biography : John Ruskin's, Christopher Hitchen's and a book writen by Susan Jacoby on Robert Ingersoll. Ruskin's, I'll tell you immediately, I won't finish as it is boring as hell. Susan's Jacoby's book (I read two chapters but migth not continue) has had the merit of encouraging me to read Ingersoll but only in the transcriptions of his most famous speeches. Haven't made up my mind, yet, insofar as Christopher Hitchen's Hitch22: A Memoir is concerned because his style is captivating. He'll probably deserve a separate "Words, Idioms and Expressions" notebook, the kind of which I carry with me all the time as I absolutely adore writing down any word or expressions that strike me as being as unusual, remarkable or simply memorable, something Simon Popp and I introduced to each other. My last entry, for example, was "crushed cardinal" to describe the colour of a shirt ! - Beautiful, ain't it ? - And the one before that was "mustiness, lipstick stains and other disasters" which was used to describe what could happen in a soirée when a little boy is kissed by an old aunt.

To come back to bio's and autobio's, I'd rather read essays, opinions, denonciations and even pamphlets written by intelligent people than go through the ramblings of people who have lived unusually boring little lifes unless their "Me, Myself and I's" are exceptionally well written, Which is why I couldn't get beyond four pages of Rousseau but I did read, more than once, Gide's "Si le grain ne meurt" and remain a constant Julien Green's votary.

So, I think I'll stick to Hitchens.

See below, in the Book Review section.

On the upcoming elections :

My interest in politics lies between "I am not interested" and "I don't give a dam". To marshall my facts , I would say that I find it uninteresting, repetitive, tedious, insipid and believe it to be the best example of human hypocrisy ever given to the human race, bar none... Well I could mention, if you pushed me, as other examples, a few civilisations and a couple of priests, bishops or cardinals but, nah, they coudn't hold a candle to the average politician which is precisely why I abhor politics as a whole : politicians.

To quote Robert Green Ingersoll, that great agnostic ("Mistakes Made by Moses") :

"I would like [...] to liberate the politician. At present, the successful office-seeker is a good deal like the centre of the earth ; he weighs nothing himself, but draws everything else to him. There are so many societies, so many churches, so many isms, that it is almost impossible for an independent man to succeed in a political career. Candidates are forced to pretend that they are catholics with protestant proclivities, or Christians with liberal tendencies, or temperance men who now and then take a glass of wine, or, that although not members of any church their wives are, and that they subscribe liberally to all. The result of all this is that we reward hypocrisy and elect men entirely destitute of real principle; and this will never change until the people become grand enough to allow each other to do their own thinking."

(The underlining is mine.)

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), by the way, was a lawyer, a Civil War veteran, political leader, and orator of United States during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. Unfortunately mostly forgotten nowadays.

Check him out :

Wikipedia :



068 - 2015-08-03 - Totally out of context

   Out of context 1

I can't understand why Thomas Paine's Common Sense is not part of all American High Schools' curriculum. Actually, I don't understand why its reading is not mandatory. It should be. Perhaps it has to do with its revolutionary content which is at the very root of democracy, that is : the original American democracy, not the one that now exists, with its corrupted two party system where politicians do not represent the people who have elected them but are more interested in their own influence and power forgetting that they are mere puppets in the hands of their rich backers (that's "backers", not "bankers" although a "banker" can be a "backer").

Reminds me of OUR two-party political system (with the odd third, fourth, fifth parties that have very little hope of wining elections - although some parties have been replaced over the years but it's usually a long process). Is there a real choice in the upcoming elections between the Conservatives (Harper) and the Liberals (Trudeau) with other parties who could possibly, considering how fed up Canadians are of their politicians, hold "the balance of power" ?

My idea of a good political system is electing members of parliament and the Prime Minister separately. Imagine Harper at the head of a House of Commons whose majority would be liberal. Wouldn't that be great ?

My case rests.

Anyway, here's my favourite Thomas Paine's quotation :

"To establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations, would be to take from [a] Government the most lucrative of its branches."

And this is what he had to say about Monarchy and Hereditary Succession :

"Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich, and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh, ill-sounding names of oppression and avarice. Oppression is often the CONSEQUENCE, but seldom or never the MEANS of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy.

But there is another and greater distinction, for which no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned, and that is, the distinction of men into KINGS and SUBJECTS. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind."

Remember : this was written in 1776, at a time when this sort of statement could make you a candidate to be accused of high treason and consequently to end up seriously dead. By hanging.

Finally, you might find his vocabulary a bit strange as he used, for example, the word "hath" instead of our modern "has", "had" or "have" but, believe me, his prose, written with the lowest denominator in mind, was in itself revolutionary by its simplicity.

The entire text of his "Common Sense" can be found in various formats - free of charge - at the following address :

For those who might prefer to read him in French (translated by F. Lanthenas in 1793) :

You might also want to watch a very interesting debate on Thomas Paine :

And a very interesting article on him and his writings can be read in La Revue Transatlantica at this address :

And, if you're wondering if the left is still alive in America, go on YouTube and type the following names :

Dick Gregory, Lewis Black, Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchens.

You might laugh and cry at the same time.

P.-S. : Another site you might be interested in is which contains 18.000 free audio books in English (plus 400+ in French). You'll find Thomas Paine there, as well.

P.-P.-S. : And, while I'm here, what do you want me to say about Trump ? - This : living a few kilometers from the USA border, moving to Australia might be an option if he gets elected.

   Out of context 2

Just in case you might have wondered, I did write in my notebook what was quoted in the May 11th issue of Le Castor™. - It went like this :

"Looks like I'll have to do something about my writing. 14.54 % of its content is made up of "hard words" (three or more syllables) ; its lexical density is 65.96% ((number of different words / Total number of words) x 100) - 186 over 282 in my case !) and has a rating of 21.93 on the Fog index scale (the number of years of education that your reader hypothetically needs to understand) - All based on the first four paragraphs of my "The Good Old Days" May 4th column..."

Not the first time this has been brought to my attention and not my fault either : I was raised in a French Canadian milieu but sent to an English Boarding School, two actually, both of which were more bookish than anything else, so I never learned to properly speak or write French, nor English for that matter ; not to mention Latin, Greek and I only managed to have a smattering of German. - Imagine what it would have been like if had I learned some obscure African dialect or, worst of all Urdu, the lingua franca of Pakistan !

I'll have to work on it, reducing my natural instinct to complicate things, but before I do, I'll have to get rid of a much worst nasty habit of mine which consists in piling books on my desk which my cat invariably knocks off, not to mention the fact that I never replace them where they were to begin with, with the unfortunate result that I occasionally loose one or two for, sometimes, a week. What did I say ? A week ? I've been looking for Ruskin's Preaterita for a close to a month now plus an "empty" book (you know : those boxes that are made to look like books) ; it's imperative that I find it as it contains my pencil sharpener... Oh yes : I use pencils not pens. My desk has enough coffee stains as it is without spilling ink all over it. - And pencils have erasers !

You might ask why books and why pencils. "Don't you use readers or computers ?" - I do, including, at times, my phone or my tablet (when I find it, usually buried under my books) to do research on the WEB but for, note taking and marking a page or a phrase in a familiar book, nothing beats paper and, today, the ubiquitous post-it in different colours including, you know, these little arrows that are sold in plastic wrappers which you can slip in your shirt pocket.

