Copernique Marshall's Essays


No. 071 to 080

(November 2nd, 2015 to ...)

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080 - 2016-08-01

Foot anyone ?

I was sitting in a bar, believe it or not, Sunday July 10th last, watching, with people I know, the finals (or what do they say ? the final game ?) of the Euro Cup between France and Portugal.

I'm sure I won't spoil anything by saying that Portugal won 1-0 against La Belle France, but even before the entire thing ended, I was wondering what I was doing there. - Not that I have anything against sports, I just don't understand why it was created in the first place. - The professional kind, of course. - My first thought was that it had to do with creating millionaires out of people who can outrun everybody else.

I can understand being proud having been the one who escaped a lion running after a bunch of us. Way back then, That makes sense. Had I been a woman, before civilization began, I would have, sort of, looked more at a man than did that but the last thing that would have crossed my mind would have been to organize contests about it.


Anyway, here they were, dozens of players (which you could tell to what team they belonged because there were wearing t-shirts of different colours) , running from one end of a field trying to push a ball into the other end, past a poor fellow whose job was to stop getting it in his 24 feet wide (7,32 meters) goal. - Lotsa ho's!, haw's !, hey's ! (and other onomatopoeias) along the way, while ordering another beer...

Anyway, again, it let me wonder about the senseless waste of human lives.

"Living has nothing to do with this" I kept saying to myself but I wasn't about to say that outloud, during, and even after what was going on. - I kept asking, to be polite, why a corner here, why a yellow card there, why the game kept on going after the regular 90 minutes ; I mean, I just couldn't stand there and watch people behaving as if thoughts had became obsolete.

Thoughts. - You know what I mean by that, I hope. - The sort of things that can really f*** up anything, to paraphrase Lewis Black.

What about Foote ?

In the short trips I have to make every day between my house and the UdeNap campus - fifteen, twenty minutes in, fifteen, twenty minutes out - I listen to interviews, conferences and debates for which I never find the time at home or at work. These vary from biographies, short essays, discussions on all sorts of subjects dealing with current events, history, philosophy, literature and God-knows-what which I pick up on You Tube or Podcast sites and burn unto CD's which I pile in my glove compartment thereby occasionaly re-listening to some of them when I haven't had the time or was too lazy to burn new ones. Looking through some of them, about two weeks ago, I found one simply labelled «Foote Notes». Because what that appeared to have been a spelling mistake (it reminded me of a sign I saw years ago in the men's room of a British pub which read «Wet floor» underneath which someone had written «Not an instruction»), I said to myself he would have laughed at the unintended pun, thinking, of course, of Shelby Foote who wrote the definite book (three volumes) on the American Civil War.

(Source :

He's not only a joy to read (his introduction to Stephen Case's The Red Badge of Courage - Modern Library, 1993 - is marvelous) but he is most interesting when he speaks. You'll, of course, hear him dozens of time (90 to be precise) in Ken Burn's series on the Civil War (Florentine films, 1990) and in interviews he gave (which can be found on the Internet). He's calm, articulate and has a mild voice which, with his southern accent, sort of automatically inspires confidence.

Click on the note to hear him on his book "Stars and Their Courses" :

Shelby Foote was born in 1916 and passed away in 2005. Author of six novels, it took him 20 years to research and write his monumental trilogy, The Civil War : A Narrative. - The individual volumes are Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958), Fredericksburg to Meridian (1963), and Red River to Appomattox (1974).

Scholars criticized Foote for not including footnotes and for neglecting subjects such as economics and politics of the Civil War era but he wanted his book to be read as a novel, introducing characters the same way one meets others in real life. - When Ken Burns released his movies sales of the three books went up fifty folds.

Another great - ok : very interesting - historian I wouldn't hesite to recommend is Barbara W. Tuchman, author, amongst other books, of one of the most intelligent essay on WW1 : The Guns of August (1962). - Nathan Kroll (1911-2000) made a superb documentary based on it (in 1964).

Paperback Edition
Ballantine Books - New York - 1994



079 - 2016-07-04

A quote

«Civilization is the precarious labor and luxury of a minority ; the basic masses of mankind hardly changes from millennium to millennium.» (Will Durant)

Another quote

"Casting humans out of paradise over an incident involving a talking snake is something I always found difficult to understand. After all, He who knew the past, the then present and the future ought to have known what was going to happen, no ?" (Michael Shermer)

And another quote
("To make it a gallon" - Groucho Marx)

"The true meaning of civility is the proper use of the semi-colon." (Henry James)

On the other hand...

I was reading Jeff the other day and what he had to say on his children's education. It is true that there comes a time when one doesn't know whether we ought to teach them the stupidities we have learned over the years on sure things like the Bible or whatever I was told on astronomy when I was a kid.

The solution, I think, is not to have them learn what we know but what they have, individually, to understand about their own world. I never wanted my children to become me or the sort of manufactured university graduate that thinks the same way as their professors. - My one and only girl, Marie, born in 1993, is and will remain all her life, I believe, a devout Catholic, just like her mother, whereas you won't find an anti-deist more convinced than my eldest son, Albert, born two years earlier. Léon (1994) and Mycroft (2002) seem to care more about sports, commerce and politics than anything else. - Who was I, really, and my wife Cléo, to stop them being what they were, even when they were kids ? And still are.

Oh yes, Santa Claus was very important at one time or another but so was Alice in Wonderland. Mickey Mouse and the Great Jujube in the sky but when they did ask us if they were all real, we never lied to them and I think they appreciated that.

(Source :

One thing : we never, never - and I mean NEVER - actually told them that if they disobeyed their mother, they would burn into hell for eternity. - We would have considered that child abuse.

And their foreskin and clitoris were never cut off.


P.-S. Pas de subjonctif en anglais ? - How's "It's about time we went" ?


078 - 2016-06-06

Quotations, quotations...

I was surprised last month when I saw Mr. Perec quote one of my favourite authors, Jorgé Luis Borgès. - Who would have thought that he knew and was interested in Borgès ? - Anyway, here's another quote by him which I always liked :

"Each [creative] writer modifies our conception of the past and therefore modifies our future."

It's part of an article he wrote in 1951 on Kafka and his Precursors. - Don't ask me where or in what magazine, nor if the year is exact. I don't remember and I'm not too sure of the correct wording. But I do know that's what he wrote. (1)


(1) Kafka and his Precursors ou Kafka et ses précurseurs est paru dans le journal La Nación le 19 août 1951. De cette citation, l'édition 2010 des Oeuvres complètes de Borgès (La Pléiade, tome 1, p. 753) donne la traduction suivante : "[Le fait est que] chaque écrivain créé ses précurseurs. Son apport modifie notre conception du passé aussi bien que du futur" - (Note de l'éditeur).

Jorgé Francisco Isodoro Luis Borgès
(Photo en provenance du site


Faith that dares not speak its name

Lately, I've been watching, on YouTube, debates, seminars, conferences, live discussions and all sorts of documentaries dealing with religion as a whole and, particularly, christianity, muslims, the existence or non existence of God, scientific studies vs. the Bible and so on, finding along the way fascinating arguments, pros and cons about everything under the sun including such beliefs as the world is only six to seven thousand years old, that the arch of Noah really existed and so did the Exodus including the unquestionable fact that the Khoran was really dictated to an illiterate warmonger by an angel and that it was the very last time that Allah, the only true God, decided to communicate his whims and wishes to humanity.

In these debates, seminars, conferences, etc., I have listend to well-known and well-respected scientitists, superb orators, fantastic human beings honest enough to question their own beliefs and, of course, the usual quacks, charlatans, evangelists and downright dishonest crooks who are trying to convert the world to the only and the total truth about our origin, purpose and meaning of our existence. Theirs, of course.

Amongst the few I can quote (and I could quote three dozens or more), one name rises above all by his common sens, wisdom, wit, quality of language and coherence. His name is Christopher Hitchens. Second is a man who has interviewed countless bishops, priests, fundamentalists with grace, respect and honesty : Richard Dawkins. Then come the scientists : Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll and, of course, Neil de Grasse Tyson whose tongue in cheek approach has made him the equivalent of a rock star. - Just type their name in YouTube and you'll have excellent soirées ahead of you.

Neil de Grasse Tyson
(Photo en provenance du site

Then you'll meet individuals who would like to be their equivalent but barely go beyond what I would call apologists of the televangelist kind however educated or convincing they may sound : Ken Ham who operates the Creation Museum near Petersburg, Kentucky ; Ken Hovind, a fast talker who'll quote, when he's not in jail (on income tax evasion charges), and sometimes semi-quote, anything out of anywhere, out of context and totally non à propos to prove a point ; and countless others. One name, however will keep popping into any research engine ; that of an apparently highly sophisticated individual whose debating tactics are, to say the least, questionable : William Lane Craig.

William Lane Craig
(Photo en provenance du site

Richard Dawkins refuses to participate in any discussion with him on the ground that : «If my name might add something to his c.v., it would not on mine.» adding that «He had no intention of assisting [him] in his rentless drive for self-promotion.»

His bag of tricks is incommensurable and he uses each and everone of them. Let me name a few :

He always insists on being able to speak first, then immediately goes into - to quote RationalWiki (1) - «a hailstorm of misrepresentations and dubious statements, wrapped up in a few obvious facts» which he asks his opponent to refute. Now to refute arguments, we all know, takes twice as long as proposing new arguments, so he's then eventually able to say that some of his arguments were not addressed and therefore still stand.

William Lane Craig also uses extensively the straw man method of downgrading his oponents (2). Sam Harris pointed that out to their audience one day by stating that «Dr. Craig has a charming habit of summarizing his opponent’s points in a way in which they were not actually given.» See :

His name dropping and quote mining tactics are unbelievable, accusing, at the same time, anybody who uses the same tactics. Try this for size : !

Listening to William Lane Craig :

On how he approaches debates :

«They're always academic forums that are conducted with civility and respect. They're not political debate or debates you might see in the House of Commons. These are academic forums where one concentrates on the arguments and counter-arguments, the truth of the premises of these arguments, objections to them and not on personalities or ad hominem attacks. On my part, I don't engage in that sort of things

But then, listen to him and his anti-«ad hominen» statement during an interview :

«The spade of new books published by the new atheists like Harris, Hitchens, Hawkins and so forth are not sophisticated books intellectually. These are for the most part hangry, bitter diatribs against religion... And while someone like Dawkins may be a good scientist in his field, when he begins to talk about philosophy and theology, he is merely a layman and The God Dellusion is a very unsophisticated book...»

(Not giving any example whatsoever.)

I could go on forever but nothing prepared him for Lawrence Krauss' direct and frontal atack in which he demonstrated that William Lane Craig was either a liar or a thief or both.

The full version can be seen on this YouTube page : (got to the 35th minute).

A shorter version can be seen on this page :

Lawrence Krauss
(Photo en provenance du site

I believe however that the best anti-William-Lane-Craig speech was given by Sean Carroll. I strongly suggest that you watch it entirely. - It's a two hour plus video but you won't waste your time.You'll find it here :


In the words of Richard Dawkins, «Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a "theologian"» (The Guardian - October 10, 2011).

Don't believe me ? Go on the Internet and type "The Case for William Lane Craig's Dishonesty" in your favorite search engine. - You'll find 16 videos uploaded by «A Roaming Freethinker» dealing with misused research, misrepresentation, distortion of opponents's arguments and downright smearing :

  • William Lane Craig Misuses research to attack same sex marriage
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Stephen Law
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Reza Aslan
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Wesley Salman
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Stephen Kaking and Leonard Mlodinow
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Michael Ruse
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Sam Harris
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Skydivrphil
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Francis Crick
  • William Lane Craig Misrepresents Lawrence Krauss
  • etc., etc

Against a wall, this man will go to any length to prove his points.

But if you're only interested in laughing, you can rely on Ken Ham...

Ken Ham
(Photo en provenance du site

Particularly in a video of a debate he had with Bill Nye :

Notes :


(2) A straw man is a common form of argument based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent.