I've tried every program available to compile notes, annotate, classify, indicate that this one is "important", that one, "secondary" and the third, "could be useful" but have never come across something as easy-to-use as good old-fashioned Hillroy Exercise Books that come in one size, albeit with different number of pages, and, more importantly, colours ! - Takes a while to use them properly, like writing on the right hand side only, using the left to add further notes or comments, or, in my case, to number my scribbling so I can thereafter read them in sequence. You can even add pages to them and they're so cheap ! It would be pointless to ignore them. (I know a place where I can buy them in packs of ten for 2$). - What about my computer ? Well, there's a printer nearby and if, for example, I'm writing an essay on an totally unknown English writer (you know how much I like THEM...), I might print a short excerpt and enter it into my Hillroy or I'll pick up addresses to use at a further date, note them down (not in my Browser : its menu would be a mile long after a short while), add what it's all about and that's it.

Good Old Hilroy's Exercise Books

Now to writing :

I'm way ahead of the game : I use Nuance®'s Dragon Naturally Speaking and dictate most of my so called penultimate drafts, then start correcting and/or, as I kid myself, really work on a final version.

Which reminds me of Oscar Wilde who showed up, one night, at the Café Royal Grill, looking tired. "What's the matter ?" asked his friends. - "Oh, nothing, he replied. I just spent the entire morning putting a coma in a poem... And the entire afternoon removing it."

And I keep asking myself why what I write is unreadable !



067 - 2015-07-06

1 - Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax and of cabbages and kings...

When somebody asked me, not too long ago, how many books I had read, I did not hesitate to say that I didn't know and that it was very difficult to estimate because I have not read all the books I have borrowed, purchased or simply opened... from start to finish. Biographies, novels, plays, yes (and even at that !) but I'm not too sure about essays, reference or history books, journals, diaries and other publications. Who is going to read all the poems contained in a one thousand pages best-of ? And some books are - pardon the expression - literaly unreadable. "Le journal d'Edmond et Jules Goncourt" is such a book ; twenty pages and one is up to one's neck in names that haven't been heard in a hundred fifty years. - I think I mentioned that.

And then, we all have reading habits. Mine is to go from one book to another, one Internet page to and back from its various links. Not to mention the encyclopedias, dictionaries and various other reference material I have all over the place.

For example :

I've been brushing, lately, on the history of the translation of the Bible in English or, if you prefer, the history of its English vernacular editions, starting with that of John Wycliffe's (approximately 1392 to 1395), on to that of William Tyndale (circa 1525), that of Myles Cloverdale (1535), all the way to the King James Bible (1604-1611) and its subsequent Cambridge editions.

I wasn't interested, really, into their accuracy or if they had had an influence of the English language (although they did, as much as Shakespeare). My main interest was to find out what had happened to these legendary forerunners who did these translations and were excommunicated or, unhearted and burnt (in the case of Wycliffe), jailed and strangled (Tyndale), or had to exile himself three times (Cloverdale) to avoid being hanged.

And then there was Thomas Moore (1478-1535)

During Moore's chancellorship hundreds of people were arrested, thrown in jail, occasionally tortured and at least six people were burned at the stake for heresy, i.e. : owning an English Bible and/or teaching the word of God in a language people understood. Their names :

Thomas Hitton, Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbery, Thomas Dusgate, and James Bainham.

If you're slightly depressed at the moment, look up their biography on the Internet ; you'll be glad to have been born in the twentieth century. A bit sadder, maybe, when you'll consider that Thomas Moore was canonised in 1935 and declared the "Heavenly Patron of Statements and Politicians" in 2000.

Birds of a feather...

P.-S. : One point in his favor : he was beheaded unlike most statements or politicians I've known. - Which reminds me : when I was young, I couldn't understand why Marie-Antoinette had been beheaded. Now I do.


2 - Wordstar Professional - Release 5.0

In a drawer of my father's library, the other day, where, he told me he had put a document I was looking for, I found, believe it or not, a full copy, with its fourteen 5 and ¼ floppiy disks , of a Word Processor called - you read correctly - Wordstar Professional - Release 5.0, distributed by MicroPro and dating back to the second half of the 1980's.

Just to prove that I'm not making this up, I've scanned the disquettes as well as the first and last page (no. 541) of its manual.

Here they are :


And while I was at it :

Well a box was necessary to store these floppy disks and all the rest :

I could have scanned other stuff : templates, a "Pocket Wordstar manual" (50 pages), an advert from "Star-Exchange" that allowed you to transfer your Wordstar creations into 13 other word processors amongst which -  people over 50 might recognize such gems -  were : Samna, Volkswiter 3.0, Wang PC, Navy DIF and DCA/FFT (and RFT) - $79.95 plus $5.00 shipping and handling.

I asked my father : "How could you have bought something like this ?" - Said he hadn't but some commitee, way back then, had thought it was a good idea. - "Did anyone use it ?" I asked. - "Probably not." he said. - Sure enough : the floppies were still in their "sealed" enveloppes and the registration card (which one had to mail) was still in the box. - "Maybe we should send it to the Smithsonian Institute" I said. "Nah, he replied. They probably have the one that came with the Osborne computer." - Sure enough, I thought to myself because I knew a man who had bought three of these sewing machines when Osborne went under in 1983. - Had said at the time that, for the price - about $500 per unit - he couldn't get a better computer and that the three would last him for a lifetime...

Don't know if they did.

I was, anyway, laughing (a little) on my way home until I started looking into MY drawers.

Unbelievable, ain't it, the stuff we bought (for computers) and that turned to be useless within weeks ? I have boxes full of them, including tons of wires, plugs and transformers, a whole bunch of obsolete three and a ½ disquettes and even a dot matrix printer to use with - you must remember that - perforated paper.

Nothing compared to the VIC-20 Paul still has, he says, stored somewhere in his appartment...

Well, at least, Apple I, II and III never entered our house.



066 - 2015-06-01 - What's in a name ?

I, who was baptised Copernique, after, not the welll known astronomer, Nikolaj Kopernik, but in honor of the Flemish poet Jacques Kortrij a.k.a. Copernique because of his admiration for the first (well, that's the official version), I, whose father was named Euclide, his grand-father Alphétus and his great-grand-father, Tony (sic), shouldn't have anything to say about names should I ? - Unfortunately, I do.

I say "unfortunately", but it's a bit farfetched : I sort of made names a hobby of mind, not in the traditional way, that is : through family history or genealogy (which I leave to those whose faith tends to believe the upmost unquestionable sexual honesty of their forefathers and mothers [all the way back, in some instances, to the Crusades]) ; but with the curious names parents, at times, give to their children.

Take the world acclaimed violinist Ephrem Zimbalist, for example. What did he call his son ? Ephrem. And what did this second Ephrem call his son ? Ephrem. Leaving everybody to understand that Ephrem Sr. gave his son the name of Ephrem Jr., who, in turn, called his son, Ephrem III.

No objection there, unless you want to become an actor or a well known personality (other tha that of your father). - Why would you call yourself, Ephrem Zimbalist Jr. instead of, like, Marion Mitchell Morrison, John Wayne, or Archibald Alexander Leach, Cary Grant ? And if you had a daughter, who also wanted to get into acting or movies, why would she insist of calling herself Zimbalist ? - Oh, come on ! You must remember Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt in Remington Steele, opposite Pierce Brosnan. - No ? - Never mind.