Ajout à ce qui précède (de Paul Dubé)

Mon cher Copernique,

Oui, comme toi, je me suis penché sur les vidéos auxquelles tu fais allusion et qui sont diffusées par YouTube, mais je les ai vite abandonnées, les trouvant quelque peu répétitives sauf certaines concernant l'astronomie, les sciences et la cosmologie. - Je suis cependant d'accord avec toi pour ce qui est des noms que tu avances, particulièrement celui de Chistopher H itchens car les sujets dont il discute sont très variés (littérature, politique, histoire, etc.) et, définitivement, celui de William Lane Craig qui, je trouve, fait quasiment pitié même si son point de vue paraît tout à fait logique... à la base, sauf qu'il est plus théologien que philosophe et plus philosophe qu'un homme de science.

Ce qui suit va te paraître élémentaire  (j'allais écrire enfantin !), mais, pour le peu que j'ai étudié la théologie, et plus particulièrement la théologie dogmatique, je l'ai toujours comparée à la géométrie euclidienne qui, comme tu le sais, n'a aucun rapport avec ce qu'on appelle la «réalité», cette réalité qui veut que dans l'univers que nous connaissons, il n'existe rien qui n'ait pas un certain volume. Or, la géométrie euclidienne n'est fait que de points et de lignes qui ne sont que des séries infinies de points, tous sans dimensions, et, de plus, sur une surface plane. Elle a également comme bases des axiomes ou des énoncés qui, par définition, sont évidents et non démontrables, i.e. : d'un point hors d'une ligne, on ne peut abaisser, sur cette ligne, qu'une seule perpendiculaire ou encore deux lignes parallèles ne peuvent se rencontrer.

Le premier dogme de la théologie dogmatique chrétienne dont je me rappelle procède de la même façon :

Dieu, notre Créateur et Maître, peut être connu avec certitude au moyen des choses créées, par la lumière naturelle de la raison.

(Si quis dixerit, Deum unum et verum, creatorem et Dominum nostrum, per ea, que facta sunt, naturalirationis humanae lumine certocognisci non posse.)

C'est qu'il existe des géométries non-euclidiennes basées sur des axiomes différents. Gauss a été le premier, en 1812, à en formuler les possibilités. Lobatchevski en a proposé une où la somme des angles d'un triangle serait inférieure à 180° et la possibilité d'un nombre infini de parallèles à une droite à partir d'un point à l'extérieur de cette droite. Riemann en a proposé une autre voulant que les parallèles se rencontrent à l'infini, etc.

Voilà le problème fondamental de toutes les philosophies, religions ou théologies qui ne peuvent admettre, qui refusent même, la possibilité d'axiomes ou dogmes différents des leurs et totalement imperméables aux changements de paragdimes.

(Bout de bon D****, que je me sens savant ce matin !)

En résumé, c'est le genre de vérités qui rendent toutes discussions avec Craig impossibles et j'appuie en ce sens Dawkins qui refuse de participer à un débat où il serait présent.

Restent les dialogues de sourds. Craig vs. Hitchens, par exemple.



P.-S. : Ajoute à ta liste de vidéos à ne pas manquer celles de Sir,  aujourd'hui Lord, Martin Rees, particuièrement, les trois dont le titre général est "What We Don't Know".


What Stand-up Comics think about all of this

Eddie Griffin : «I don't believe that Jesus died on no cross... He could walk on water, feed a thousand with a loaf of bread, raise the dead, but you're telling me that this nigger couldn't handle three nails ? I know a brother with nine bullet holes still walking around. His name is 50¢.»

Lewis Black : «Was the world created in seven days ? - No. - This is a wonderful story that was told to the people in the desert in order to distract them from the fact that they did not have air conditioning. - I would love to have the faith to believe that it took place in seven days but... I have thoughts. - And that can really f*** up the faith thing. - Just ask any Catholic priest ! »

Bill Maher : «Why do I go after religion ? [...] Well... other than most wars, the Crusades, the Inquisition 9-11, arranged marriages to minors, blowing up girls' schools, the supression of women and homosexuals, fatwãs, ethnic cleansing, honor rapes, human sacrifices, the burning of witches, suicide bombings, condoning slavery and the systematic f*** up of children...»

Joe Rogan : «You tell the story of Noah and his ark to an 8 year old retarded child and he's gonna have some questions. It's just a bad story. [...] I mean, I can understand two of every animal in a large wooden ship but two woodpeckers and two termites ?»

Jon Stewart (né Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz) : « I'm Jewish, so I know I have to wear certain apparels like a yamaka (otherwise known as a "Jewish beanie") but when I look at the pope... Like this guy, at times, could pass as the Grand Wazir of the Ku Klux Klan.»

Christopher Hitchens (on paradise) : «...praising and thanking God all day long ? Sounds like a celestial North Korea. - In North Korea, at least, one can die.»

Doug Stanhope : «Look at it this way : when was the last time you heard on the news that four thousand atheists were taking heavy shelling from agnostic rebels ?»

Unknown : «The Bible is a bit out of date, just like it was, until the 19th century, in connection with slavery. When Jesus said "Love thy neighboor like you love yourself". He clearly wasn't thinking of the kid next door to my place, listening to the Beasty Boys at three in the morning.»

   And last but not least,

George Carlin : «But in the bulls*it department, a businessman can't hold a candle to a clergyman ; cuz' I gotta tell you the truth, folks : when it comes to bulls*it - big time, major league bulls*it -, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exagerated claims : RELIGION ! - No contest. - Religion easily has the greatest bulls*it story ever told. Think about it : religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man, living in the sky, who watches everything you do, every minute of every day and that this invisible man has a special list of ten things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke, and burning, and torture, and anguish where he will send you to live, and suffer, and burn, and choke, and scream, and cry, forever and ever, 'til the end of time... But he loves you.»


Sans commentaire


077 - 2016-05-02

A word on writing

I noticed that, last month, Simon wrote rather extensively on reading and writing and I just wanted to add an old saying contained in the Tao Te Ching book (said to have been written by by Lao-Tzu in the 6th century BC) ; one of the two books at the basis of Taoism :

"Were I to await perfection, my book would never have been finished."

I read it years ago in Thomas Francis Carter's "The Invention of Printing in China and its Spread Westword" (Columbia Press, 1925) and it has remained on my desk ever since..

And another on reading

I agree, with Simon, although he didn't say it implicitly, that different books ought to be read differently. By that, to quote him precisely, I mean reading is not just recognizing letters and words but making sense of what these letters and words are : characters representing sounds used in speech and meant to express ideas, stories, propositions, conjectures. arguments, facts, general knowledge and even teach us how these characters ought to be used. Moreover, how others used them.