She and her brother are, amongst, thousands of movie and tv personalities (and others) who did not change their names but some did. To go along their movie and tv personae (or whatever). Here are a few :

Real name
changed his/her name
Frederick Austerlitz
Fred Astaire
Shahvor Azavurjal
Charles Aznavour
Camille Javal
Brigitte Bardot
Rosine Bernard
Sarah Bernhardt
David Jones
David Bowie
Cecilia Kalageropoulos
Maria Callas
Sean O'Fearna
John Ford
Domenico Theotocopoulos
El Greco
Adolf Schicklgruber
Adolf Hitler
William Henry Platt
Boris Karloff

Check it out :

Nothing, however, compared to a name, I think, was mentioned here sometimes ago, that of :

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Looking it up I found that the name Isambard was derived from an Old German name, Isanbert, which was already common in the south-west of Germany before the 8th century, and meant "glittering iron". As Isanbert, it came to England with the Anglo-Saxons, but fell out of favour after the Norman Conquest. Until Mrs. Kingdom and Mr. Brunel (no kidding) decided to name their only son, Isambard (with a "d").

Problem is that he became famous. As a mechanical and civil engineer who built dockyards, the British Great Western Railway, a series of ships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship and other numerous important bridges and tunnels, revolutionizing at the same time public transport and modern engineering.

Want to see what he looked like ? - Here he is :

Isambard Kingdom Brunel
posing in front of the anchor chains of his big, big, bigest ship.

Photo by by Robert Howlett (Wikipedia).

Want more ? - How's : Gustavus Adolphus, Christopher Plantin, Léon Scott Martinville, Camillo Golgi, Karl-Victor von Bonstetten, Heinrich Pestalozzi, Napoléon Courtemanche, Mercedes Daimler, Mary Moltley Montagu...

But you don't have to go that far : think of Caron de Beaumarchais or... Jeanne Antoinette Poisson who changed her name to that of Marquise de Pompadour.

Those are some of the reasons I do not dislike my name.

By the way, Napoléon Courtemanche was an Insurance Broker ; really, in the fifties and sixties, eastern part of Montréal. - And then there were two funeral directors, in Montréal as well, whose names were Sansregret and Sansfaçon.


P.-S. : Incidently, the names of my four children are : Albert (born in 1991), Marie (1993), Léon (1994) and... Mycroft (2002), the later in memory of my great-great-grand uncle, the brother of Tony Marshall.


On contemporary literature

Not quite a book review this month but a reflection on books and languages, as suggested by Simon.

First, let me remind you of that part of a lecture on literature and politics given, in 2001 by the late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) which he quoted in one of his last columns :

"We must now begin to find a language the New World - or rather the New Cosmos - that's being created for us - no : I should better say being revealed to us, though neither creation or revelation are words that I should be using carefully - disclosed to us by the Hubble telescope and the translation of DNA.We now are at the very opening of the time where the nature of humanity and the nature of the universe can at last be scrutinized without racism, without tribalism, without creationism and without superstition.

We occupy a position of privilege none of our ancestors could have guessed at. One page of Stephen Hawkins on the event horizon or the black hole is far more awe inspiring, infinitely more awe inspiring than any babble about the burning bush in Genesis, or Ezekiel or any babble about Armageddon but we still employ the stilted faltering metaphors of our prehistory.

We're still stuck with the medium we inherited, translating vivid new discoveries back into the safe stylistic bubbling comforting patois that we already know.

Welcoming the completion of the human genome project in the spring of last year, President Clinton sounded like a gaping Elmer Gantry when he said it gave us the dictionary our creator had used to create us.

At the present, then, our language lags behind reality, behind science, behind discovery and behind - and I should stress this - behind humanity. [...] We should close that gap to redress that extraordinary lag."

Difficult to disagree with the above, particularly when, like me, you're a perfect example of a typical babbler using a patois which some have described as antiquated with its obsolete expressions, words that can no longer be found in modern dictionaries not to mention the subjects I usually deal with. - And there I am, saying all the time that books will eventually disappear. At least in their paper format.

Books and now languages ?

I'll get back to Hitchens in a moment but, let me point out something :

I have in my very limited DVD collection Ken Burns' eleven and a half hour documentary on the American Civil War which I have watched at least four times and which I carry on me (tablet) all the time (it occupies less than 1/64th of its memory leaving plenty of room for other stuff such as Proust's À la recherche du Temps perdu and Saint-Simon's Mémoires to name two [sets of] books that would otherwise occupy two to three shelves in a bookcase). Through this documentary, I have learned more about the American Civil War that I could have by reading dozens of 900 pages books on the subject. Because it showed me photos, made me listen to experts on specific items ; it made me visit various sites ; depicted battles using computer animations ; etc., etc. And I haven't seen certain mathematical or science or historical facts explained so clearly since the invention of not only motion pictures but television and now the Internet.

That said, perhaps someone should point out to Christopher Hitchens that the new language he was talking is, in the above new formats, already here.

I'll concede that whatever he means by a new "language" inasmuch as, regardless of pictures and diagrams, certain information will always have to be accompanied by explanatory words and sentences.

But that's an entirely different story.

Quacks, quacks and more quacks

Quack : noun - A person who dishonestly pretends to have medical skills or knowledge.
(Cambridge Dictionary)

I've been watching debates on religion lateley : God, the existence of afterlife, Atheism, the Bible, Christianity, Jews, Muslims, Science, Creativism, the Burka, etc. Anything which are so entrenched in our daily lives and faith that no one is allowed to question. - I've watched these debates in which participate the likes of Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss and their counterparts : Wendy Right, Cardinal George Pell (an idiot if I ever heard one), William Lane Craig, Deepack Shopra, Hamza Tzorkis, Dinesh D'Souza and countless others whose faith, at times, borders total insanity if not downright dishonesty. (Which is why I call them quacks.)

Some of them, the "semi-quacks", have, I will concede, good intentions but, invariably, keep asking - I shouldn't call them atheists, "scientists" (people inclined to look at the world from a science point of view) to prove that God does not exist. It reminds me of George Bernard Shaw who once introduced the idea that a teapot was orbiting Earth and that no-one could prove the contrary.

The World Factbook gives the population as 7,095,217,980 men, women and children (July 2013 est.) and the distribution of religions as Christian 31.50% (of which Roman Catholic would represent 16.85%, Protestant 6.15%, Orthodox 3.96%, Anglican 1.26% and so on), Muslim 23.20%, Hindu 13.8%, Buddhist 6.77%...

(Jews, by the way, are a very, very small minority at about 6,000,000 of which 82% live in either Israel or the United States.)

Now, if one takes...

31.5 % times 7,095,217,980, one gets 2,234,993,667 individuals who would be Chritians


23.2 % times 7,095,217,980 = 1,646,090,571 individuals who whould be Muslims,

My problem is how do they count these people ?

If you are born in a, say, Catholic family, and you are five years old, does that make you a Christian ? And if you were a Muslim and have switched to Hinduism (a rarity, I must admit), are you still counted as a Muslim ? And if you haven't followed a single religion in ages, are you still counted as one who was once a Christiam or a Buddhist ?