It comes down to this : if you read the Brontë sisters, Flaubert, Henry James, Proust, Joyce, Balzac and Wilde only for the stories they told (add Le Carré to this list), don't waste your time : watch the movies.

One liner

If - it happens all the time - you are caught in a conversation where everybody and his dog have an opinion on cars, politics, food, acting, clothes, traffic, inflation, interior decorating, films, books, actors, singers and, all of a sudden, there's a pause, just say : "Now that we've settled all that, can we talk about the Middle East ?"

And, by the way

If you, only once in your life, explain to someone, that science is not a series of facts but a METHOD, consider it a blessing. You won't, that way, have to start every other sentence by saying :  "According to the latest science..."



076 - 2016-04-04

Je n'étais pas là...

...en l'an 2001 lorsque fut créé le site de l'Université de Napierville, mais je me souviens avoir souri en lisant, quelques années plus tard, dans les chroniques marshalliennes, que c'est vers l'an 125 avant Jésus-Christ qu'eut lieu la première grève... en Grèce.

Elle fut déclanchée par les professeurs d'histoire athéniens qui, jusqu'en l'an 240 avant J.-C.), n'avaient eu qu'à enseigner les causes et répercussions de la première guerre punique (264 à 241 avant J.-C) s'étaient faits imposer, en l'an 200), celles de la deuxième (de 218 à 202 avant J.-C.) et puis, en l'an 125, celles de la troisième (146 à 129 avant Jésus-Christ).

"Si ça continue comme ça, disaient-ils, nous n'aurons jamais assez de temps pour enseigner en dix mois, ne serait-ce que l'histoire abrégée de la Rome antique et de la civilisation carthaginoise et nos élèves ignoreront tout de notre histoire."



Do I sound like Simon Popp ?

Everybody knows I'm a big fan of Jackson Pollock and modern painting as a whole except that Pollock is already half a century old, not quite as old as Picasso or Braque but nevertheless old enough for people over 70 to keep on thinking that Renoir, Matisse or Degas were the last of the great painters. I guess they weren't around when their fathers and mothers saw the profile of a woman with two eyes on the same side.

That's what I thought when, recently, I looked at a video of an unknown art teacher who, as a test, asked his students to comment on a photo of a Jackson Pollock painting which he installed on an easel. Don't know what sort of students he had but, at first glance, it didn't look like a Pollock at all, yet most students mentioned the use of colors, the apparent hapazard spread of paint, the non concentrical composition (whatever that is) and so on, until he said that it was actually a section of the apron he had used in his workshop. He then went on explaining that real art had to do with the representation of reality, not knowing that visions were part of our reality, insisting on the Great Masters that were Rembrandt, Degas and Velasquez. - Rubish, I thought and switched to another video, forgetting to note the HTP address of his site as I would have liked to make a link on this page to prove that one cannot appreciate art on the sole basis of one's opinion.

I had an artgument, not too long ago, on the meaning of the word swing as a dance. I said that it was more or less created in the late 1920's and lasted until the early 50's, replaced by Rock n' Roll and so on. - To my surprise, I learned that Rock n' Roll was part of swing, and so was the Twist, the Mambo, the Cha-cha-cha... - "You don't know nothing Copernique, I was told. That's what my dance teacher told me and he knows what dance is..." - End of conversation.

Never mind the Blues which is a format not something that makes you feel like you have the Blues.

"Form varies" I was reminded. Sure. Like eventually we'll have 4/4 walzes and why not 5/4 marches ? And 9/8 polkas.

I was talking to a professional musician the other day - 6 CD's to his credit - and we both started laughing and crying at the same time remembering people getting up on the dance floor to the rythm of Brubeck's "Take Five".

If only we could agree, as human beings, on vocabulary, that would be an improvement but Bible Experts are still arguing on the virginity of Mary (with translators saying that the greek word - whatever it was - meant "young maiden" and not "virgin"), etc.

Paul has a good one :

He says that the word formidable used to mean to be feared stating that Attila was formidable in Corneille's play.

This explains, he adds, why one of the last statements made by André Gide was : 'I'm afraid that, eventually, my sentences will be grammatically incorrect'"


6 Pces. - 211 m.c. - 2 s. de b. - 1 s. d'eau
séj.-sal. - 2 WC - Box - Dbl. vitr. - Ter.
Cuis. semi-équip, réc. rén. - Sans v.à.v.
Tot. Isol. - F. sud - Cellier - Dec. Mod.


Comment je me débrouille en société ?

Terriblement. - Je tiens cela de mon père : j'ai des connaissances très précises sur des sujets qui n'intéressent personne : les historiens latins du début de notre ère, certains essayistes anglais du XIXe siècle, quelques pièces de Shakespeare et divers poèmes d'obscurs poètes français de la Renaissance (pour n'en nommer que quelques uns). Je ne sais à peu près rien de ce qui se passe en politique ; ma voitures, dont j'ignore le modèle exact a dix ans ; je ne connais pas les règlements du basketball et encore moins ceux du soccer ; je ne regarde jamais la télévision et, surtout, je n'écoute pas les bulletins de nouvelles à la radio qui, il me semble, débutent depuis que je suis au monde par "Par ailleurs, les pourparles de paix au Moyen-Orient..."

Tout cela, je sais, va me rattraper un de ces jours, mais en attendant, je suis, en société, un ennuyeux de la pire espèce, un affligeant personnage à supporter, mais qu'on supporte parce son père est le recteur de l'UdeNap, et puis qui, quand même, fait tous les efforts pour être poli, courtois et aimable. (ce qui n'empêche pas Madame Marshall, née Cléo de Pougy, de me demander pourquoi tant de femmes sont à mes côtés, ces soirs de réunions auxquelles tout le monde doit assister.)

Simon et moi sommes de la même espèce. On lui reproche de tout savoir et quand il m'a confié, un jour, qu'il avait tout appris sur son métier en une journée et demie, je l'ai cru parce que nos proches nous apprennent rien ; qu'ils nous apprennent les détails, mais jamais la source, et la source, c'est dans les antécédants de ceux qui ont pratiqué le même métier qu'on la retrouve : Pas un seul problème qui ne fut déjà posé et pour lequel on n'a pas, un jour, trouvé et enregistré la solution.

Paul a une autre façon de concevoir les choses. En musique, par exemple, il dit qu'il ne suffit pas d'écouter une mélodie, une chanson, un passage d'une symphonie pour apprécier ce que des compositeurs ont mis, souvent, des années, à créer, mais bien de comprendre ce qui fait qu'une médiocre interprétation par une méga-star n'a aucun rapport avec le début d'un skerzo de Chopin joué par certains amateurs.

Ce qui fait que chaque personne est bien seule ?

Pas tout à fait. Car, si vous me demandez si j'ai des amis, je peux vous en nommer quelques une avec qui je passe des heures ravissantes :

Un "concierge" qui a une connaissance incroyable des écrivains russes du XIXe siècle. - Un autre qui, ingénieur, adore la science-fiction dont les possibiliés théoriques dépassent tout ce que vous et moi pouvons imaginer. - Et puis y'a Jeff dont les connaissances en statistiques, les mathématiques et les géométries non-euclidiennes me projètent dans un univers auquel, même les plus brillants présocratiques (une autre de mes marottes) n'ont jamais pu imaginer. Et puis un récent retraité qui a, à son crédit, le visionnement d'au moins 3 000 films.

Ces gens-là ne m'enseignent rien, sauf la chose la plus importantante dans la vie : qu'on peut se croire en sûreté avec sa Bible, son système de classifcation Dewey ets les opinions éclairées du Monde Diplomatique, l'univers a des aspects qu'il nous faudra des millénaires avant de découvrir.

Ce qui me rend quelques fois pessimiste, ce n'est pas que j'aurais pu être brulé vif, il y a mille ans, pour avoir dit ce que je viens de dire, mais qu'il y a encore des gens toujours l'âge de bronze, qui sont prêts à se faire exploser dans des marchés au nom d'un dieu, le Tout miséricorde, le Mésirécordieux.

Une seule note : quand vous m'inviterez à un cinq à sept, sachez que j'aurai compris que vous aimeriez avoir ma présence à votre cocktail de cinq à sept minutes. - Et puis, s.v.p., servez d'autres choses que des sushis.


And last but not least

Sometimes ago (*), I mentioned Hemingway's six words short story ("For sale : baby shoes. Never worn") and quoted four other examples. (Six words short stories have been the subject of various contests over the years.) Here are thee more, Frank *** of the city of Pierrefonds (Island of Montreal) sent me :

- You're not a good artist, Adolf.

- Torched the haystack. Found the needle.

- We're lying in bed. She's lying.

- The heavier coffins are the smallest.

And the following which I may have quoted before :

- I still make coffee for two.


(*) Le Castor™, 3 novembre, 2014 (Note de l'éditeur)


075 - 2016-03-07

Creativism and Intelligent Design :

I can't figure out why creativists (sorry : those who say that everything in the world shows all the signs of an "intelligent design") consider themselves knowledged enough to discusss scientific facts, particularly those that demonstrate and prove that evolution is responsible for the quantity and variety of life on this planet.

The same applies to climate change where every Tom, Dick and Harry (plus their dogs) are convinced that their opinions carry the same weight as that of Climate Change Experts or Global Warning Scientists.

Don't know in what trade, profession or activity you're involved or the sort of job you have but would you accept to participate in a debate where someone who has very little knowledge of what you do will help you to decide how your work should be done ?

Well this was seems to be happening lately. Creativists (sorry : "the supporters of intelligent design") insist that their view on the origin of species, based largely on the Bible, should be taught along side evolution in biology classes. - Hitchens has a good réparti on this : "Why not ? Let's start there and go on : let's combine alchemy and chemistry, astrology and astronomy, spells, potions and saignées with medecine, witchcraft and statistics..." Indeed, why not ?

"But 60% of the people..., I'm continuously reminded, believe that..." So what ? For thousands of years everybody freely believed that the sun circled around the earth, or that the earth was flat, or that sickness, eatquakes, volvano erruptions and hurricanes were caused by the wrath of miscellaneous gods...

Paul, who was an Insurance Adjuster for 52 years, when asked, will tell you that he would have accepted to "...participate in any debate wherein a layman could have demonstrated that he knew what 'Insurable Interest' was, what was meant in the Insurance Industry by 'actual cash value', the difference between an 'all risks policy" and a "specified policy' and what it implied in terms of  'the onus of proof expected from either the Insurer or the Insured', why an 'exclusion within an exclusion' was not to be considered as an additional coverage... plus other mondane stuff like 'co-insurance', 'the Kinnie, Page and Cromie rules', 'the right to use and the ownership of 'tenants' improvements' and so on..." - "How, he asked, somebody behind a desk who had never seen the result of a fire or a windstorm, or anything what creates damage, could possibly think that he could direct an on-the-scene adjuster thought himself competent enough to indicate how he should conduct his investigation always escaped me." - His favourite sentence was : "When I retired , everybody could adjust claims except... adjusters."

Personally I wouldn't dream of getting involved into a debate about the merit of creativism (sorry again : intelligent design) nor would I try to teach Simon anything about Proust, poetry to Madame Fawzi Malhasti or furniture making (nor maths for that matter) to Jeff. - But some people do. - But then, there are exceptions : that professional restaurant managers know how to run a restaurant, I have no doubt, but shouldn't they pay attention to professional restaurant clients.

Can't remember (I think it was Carlyle, but I would'nt bet on it) who said that "Real intellectuals do not get involved in debates dealing with reality because reality is just a series of anachronisms."

I must be one of them.

On honors :

There was this teacher who lived in some remote neck of the woods, two inches off every map, and in the middle of nowhere, whose knowledge of French Grammar and Vocabulary was so good that he became known Canada-wide when he began to publish little books on Les relatives en 'dont', La concordance des temps, L'accord du participe passé, etc. - So well known, in fact that the Prime Minister having heard of him, decided to make him a Companion of the "Order of Canada" for contribution to Canadian culture, the advancement of eductaion, outstanding accomplishment, etc.