Most of the people I've meet in the last few years haven't been inside a church, a temple ot a synagogue since their late teens - except for funerals, mariages and baptisms. They are either atheists, non-believers or agnostics.

Most likely still being counted as Christians or whatever. - Maybe they should write to the Pope and inform him so... - What do you think ?

But then 63% of Americans - at the last count - do not believe in evolution...



065 - 2015-05-04 - The good (!) old days

The first wife of a friend of mine was a Medieval nutcase. By that I mean that, had she been given the choice, she would have been born at the time of chivalry, courtly love, castles (with drawbridges), illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, houppelandes (1) and, of course, troubadours in tight pants. However, owing to a rather limited knowledge of history, her idea of Middle Age involved several periods but in no particular order, all of which were, of course, exempt of war, famine, the bubonic plague and assorted other mild irratibillities such as feudalism, the rise of Islam, the Ottoman Empire, the Moorish occupation of Spain, "sumptuary" laws such as "mort d'ancestor" (look it up), porridge, bread and stew, the Crusades, arranged marriages and the Avignon Papacy.

A question that was often asked of her was : "Who would you have been ?" - No need to wait for an answer. It was always somebody like Genevieve of Brabant or Maid Marian ; at the very least, one of those princesses surrounded by the bare necessities of life (perfume, jewels and fine clothing) ; certainly not one of those illiterate peasants with a life expectancy of about 25 years, living in total squalor, constantly fearing for her life and raped regularly by Vikings, Normans or other explorers.

I understand she remarried wearing what she thought she would have worn in the 12th or 13th century : a flowing gown with an elaborate head-wear shaped like a butterfly and an imported Italian turban ; to - you might have guessed - a fully armored knight who may have had some difficulties in taking off his genuine-imitation modern-tin plate armour over a mail shirt to consummate his true love, but that's another story.

I thought about her a day or two ago when I heard, for the umpteenth time the expression : "Those were the good old days". Unfortunately, I was too far and not part of the conversation to utter W.C. Fields' immortal addition, sideways, naturally : "... and I hope they never come again", often quoted by Simon Popp.

I can't believe - let me rephrase that : I don't understand - why some people think so highly of the past and why, particularly, so many would want to go back in time. To get killed for king and country (mainly the king) ? To catch a venereal disease ? Or to drink bad wine ?

I wouldn't live again even five minutes of my past. Including idyllic moments (and there has been a lot), just in case, something of a lesser happiness might interfere again.

Let's face it : I'm 54 years old and during this rather short period of time the following happened :

(Don't worry about it : I won't quote anything personal but, I'd like to mention that I was somewhere and doing something when it all occurred.)

  • The Cold, the Corean and the Vietnamese wars
  • The Black Panthers
  • The Apartheid
  • Solidamosc (Solidarity)
  • Khomeyni
  • Paul Pot
  • Sadam Hussein
  • Bush : father and son
  • And so on and so forth.

I could go on, you know, indefinitely : 8 years of  Robert Bourassa, most of Jean Drapeau's reign, Camil Samson, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Jean Chrétien, the three Johnson's and even that didn't-know-didn't-see-didn't-hear mayor Montréal had for a while...

Yes, Mary, the winters of our discontent are made glorious summers but not by the previous autumns : by the present and, even more so, by springs.

And we're now in spring, aren't we ?


(1)houppelande or houpelande is an outer garment, with a long, full body and flaring sleeves that was worn by both men and women in Europe in the late Middle Ages. - Look it up : it's in the dictionary.



Well, for one thing, Mrs. Marshall, née de Pougy, wasn't very happy when I got home last Friday (1) or should I say : early, last Saturday, at about two a.m. or maybe two thirty a.m.

"It's okay for HIM, she said. He could WALK back home but you, you had to DRIVE all the way back here [Napierville]. How many drinks did you have ?"

Not that much, I said to myself, but it was pointless to argue. As things turned out, I had spent most of the evening listening to live music and talking (listening), between sets, with the musicians. Talking ? Paul [Dubé] did. I took notes. I must have had, because when I woke up on the following day, I felt as if I had spent the entire night drinking herbal tea. But let me tell you what happened. Really.

Those of you who have read my little essay on jazz might remember how frustrated I am listening to the countless cocktail pianists who keep improvising on themes played by the likes of Nat King Cole, fifty, sixty, seventy years ago, not having the common sense of playing notes for notes the masterpieces recorded by him and other jazz giants who created wonderful improvisations that shouldn't be altered the same way one wouldn't alter the works of Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, etc. - Well, last Friday, I was again complaining about this to Paul when he said : "Ever heard Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album ?" - Of course I had. Everybody must have. - "Well, he added, let me bring you to this little club I know where you might be able to hear it live." - Must be joking, I thought. But there we were, at eight o'clock, that evening, in a busy little place, on St-Denis street, near Rachel (downtown Montreal), waiting for the musicians to set up their instruments. And, all of sudden, I heard the first bars of "On Green Dolphin Street" (on piano) immediately followed by - I would have swore - the inimitable sound of Miles Davis playing on his trademark muted trumpet. T'was followed by John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly, the whole supported by a - believe me or not - a seventy year old teen age bassist named Paul Chambers and a, as old and as young, drummer called Jimmy Cobb.

As things turned out, I was listening to a group billed under the ubiquitous name of "Hommage À  Miles Davis" sub-billed "Kind of Blue".

Their first set was made up of Miles' standards, including one of my favorites simply entitled "Miles".

I thought I was dreaming but I wasn't.

Then came the announcement that, for their second set, they were going to play the entire "Kind of Blue" album. Which explains why I came home that late because wild horses couldn't have pulled me away from where I was.

The musicians ?

Ron DiLauro as Miles Davis, trumpet
André Leroux as John Coltrane, tenor sax
Jean-Pierre Zanella as Cannonball Adderley, alto sax
Pierre Leduc as Bill Evans (but more in the Wynton Kelly style), piano
Michel Donato as Paul Chambers, string bass
and Richard Provençal as Jimmy Cobb, drums.

I asked the manager, Garry, if they had recorded their stuff. "Oh, come on, he said. Wouldn't you rather have the original ?" - Problem is that I HAVE the original but would have liked to hear them side by side.

Anyway, that's only part of what went on that evening.

Besides us (Paul and myself) were two absolutely magnificent young girls (no wonder Mrs. Marshall, née Pougy, wasn't too pleased, although I didn't mention them) and between the two sets, I sat in total amazement, listening to Paul talking to the pianist about his accompanying Coleman Hawkins in one of his rare visits, in Montréal, 50 years ago, his conversations with Miles at a jazz club known as "Le Jazz Hot" at about the same time and so on, including André Leroux (John Coltrane) and Michel Donato, the well known, Montreal based, bassist (Paul Chambers), etc.

Like a child in a candy store. I couldn't have been happier.

So you won't forget when they show up again :

Le Dièse Onze
4115-A rue St Denis (between Duluth et Rachel) (2)
Informations and reservations : (514) 223-3543


(1) April 24th, 2015 - Editor's note

(2) Don't worry if you have to go down a few steps into what appears to be an abandoned basement : it has, inside, the feeling of a late sixty, early seventy New York Jazz club. (So Paul tells me and he's been around.)