When he received his invitation letter, the poorman panicked but managed to scrape enough money to buy a new suit, drive down to Ottawa where he rented a small room in a modest hotel. On the morning he was to receive his medal and shake hands with the leader of the land, instead of using his own car, he decided to take a taxi so as not to create a bad impression. He asked the driver to take him to the House of Commons. - The driver didn't understand where exactly he wanted to go until the teacher told him that it was where the Governement held its legislation debates, i.e. : "In that big building, on the hill, near the river". "Oh ! said the drive. You mean the Parliament ! No problem, boss. I know where it is. You'll be there in a minute. " So off they went.

Arriving at the big building, near the river, instead of dropping him off at the main entrance, the driver took him to a side door. The teacher asked : "Are you sure it's here ?" - "Well you did say you wanted to go to the Commons, did ya ? Can't be more common than this." relied the other. - "You don't understand, said his passenger. I am here to receive a great honor : the Order of Canada."

"Right place, said the driver. When they gave me mine, last year. That's where I got in..."

And while I'm at it...

First, a cartoon :

Gibberish, huh ? - Of all the columnists of Le Castor™, I should be the last one to comment on gibberish but, like Steven Pinker (see P.-S.), I sometimes ask myself why we put up with all sorts of incomprehensible gobbledygook in our daily lives ; gobbledygook such as :

Legalise :

"The revocation by these Regulations of a provision previously revoked subject tof savings does not affect the continued operations." (???)

Academese :

"It is the moment of non-construction, disclosing the abstentation of actuality to concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness of its fall into conceptuality." (???)

or downright platitudes :

"We need to think outside the box in our search for the holy grail and find that it is neither a magic bullet nor a slam duck. We must roll wit the punches and let the chips fall where they may while seeing the glass as half-full. It's a no-brainer." (!!!)

(In Toronto, I've noticed recently that there are no more problems in the working place, just issues and the above sort of jargon is commonplace.)

One last example :

Why say :

"It is important to approach this subject from a variety of strategies including mental health assistance but also from a law enforcement perspective."

When this was meant :

"We should consult a psychiatrist about this man, but we may also have to inform the police."

(Steven Pinker, again.)

Here's another cartoon taken from one of his conferences :

"Combien de fois, faut-il te répéter qu'on ne termine pas une phrase avec un oiseau..."


P.-S. : Steven Arthur "StevePinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-born American cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. - Look him up on the WEB.


074 - 2016-02-01

Not read

I was asked, following my last month diatribe on the Bible, which books I had never read, that is : books that I wanted to read, started reading and abandonned after a few lines, paragraphs, chapters or even more than half through. Top of my head and on the spur of the moment, I immediately thought of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, most detective novels and several authors notably my pet peeve who happens to be Anatole France (without prejudice towards La Grande Charteuse or Simone de Beauvoir).

And then I sat down, thought a bit more about it, and discovered that the numbers of books I have never finished was twice, three times and perhaps four to five times greater than the numbers of books I did read. And that's not counting books that I thought I might have read and hadn't.

Kind of pointless would it not ? To start a list of books one found boring or uninteresting and gave up after a few lines or pages, but then thinking about them might shed some light on why other books were found more exciting. Actually, such a list, even partial, might even indicate one's shortcomings or, I have no hesitation to say : one's ignorance.

Take my not-reading Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. I understand both were written by one of. and even, I was lead to believe, the greatest poet of all times. - My only excuse is that I found it unintelligable, being, somehow, an ignoramus when it comes to Greek mythology.

Poetry is something that can only be read in one's own language, I think. Something that has to to do with music.

 People we like to hate

Was it I or was it Simon ? - Honestly, I don't know. If Simon wants to accept that it was his idea, or suggestion, I'll be the first to admit it. - The thing has to do with who suggested what to whom and when. - Not important. - And Simon would agree with that anytime. - It has to do with who are the two most idiotic debators of all time in the, generally put, question of the existence of Jesus Christ and, of course, his teachings, ....

We agree on two names :

Kent Hovin and William Lane Craig.

Would be easy to add to them the magnificent Dinesh D'Souza who, in Simon's own words, looks like the loosing westler in any of the WWF matches and whose purpose is to make the all-powerful stars look good. - Type his name and that of YouTube, just for kicks. - Personnally, I pity him.

And then there's Ken Ham (and others).


William Lane Craig ? I would never question his sincerity. Unfortunately, his points, arguments and his logic might require a little polish. - His main argument is "objectivity" : objective morality, objective reality, objectivity here, objectivity there. - Unfortunately, he keeps quoting the Bible, left, right and center, not able to concede that his quotes, compared to that of his oponents, contradict each other. - And his other obsession is keeping asking to be shown that God does not exist after insisting that he is able to demonstrate that he does. Yeah, sure : using the four Gospels and authors whose texts have been continuously altered in the centuries following their publication. - In some of his debates, he insists that no mention is made that the oldest copies of the Bible date back to the third or fourth century...

Kent Hovin is, I must admit, a brilliant orator ; unfortunately he uses his skill to confuse people, lying, cheating, bluffing, quoting physicists and other scientitists partially, interrupting his oponents mid-way through a sentence, not letting him to disturb his line of thoughts... - A real Prince.

One last remark but it is worth mentioning. What Christopher Hitchens had to say on the death of - another winner, Reverend Falwell - : "Had he been given an anema, he could have been buried in a matchbox."

"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions."
(Jerry Falwell)


073 - 2016-01-04

2015 From A Very Narrow Point of View

One concept or general notion I share with Simon is that it is totally absurd to consider the first of January as the day at which a new year begins. Not that a year (read : the translation of the earth around the sun) shouldn't have a beginning ; after all, be it only to date events, a system must be used but I find it uncanny that the day on which January the first falls has changed several times in the last 2,015 years. - You can read all about this on the WEB. - If you're following, for example, the Julian calendar, the current New Year will occur January 14 next.

I agree with him on this and other stuff. And he agrees with me that whenever a "New Year" comes by, one shouldn't feel compelled to consider it as the perfect time for resolutions nor a proper moment to look back at what one did in the previous 365 days (and a quarter). - Don't know about you but it is total chaos around here between the end of December and the first days of January. - It's invitations here, invitations there, gifts to buy, masses to go to, special meals to prepare and so on, including, my father says, sending and receiving best wishes cards and shaking hands with people he's never heard of because they happened to be cousins, four times remote, or past business partners with your late grand uncle.

But gullible as I am, I couldn't help thinking about the following in the hour I completely had to myself shortly after Christmas.

(By the way, you must have noticed over the years that while Christmas always fall on
the same day [December 25], Easter doesn't...)

Here it is :

The Bible. - 1.600 pages. - The most read book in all of history. - Rumor has it that some people have read it several times. Including laymen, some priests, several bishops and cardinals, including up to four televangelists and multiple scholars of different faith. - Originally, in both late Greek and Latin ; from its original Greek Septuagint version and its Latin Codex Amiatinus adaptation (which incorporated translations of previous Hebrew and Aramaic portions). And then, beginning with the 8th century, in Old Chuch Slavonic, Old English, Old German, old what-was-then-known-as Italian, etc. - Today, it can be read in over 500 languages including Chinese, Hindi, Bengali, Serbo-Crotian and even, I heard, Upik, Khosa, Rotokas and... French. - Look at it this way : it is a daunting task ! At one page a day, excluding Christmas, Easter and New Year's day (why not ?), it'll take anybody four and a half translations of the earth around the sun. - Enough time, along the way, to forget, in its most rococo passages, its incoherence, inconsistencies, scientific innacuracies and, worst of all, contradictions.

I never read it myself. That is completely. Attempted, yes. Several times. Read a lot of it, if memory serves correctly or judging by the wear and tear of my copy, but completely ? No. Never. Every time I tried, I found it boring, like reading fairy tales written for adults (with no naughty bits). - And, at my age, I believe that no priest, rabi, minister, monk or, even worst, preacher will ever be able to convince me, even in the darkest, gloomiest days of my life, that it is the book to read as it is the word of God. I suppose that, for some people, it can be. I'll even grant you that that it may may have been, at some point, notwithstanding the number of people who swear by it, but, if it hasn't been altered over the years by, let's say incompetent copyists or overzealous cenobites, and it is the best thing HE could do, well... my case rests.

Disingenuous criticism, I know, but what can I say ? - If, like me, you have thoughts, something that can be very dangerous (just ask any catholic priest), reading the Bible makes you want to put it on the same shelf as the Green Hornet Chronicles or those of the Spaghetti Monster, the Unicorn and Saint-George in his dragon slaying days. - Casuistry is not my cup of tea. Sorry.

The main reason I thought about it the other day - I'll return to it in a moment. Maybe - is to go back to the answer I gave a few months ago about the number of books I had read over the years (see Le Castor™ - June 2nd, 2014) and draw to your attention to a similarly uninteresting number which happens to be the quantity of documentaries I watched last year. That number is 356 and I must say it surprised me. That's right : three hundred fifty six. Most of them off my Android tablet, downloaded from YouTube and copied unto an external hard disk (see note at the end) which is a bit of an understatement (sic) as I also watched others directly on the Internet.

What sort of documentaries ? Before I go into that, let me say that watching 356 in a single year took about 250 hours of my time. 250 well spent hours because I learned much more in those hours that I would have had, had I read books on their various subjects. It reminded me of the abacus or suanpan. - I don't know if you've ever seen an abacus. My experience with it is, when I was a kid, I regularly saw old Chinese restaurant owners bring them out at the end of each day to add their sales and, generally, do their accounting. - You might have seen one. Here what they looks like :

That particular one do look like toy but, don't kid yourself, it isn't : it's a calculator used mainly for adding and substracting but it can be used for multiplications and divisions. Its format varies a lot. I understand that Japanese models have 4 rings at the bottom (with two on top) whereas the basic abacus has 4 rings and only one ring at the top. The above is a mixture of both. - Basically, numbers are indicated by moving rings around, starting from the bottom right half ; 1 is indicated by pushing one of the bottom rings up ; 2 by pushing 2 and so on. Once you've raised the 4th ring up and ran out of rings (on the classic model), you would bring them done and raise the top ring to indicate the number 5 and start all over (5 + 1 = 6, 5+2 = 7, etc.) until you reach the number 9, in which case you move all rings down but one of bottom ring of the second column up. - Easy to understand that adding and substarting any number implies moving equivalent rings.

You can read all about this on the WEB starting with this page : (Note that it uses a different method to indicate numbers but the principle is the same.)

What is important about all this is that in doing calculations (adding numbers, etc.) three senses are used : that of sight, that of touch and that of... sound (moving beads around do produce a sort of very recognisable "clic"). - That may look like or thought of as being redundant but what it does is that, if one of the three senses is off, as opposed to the others, the user is immediately made aware that he or she has made an error. It's a sort of self correcting or fail-safe calculator.

Now to go back to documentaries, I have found over the years that if I heard and saw something, I would remember it longer than if I had only seen the same thing. Add to this the possibility, in certain documentaries, to add sub-titles to read and you'll be surprised as to what one can learn and remember by looking at, say, a documentary on the American Civil War, when spoken commentaries, photos, contemporary films and moving or computer designed models are used to describe a battle. The same applies to natural science, astronomy, architecture, art and even mathematics including such stuff as quantum mechanics and the Higgins bosom. And this is where, I've slowed down, last year, on my reading and increased my watching documentaries.

No : what did I watch and what I would recommend as superb documentaries ?

Here's a preliminary list :

First and foremost, anything by James Burke, be it his series on "The Day the Universe Changed" to his acclaimed "Connections".

Photo en provenance du site

Second, are the various debates involving Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss and Sam Harris.

Photo en provenance du site

Third are three series  :  "Planet Earth" produced by the BBC and the unbelievable "Cosmos" series, first by Carl Sagan and then, by Neil de Grasse Tyson.

Carl Sagan                                                   Neil de Grasse Tyson/

And, if you're more inclined towards the arts, you'll find stuff on Proust, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Voltaire, Vermeer de Delft, Jackson Pollock, the Renaissance and the building of the Parthenon, the Great Pyramids, etc. How's an interview with Louis-Ferdinand Céline ?

As to history, never, in my life, have I learned as much in so short of time.

Simple : go to YouTube ( and type whatever interests you. Oh, and you might even like to watch movie classics... or wresting matches. (The Undertaker's are, come to think of it, usually very good.)

Let me know what you find.


Notes (on downloading stuff from YouTube) : Really ? I mean you haven't learned yet ?