064 - 2015-04-13 - Go ahead : decide for me.

Years ago, when microcomputers cost an arm and a leg and were quite limited, that is, something like yesterday in a lifetime, I had a program that remembered how I wrote. T'was at a time where I was writing reports, letters and other mundane stuff. Nothing important, really, but lotsa of it.

Can't remember the specific name of that all-purpose, all-remembering program but it was very disturbing in that, after a while, it began to guess what I was about to write. For example, if I was writing a letter and began by typing "Tu", it would instantly suggest the date, say : "Tuesday, March the 9th, 19**". I then had a choice to either accept that date by pressing on the ";" key and the date would immediately appear on my screen, followed by two blank lines with the cursor at the beginning of the second. Typing "D" would be followed by "Dear" and other choices : "Sir" ; pressing on the semi-colon twice would change that to "Madam" ; a third time  and "Miss" appeared. Two spaces and it would erase all its suggestions but, if following these two spaces, I typed ";", dot or a colon, it would type just that. And so on and so forth. Three keys to remember : semi-colon and two spaces.

A few annoyances : backspace would erase an entire word (but followed by the same word but spelled correctly, just in case you had missed a letter or two ; a dot followed by pressing ";" would insert two returns ; at the end of "Dear Sir" (as in the last paragraph), if I typed a comma, it would insert two returns as well.

A bit, a long bit, to get used to.

As a whole, though, after a few hours, I got the hang of it but what really annoyed me was that it showed me how little imagination I had. "Fu" became "Further to ", "Yours" at the beginning of a line, bottom of page, was followed by "Yours truly", a comma and four lines with my name and title. - Problem is that it went on and on, occasionally typing entire letters, particularly if I had written the same letter twice in a row or three or four times in the past week or so.

Briefly, it gave me the impression that I was a thorough twit who had had a couple of brain gaskets blown and particularly inclined at repeating myself.

Today, the same thing has creeped (or is it "crept" ?) into my "intelligent" phone even guessing in what language (French or English) I was trying to send a texto. - But I got rid of that.

The whole thing reminded me an old, now deceased, friend of mine who dictated, day after day, the same letter-report but was totally anti-computer and insisted, years after red ribbons - remember those ? had disappeared from typewriters, continuously saying "underline in red" whatever word he thought was important in the same letter-reports he was dictating.

Oh, I hate programmers (hell Apple !) who think and showing me with precise details that I'm an idiot.

2 - Calendars

Here's something I picked up in a paperback by the late George Carlin ("Napalm & Silly Putty" - Hyperion 2001) who was considered as one of the great American stand-up comics but was more of a social commentator. It's a little essay on calendars which I found not only interesting but also a perfect illustration of man's stupidity.

I quote verbatim.

What Year Do You Have ?

"Never mind a piddly little half-hour difference in India, how about thousands of years ? The major calendars disagree by thousands of years. To the Chinese, this is 4699; the Hebrews think it's 5762; the Muslims swear it's 1422. No telling what the Mayans and Aztecs would say if they were still around. I guess their time ran out.

"Remember, folks, these are calendars we're talking about, instruments specifically designed to keep track of time. And they're all different. And they're not just off by a couple of weeks, this is thousands of goddamn years we're talking about. How did that happen ?

"Our current (Gregorian) calendar is such an amateur show that every four years we have to cram in an extra day just to make the whole thing work. We call it February 29. Personally, I don't believe it. Deep down, I know it's really March 1st. I mean, it just feels like March 1st, doesn't it ?

"But even that simple quadrennial adjustment doesn't fix things, so every 100 years we suspend that rule and dispense with the extra day. Unless, of course, the year is divisible by 400, in which case we suspend the suspension and add the extra day. But that's still not quite enough, so every 4,000 years we suspend that rule too, and back comes February 29 !

"Here's how we got to this sorry state : The Julian calendar was introduced in 46 B.C., the Roman year 709, but it was off by eleven minutes a year, so by 1582 there was an accumulated error of ten days. Accordingly, that year, Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the day following October 4 would be called October 15. They just skipped ten days. Threw them out. Officially, in 1582, no one was born in France, Italy, Spain or Portugal during the period October 5 through October 14. Weird, huh?

"But even weirder, Britain didn't adopt the Gregorian calendar till 1752, when they dropped eleven days out of September. Since this also applied to the American colonies, officially, no one was born here from September 3 through September 13, 1752. Except Indians. By the way, during that same year New Year's Day was moved from March 25 to January 1. The way it had been handled before, for example, was that March 24, 1750, would be followed by March 25, 1751. Pretty fucked up, huh? And you thought that big millennium party you went to was being held right on time."

Comment :

Thank God he didn't even mention the lunar, liturgical, Russian and Soviet calendars ! (And others.)

Tuesday, the 13th of Jumaada al-Thaany, 1436 A.H. (Islamic calendar)

P.-S. : By the way, Mr. Andrew C.of (Burlington, Vermont,, I particularly don't like pompous windbags acting like boardroom chairmen because they are boardroom chairmen. And this goes as well for people who are members of the only true religion and whose opinions are the only opinions to which everybody should adopt in the whole world (including parts of Jamaica and the Northern part of Saskatchewan) aka : bats from hell. - I also happen to dislike chocolate box art, fancy shaped whiskey bottles, boutique bags the size of which is totally useless, egregious names given to car paint colors and any commercial that uses bears to sell toilet paper. Why did you ask ?


063 - 2015-04-06 - Hooray for Captain Internet !

"Each of us is indeed alone" wrote Proust [Chaque personne est bien seule].

But that was before the Internet.

(The context out of which the above quotation can be found annotated in both French and English at the bottom of this column.)

I keep thikigng about Mitch Hedberg's opening lines in one of his last monologues (he passed away in 2005, age 37) : "I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to do too." - Like him, in a way, I used to think that I was alone... I still do, at times, but I used to do too. Stopped a while. Came back to my first way of thinking. Then changed my mind again. And one of the reason I did, besides the day I came back to Napierville, is the Internet.

It started off slowly but the idea that we are not alone strucked me when I started corresponding with authors, teachers, fathers and even insurance salesmen I found on the Internet and with whom I have, over the years, shared tons of ideas or views or knowledge or experiences. I haven't found yet somebody who thinks exactly like me on all subjects (how can anyone ?) but out of France, England, Germany and as far away as Australia and even New Guinee, I've received long messages dealing with my special interests or, as somebody would say, maniac specialties.

The Internet, as nobody could have predicted, is no longer a simple mean of communication - nor has never been any language - between schollars or soldiers (sic), but a fantastic world unifier.

No wonder certain countries are trying to supress it or even put you in jail if you have a satellite dish on your house. On the other hand, it's secondary and unpredictable aspects ARE BOUND TO create a lot of changes in society, the economy, our way of living, all the way down to our way of mating :

Think only of the number of people who will, eventually - if it hasn't started yet -, be able to work from home and the impact this will have on public transport, car manufacturing, large cities, librairies, book stores, any shop that sells things that can be ordered on line, property values...

That's why some people want the Internet banned as it might make this world a shade better than dreadful. Well, it takes all kinds.

P.-S. : The Internet wasn't invented in 1995, the year it became available to the US population, but in 1962. For years, it wasn't used regularly except for academic and military purposes (from the early 1980's). Currently, approximately 2,8 billion people use it on a daily basis.

2 - Apple... What... again ?

I mentioned it several times here : I can't understand Apple and it's "better than you are" attitude which borders on the despicable "hollier than thou" used by sanctimonious bastards all over the place in all sorts of situations.

I don't understand Microsoft either, and for the same reason.

In recent years, both seem to be saying : "We know how you work, what you want to do, how you think and therefore, we'll design it for you." - Sorry, boys, you don't know how I work nor how I think, nor what I want to do, nor, with the exceptions of thousands of morons, do you know how real people use computers and the reason I know this is everytime I pick up one of your latest creations, I, and a lot of people I know, have to spend an entire day, sometimes two, to reprogram it the way I or they want it to work, that is : I or they have to erase all the programs I or they won't be using, substitute your WORD, EXCEL (etc.) with something that works the way I or they do and install the Internet program that works for me or them and - usually free - that I or they will use on a daily basis. - On two screens, in my case. Something that is totally ignored, with some odd exceptions, by most programmers.

Oh, I or they don't succeed all the time in reorganizing your perfect setups because you keep installing on my telephone, my computers, my tablets and, I presume, those watches you want to sell me, "useful apps" which I can't erase and have to hide behind unobstructive screens or directories. - I don't need, for example, any related health apps (why do you want me to check my heartbeat all the the time ?). - I, also, don't need continous news nor commercial for books I will never read and if I want to check the weather, I'll do just that.

It's a pain to get rid or hide of your "can't-live-without-them" garbage and, continuously, I have to launch my "stop all-running-programs" to make sure that you're not running something I don't need in the background or installing more garbage. - Problem, judging by what I find on other people's phone, tablets or computers, you keep sneaking them all the time.

Microsoft, you're not better : recently, I had to transform your Windows 8 into something that felt and looked like Windows 7 to run it the way I had transformed it, i.e. : the way I wanted it to work. How's that for progress ?

I remember DOS on the first PC's : simple, everything that was in it, you knew exactly why it was there and then you installed the programs you wanted to use. No fling-flangs. Basic stuff. I also remember Borland (wonder what happened to them ?) which allowed on to change all the menus of all their programs to suit one's needs. - How, in the world, the current programming experts transform themselves into all-knowing, all-seeing, theoritically omniscient visionaries ? I don't know. Who the hell, for example, figured out, in WORD, that letters had to be formatted the way it does (unless you change it) ? - Who decided out that I would only use three sheets in EXCEL ? And who thought that 3 gigs would suffice in something called "Cloud" as a backup for my one terabyte files ?

There might be some light at the end of the tunnel (unless it's another train coming in) : Google [Android] ?

I heard that they currently thinking about telephones I will be able to buy on a chip or part basis : a chip for an actual verbal communication device, another for Internet, E-mails and textos, a third for a calculator, a note taker, an agenda, and so on. - Imagine paying for what you'll use and nothing else. Not six, seven eight hundred dollars for something that contains 75% of stuff you'll either never use nor understand.

But then, I'm only a consumer and right now, I think that Apple - and Microsoft - are tutsi-frutsiying us.

If I wasn't that lazy, I'd turn to LINUX.

Typical desktop I see on some computers

3 - Time capsule 2

Following my last month column (see the Time Capsule section), I received a message from Chris Wayne, of Joliet, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), referring me to something I remembered having seen on tv five or six years ago but had forgotten when I wrote about our proximity to the past. It was to an episode of James Burke' television series entitled Connections². - That's Connections 2 or Connections square. - For those unfamiliar with James Burke, I suggest you watch him on YouTube particularly in the series he made on The Day the Universe Change which will make you think about the way you think about the way you think. - Fascinating fellow, this James Burke. Entertaining and funny. - Not the first time he's mentioned in Le Castor™. We're all big fans of him over here. - The episode which Chris pointed out in his message is the first of the second series because Burke made three (hence the Connections² mentioned above : Connections, in 1978, Connection², in 1994, and Connections³, in 1997, all on the subject of how science and inventions have unusual impacts on history via uncanny or rather unpredictable links or associations, one thing leading to another etc.. The title of this episode was "Revolutions".

I always remembered it as the "Grandfathers'" because Burke mentioned, in his introduction, a lenght of time which he calls "Three grandfathers". Here is how he began :

"I remember my grandfather talking about his grandfather talking about his grandfather. I expect you do too. The thing is that's all it takes to get you back to the late 18th century : three grandfathers' life time. That's how close we are to it. - Pause- And yet that world has disappeared so totally, it's like fairyland. Tatched cottages, meadows, happy peasants : a Golden Age. Garbage all that. - Pause - Nasty, brutish and short, that's what life was all about. - Pause - And dirty. And boring. And it had been like that for thousands of years. - Pause - And then, suddenly : the whole complex, poluted, overpopulated, frenetic, non-stop, stressful, hightech rat race that is the modern world. - Pause - Life was suddenly no longer as simple as it had been. And the extrordinary thing is that none of that was planned. - Pause - The fellow who caused it and who ruined the watermill business, and then went out to change the entire world in the life span of only three grandfathers had no idea that he was kicking one, let alone two, revolutions..."

(Here's a comment made on Wikipedia on that episode : What do three grandfathers' lifetimes have in common with : two revolutions, 1750 Cornish steam engines for Cornwall's tin mines, water in mines, pumps, steam engines, Watt's copier, carbon paper, matches, phosphorus fertiliser, trains and gene-pool mixing, travelling salesmen, 24-hour production, educated women, the telephone, high-rise buildings, Damascus's swords, steel, diamond, carborundum, graphite, oscilloscope, television, Apollo space program, X-ray crystallography, DNA and gene therapy? - You will learn that in the first episode of Connections², "Revolutions".)

My grandfather (1900-1969) was the son of Le Grand Marshall, founder of l'Université de Napierville, who was the son of Maurice-Théophile, born in 1789, the grandson of Alexandre Marshall born in 1734. - Three grandfathers away and there you are : I am the great great great great grandson or the third great-grandson of someone born in 1734 during the reign of Louis XV or, if you prefer, George II...

Maurice-Théophile's grandfather
Alphie's grandfather
Grand Marshall
My grandfather

...which all of a sudden reminds me - and I don't mean to be irreverent - of the genealogist who had built his family tree all the way up to the Crusades adding, as a proviso, that he wasn't too sure about his grandfather. - Will-o'-the-wisp.

Doesnt matter : it's a question of putting history in perspective. Which makes the title of this little essay a bit off the mark. It should be called Timeline. and not Time Capsule 2 .

Anyway, get yourself one of those chronology books that tells you what happened on a year to year basis and do the same thing with your grandfather and the grandfather of his grandfather or simply type any year in your Google search engine. You'll be surprised what you'll find. If you're interested in history, that is.

I am.

I'm also interested in the future but in a like manner. I can't help saying to myself that if my youngest song, Mycroft, lives to be eighty, he'll be able to say that his grandfather was born the year Hitler took over Germany, 149 years before, or that he, his grandfather, was born in between two world wars, unless a third happens by which time his statement will impress nobody.

But :

I read here, sometimes ago, that it took months for the king of France to learn that Constantinople had been conquered by the Muslims (Arabs) in 1453. How about 20 years for people living in Poland to hear about the discovery of the New World ? - Question is : who's interested in such arcana ? The same people, I guess, who want to know who invented matching curtains and seat covers (1).

Also, if you go back in time and meet Euclide or even Aristotle, bring a calculator. It'll knock their socks off (if they wear any). And some weapon, like a gun 'cuz you might be seriously hanged for heresy.

I bet you've been waiting all your life to hear about this.

See ya,


(1) Matching curtains and seat covers ? - Francis Nixon, working in the Dublin suburb of Drumcondra between 1751 and 1755.


Proust's quote :

It can be found in Le côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way) of its 1913-1927 translation by C. K. Scott Moncrieff which was, as every translator will tell you, more a personal interpretation than anything else but a masterpiece in itself. - A newer translation, with which I am not familiar, was published in 2002 (Penguin). It took seven translators seven years to complete as opposed to, to quote The Guardian, Scott Moncrieff who worked alone, "like a man scaling Everest for the first time : he had no route marked out, no helpfully drilled footholds" and was not "a mechanical translator ; he was more like Gielgud interpreting Shakespeare, or Casals interpreting Bach" ; which lead some critics to deem his work "inaccurate", "overinterpretive" or "flowery".

Proust :

Ma confiance en un prompt rétablissement de ma grand'mère fut d'autant plus complète, que, au moment où je me rappelais l'exemple de M. Fallières, je fus tiré de la pensée de ce rapprochement par un franc éclat de rire qui termina une plaisanterie du professeur E... Sur quoi il tira sa montre, fronça fiévreusement le sourcil en voyant qu'il était en retard de cinq minutes, et tout en nous disant adieu sonna pour qu'on apportât immédiatement son habit. Je laissai ma grand'mère passer devant, refermai la porte et demandai la vérité au savant.

"Votre grand'mère est perdue, me dit-il. C'est une attaque provoquée par l'urémie. En soi, l'urémie n'est pas fatalement un mal mortel, mais le cas me paraît désespéré. Je n'ai pas besoin de vous dire que j'espère me tromper. Du reste, avec Cottard, vous êtes en excellentes mains. Excusez-moi, me dit-il en voyant entrer une femme de chambre qui portait sur le bras l'habit noir du professeur. Vous savez que je dîne chez le Ministre du Commerce, j'ai une visite à faire avant. Ah ! la vie n'est pas que roses, comme on le croit à votre âge.

Et il me tendit gracieusement la main. J’avais refermé la porte et un valet nous guidait dans l’antichambre, ma grand’mère et moi, quand nous entendîmes de grands cris de colère. La femme de chambre avait oublié de percer la boutonnière pour les décorations. Cela allait demander encore dix minutes. Le professeur tempêtait toujours pendant que je regardais sur le palier ma grand’mère qui était perdue. Chaque personne est bien seule.

Marcel Proust
(Photo en provenance du site

Moncrieff :

My confidence in my grandmother's prompt recovery was all the more complete in that, just as I was recalling the example of M. Fallières, I was distracted from following up the similarity by a shout of laughter, which served as conclusion to one of the Professor's jokes. After which he took out his watch, wrinkled his brows petulantly on seeing that he was five minutes late, and while he bade us good-bye rang for his other coat to be brought to him at once. I waited until my grandmother had left the room, closed the door and asked him to tell me the truth.

"There is not the slightest hope," he informed me. "It is a stroke brought on by uraemia. In itself, uraemia is not necessarily fatal, but this case seems to me desperate. I need not tell you that I hope I
am mistaken. Anyhow, you have Cottard, you're in excellent hands. Excuse me," he broke off as a maid came into the room with his coat over her arm. "I told you, I'm dining with the Minister of Commerce, and I have a call to pay first. Ah! Life is not all a bed of roses, as one is apt to think at your age.

And he graciously offered me his hand. I had shut the door behind me, and a footman was shewing us into the hall when we heard a loud shout of rage. The maid had forgotten to cut and hem the buttonhole for the decorations. This would take another ten minutes. The Professor continued to storm while I stood on the landing gazing at a grandmother for whom there was not the slightest hope. Each of us is indeed alone.

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff
(photo en provenance du site


062 - 2015-02-03 - Paper v. electronic

I was reading Jeff's January the 5th column last week about printed books, electronic readers, DND, DRM, etc. to which I would like to add my grain of salt :

First, let me say that I can't help thinking about how irrational people can be when it comes to changing their habits or adapting themselves to new methods of doing things, from writing reports to reading books, watching (or not watching) tv, going or not going to arenas to scream bravo at a bunch of millionaires playing around with a hockey puck and so on, all the way down to traveling, shopping or simply doing nothing.

It reminds me of something I believe I read, here, not too long ago, about some people's reaction to tablets or electronic readers. "They'll never really catch on." I heard someone said the other day. For the usual reasons : books have intrinsic values, one can feel the paper, smell it, they are easy to transport, beautiful to look at and a bookcase fills a room like nothing else.

All good reasons, I guess, if you don't care about chopping forests to print telephone books or the biographies of Hollywood starlets but the conveniences of electronic readers are too numerous to ignore :

If you're into research, for example, think how quickly you can get to a sentence or an excerpt in a 400 pages novel or a 2.000 pages reference book. - Think of how many books you can carry and consult anytime and anywhere you wish. - See how much you can save by downloading thousands of books from zillion sources, from the entire known Roman or Ancient Greek literature to the works of Shakespeare, including annotated editions, dictionaries, entire encyclopaedias, the compleat Sherlock Holmes... - And if your reader has access to the Internet, well...

I can see a serious problem for the switch and it doesn't seem to stem from people who buy and read books although they sound like those who stuck to horses when automobiles came out or candles when light bulbs were invented. No : electronic readers do not go over very well with, let's name them : printers, transporters, bookshops owners or, to put it briefly, any middle man. I can understand them : they stand to loose a lot of money, even their jobs just like most candle makers and horse breeders lost theirs at the turn of the last century or, more recently the owners and employees of video clubs (remember them ?)

What's the solution ? There is none unless everybody whose jobs will eventually be obsolete become luddites.

Look at it this way :

For every dollar spent on books, 40% goes to the bookshop owners, distribution costs (transport) takes care of about 10%. I don't know the costs of binding, warehousing or the upkeep of inventories (labour, audit, capital costs, etc.). But deduct these costs from the final price and you'll wind up with a possible, electronic cost of about 30 to 35% of the current retail price : 3,50$ or euros versus 10$ or euros versus 7$ or euros versus 20$ or euros and so on, with - and this is where my case rests : editors and authors making the same money and isn't that, excluding everybody else, why or how books should be written and published ?

Bob's your uncle.

Time capsule happenstance

A friend of mine was born in 1942 and will, therefore, be, this year, 73.

When he was born, his mother was 24 years old

And when she was born, her mother was 29. .

And this where things gets very curious :

When she was 13, in 1905, his grandmother was working as a maid for a 90 years old woman, born in 1815. Now in 1815, Napoleon was still alive. He died six years later.

As we go back further, it becomes curiouser and curiouser  :

This 90 old woman also had a mother, who, born in 1787 (2 years before the French Revolution, 11 years before the death of Washington) is said to have been present at the beheading of Louis XVI, when she was 6...

So what you have, here, is the grand mother of a friend of mine once knew someone who was the daughter of a girl that had seen, well at least for a brief moment, Louis XVI alive ! - And without exaggerating that much, had her mother been born in 1755, well she could have been around when Fontenelle was still alive, Fontenelle who had been born a century earlier (in 1657) when Louis XIV was king and Cromwell was the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.

Talk about history !

A similar story concerns the French author Julien (born Julian) Green - can't find the exact reference right now - whose father, Edward, was 47 when he was born, the son of a 65 year old English immigrant (Virginia), Charles Green, born in 1788.

In his diary, somewhere in the early 20's, Julien Green mentions visiting one of his aunts who told him : "Oh, Julien, vous n'avez pas connu l'avant-guerre." - Having been born in 1900, Julien replied : "Un peu tout de même." to which she added : "C'était si beau de voir l'Empereur se promener en carosse avec ses chevaux." - She was, of course, talking about the 1870 war.

Mentioning his father and his grand father, Julien continues by saying that what is generally know as a "generation" (20 years) is somehow misleading inasmuch as his grand father was born in the 18th Century whereas he was of the 20th : "If I live to be 75, he wrote, and say that my grandfather was born before the French Revolution, people are going to think I'm crazy."

Crazy ? He died in 1998, two years short of the 21st Century.

Imagine having meet him, say when you were twenty, sometimes in 1997 and you live to be 90. - In 2067, on your death bed, you'll actually be able to say that you shook hands with somehow whose grandfather was born 279 years before. - That's slightly more than 50 years from now...

Frightening, isn't ?

Frightening, did I say frightening ?

Think of 1889. (T'was the year my friend's grandmother was born. The same year Hitler was born, Hitler with whom, he says, she had nothing in common, except a moustache.) - She was 100 kilometres from the nearest telegraph. Twenty years later, she was 50 kilometres from the nearest phone. And she had to wait another twenty years to hear her first radio broadcast.

Two weeks ago, in the same village, which is now a town, accessible, by car, in about 2 hours from Québec City I was able to communicate with a friend of mine, in Australia, via my cell telephone and was even able to send him a photo which he received while we were still talking. In Sydney ? Nah : 595 kilometres east-northeast of Perth, West Australia, in the mining city of Kalgoorlie. Slightly west of nowhere.

Now that is frightening and the reason it is is that most of us use less than ten years old gizmos and gadgets as if they have always been around not thinking for a moment that more are on their way and that 100 years from now, life will be as different as it is from what it was 100 years ago but few people are willing to accept this.

After all, what else is there to invent ? - I got it : the telegraph !


P.-S. (on the meaning of "barking mad") : I don't know who asked me, sometimes ago, where that expression came from. Maybe it was a patron at some coffee shop - or even the waitress - where I had stopped for a hot chocolate. Told me that it was colorful and easy to understand on account of the the clear picture it brought into one's mind when it is heard. - The truth is that it is not all colurful and not quite easy to understand. It has to do with a medieval insane asylum attached to an abbey, the Barking Abbey, located in what's today Greater London, about nine miles east of the City center. - The ruined remains of Barking Abbey now form part of a public open space known as Abbey Green.or Park. - Another explanation is that it coud be a more or less 1980 joke at the expense of Margaret Thatcher who was known by those who disliked her as 'Daggers' Thatcher - not from a reputation for stabbing colleagues in the back, but because she was said to be 'three stops past Barking' [Dagenham is three stations beyond Barking on the London Underground] but the expression appeared in printing much earlier.


061 - 2015-02-02 - Things of interests and beauty

Having a finger in many pies, several irons in the fireplace, being interested in arts and science, and, to top it all, being a compulsive touche-à-tout, I'm often asked what I have found, over the years, to be the most wonderful piece of knowledge I have ever came across. Actually it is one of the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on. And, oh, it's not a secret. It's a geometrical theorem known as :

 The Pythagorean theorem or Pythagoras's theorem, for short.

There's a lot of reason why it is called so, even though traces of its existence heve been found, way before Pythagore (c. 570 B.C.) ; in Babylonia (700 B.C.) and in India (800 B.C.) , with the obvious certainty that the Egyptians had known its application, hundreds of years before that. You can read all about it on the Wikipedia site :

It doesn't matter. What I like about it is its simplicity.

It reads like this :

"In a right angle triangle , the sum of the areas of the two squares of the smaller sides (in this case, a and b) equals the area of the square of the third or the hypotenuse (c).

Sounds mumbo-jumbo when spelled out like that but think of it this way :

Take three sticks, one three units long, a second, four units long and a third five units long. Assemble them togother and you'll automaticall have a right angle where the first two sticks meet and the consequence mentioned in the previous sentence.

In algebra, it can be written this way :  a^2 + b^2 = c^2\!\, , where a is the first stick, b the second and c the third.

Then, forget about it all. Just look how simply and elegantly everything fits together as if some magic hand had thought about it way before mathematics or geometry were invented (yes, Mary, there are many types of mathematics).

Proof of the existence of a super being ? - I'll leave that up to you.

A more appropriate proof that God exists can be found in the simplest Kleenex box :

Who do you think pushes up the next sheet of paper when you pull one out ? - As to what remains when the last sheet is gone, well... that's eternity.

There you go.


Another similar curiosity is the Fibonacci  sequence (see, examples of which can be found everywhere in nature :  in the branching of trees, arrangement of leaves on a stem, fruitlets of a pineapple, the flowering of artichoke, uncurling ferns or pine cones, etc.

Reminds me of the archeologist who was out there to prove that the great pyramids of Egypt contained the details of every known aspects of the universe, including how to build an "H" bomb, until he was found, one day, filing a stone so his calculations would match.


? - It's too well known to be mentioned.


And, in French, found on the Internet :

  1. Quoique né au Moyen-Orient, tous les "documents historiques" (?) stipulent que Jésus était blanc, et c'est ainsi que tous surent très tôt qu'il était d'origine divine

  2. Même si Marie fut mariée longtemps à Joseph, elle demeura toujours vierge, même après avoir mis au monde Jésus, ce qui, en soit, est un mystère.

  3. Joseph fut déclaré saint parce qu'il vécut avec une femme avec laquelle il n'a jamais pu avoir des relations sexuelles. - Tout homme marié devrait être en mesure de vous confirmer que cela ne peut être autre chose que la pure vérité.

  4. L'enfant Jésus n'a jamais pleuré ; il dormait des nuits complètes, sans aucune interruption, et lorsqu'il se réveillait, il attendait patiemment que sa mère se lève, à son tour.

  5. Dernière scène :

    a) Jésus ayant regardé à droite et vu Pierre qui allait le trahir trois fois avant le lever du jour. Thomas, à gauche qui n'allait pas croir en sa résurection et Judas, près de lui, insista auprès du garçon qu'il prépare des aditions séparées.

    b) Tous les convives étaient assis d'un seul côté parce que la table "autour" de laquelle ils se trouvaient n'avaient que deux pattes.

  6. La Chine est une nation impie. Nous devrions, de ce fait, boycotter ce pays communiste et ne pas y acheter quoi que ce soit sauf  des objets ou des bibelots de nature religieuse qui, de toutes façons, sont invariablement, pour la plupart, fabriqués en Chine.

À bientôt, as the French say,



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