072 - 2015-12-07

Science, authority and fried-egg sandwiches

We were having a drink a couple of weeks ago, Simon, Jeff, Paul and myself, when, for some odd reason, the conversation drifted towards the heliocentric model of the solar system (Bear with me. This won't be long !).

I mean THE heliocentric model : the one originally thought of about two and a half thousand years ago but :

- Re-introduced by Nicaulos Copernicus (1473-1543)
- Looked into by Tycho Brahe (1546-1601)
- Revised by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)
- Confirmed by Galileo (1564-1642)
- Explained by Newton (1642-1727)
- Totally reconfigured by Einstein (1879-1955)

...whose theories have since been refined by the likes of  :

- Karl Schwarzschild (1873-1916)
- Max Planck (1858-1947)
- David Finkelstein (1929-...)
- Steven Hawkins (1942-... )

... and being, again, revised by :

- Lawrence Krauss (1954- ...)

When... Jeff said : "Excuse me but... do we have any idea what we're talking about ?"

Of course we didn't. Well, relatively. And nobody was impolite to the point of bringing the Presocratics into the conversation.

The thing is that, when it comes to cosmology, or any science, everything is opened to discussions. There are no absolute authorities in science. In a classroom, the information handed out by the most eminent astrophysician can be challenged by his dummest student who might prove him wrong. In the scientific vernacular, this sort of thing is called "review by your peers", not "approved by some distant authority made up of elders who think they know everything".

By the way, the word authority (derived from the Latin word auctoritas) did not exist in English until William the Conquerer landed in 1066. - Oh, there might have been a few monks, here and there, in the then realm of Harold, monks who claimed to have a certain auctoritas but everythimg they knew was old, boring, tedius and generally wrong ; fortunately, they mainly spoke latin which meant that nobody understood what they were talking about anyway.

Curious country, the inhabitants of this England. Except for a brief period, they have accepted to be ruled by direct descendants of the above mentioned William the Conquerer (well almost), even by a king which they fetched in Germany because he was the closest relative of their previous monarch, all the way down to the current queen. - But what can be said of rulers whose family values are based on Henry the VIII's except that the current queen (they have no such stupid rules as "la loi salique") seems to have guessed that her son was a moron and that she might as well hang in there until a less idotic grandson came along.

I, for one, will accept with a little less discussions the sayings and quotes of my elders, particularly those who have spent their lifes studying something and have proposed a few explanations, but I will not accept the usual ramblings of so-called authorities on any subject.

Particularly from men wearing robes and preaching from a pulprit, quoting passages from a 2,000 years old book.

This is a trait of my character, inherited from my father, and which I share with Simon. Simon who recently sent me the following message :

Cher Copernique,

Dans son dictionnaire, Littré, donne une trentaine d'exemples où le mot "autorité" fut utilisé par divers auteurs. En voici quelques uns à commencer par Bossuet :

"Quelque chose de plus violent se remuait dans le fond des coeurs ; c'était un dégoût secret de tout ce qui a de l'autorité."
Bossuet Voir note à la fin

Quelle plus grande autorité que celle de l'Église catholique, qui réunit en elle-même toute l'autorité des siècles passés et les anciennes traditions du genre humain jusqu'à la première origine ?

Bossuet 6e avert. 104

L'autorité ecclésiastique ayant chez elle de trop débiles fondements, elle [la réforme] a senti qu'elle ne pouvait se fixer que par l'autorité des princes ; en sorte que la religion, comme un ouvrage purement humain, n'ait plus de force que par eux, et qu'à dire vrai elle ne soit plus qu'une politique.

Bossuet Marsigli

Il faut se soumettre à l'autorité de l'Église, parce qu'elle ne peut jamais se tromper ; mais il ne faut pas se soumettre aveuglément à l'autorité des hommes, parce qu'ils peuvent toujours se tromper.

Malebranche Rech. vér. IV, 3

Nous faire plaindre l'aveuglement de ceux qui apportent la seule autorité pour preuve dans les matières physiques au lieu du raisonnement et des expériences, et nous donner de l'horreur pour la malice des autres, qui emploient le raisonnement seul dans la théologie, au lieu de l'autorité de l'Écriture et des Pères.

Pascal Fragm. d'un traité de vide.
Et pour ne pas être injuste :    

Oui, mais l'autorité du péripatétique...

Racine Les plaideurs

J'ai retrouvé dans mes notes une citation qu'on attribue souvent à Adolphe Thiers, mais qui ne serait vraisemblablement pas de lui quoiqu'il ne l'aurait pas niée, lui qui s'est mis à dos, avec son authorité : les bonapartistes pour son opposition à l'Empire, les monarchistes pour la fondation de la République,
et les «
républicains avancés» pour l'écrasement de la Commune. Un vrai de vrai, quoi.

"L'authorité est la force qui obtient une obéissance consentie."



Note : La première citation provient des Oeuvres de Bossuet qui comprennent ses Oraisons funèbres et ses Sermons - Volume 2 (Chez Firmin Didiot Frères, Libraire [Imprimeurs de l'Institut de France], rue Jacob, Paris - 1841, page 272).

Merci Simon !


P.-S. : And what about fried-egg sandwiches ? That's where the buck stops. - Took me thirty years to learn how make a perfect fried-egg sandwich. On that I AM an authority. - And so was a woman who lived, twenty years ago, between Metz and Nancy, when it came to those dreadfully difficult Oeufs à la neige. - And who can forget a now retired barman, who worked at the Queen E, some 15, 20 years ago and who made divine Martinis... - Come to think of it, didn't you notice lately that it's getting more and more difficult to get - and I'm not thinking in terms of "perfect" ; "correct" would be fine - sunny side up eggs anywhere. Remember years ago : you could walk into any greasy spoon restaurants, even dives, where they were magnificent...


071 - 2015-11-02

Truth or Dare

I haven't a clue why movie critics consider Jack Nicholson a great actor but then I haven't a clue why I shouldn't either. Because, I suppose, I haven't seen him in more than two or three films. Add to this the fact that I don't watch movies that much. Particularly "recent" movies. - I understand he won three Oscars, but then, who hasn't won at least one ? Charlton Heston won his for his role in "Ben-Hur" (which won 11 !) and so did Leon Shamroy for Cleopatra, John G. Avidson for Rocky, Rick Baker for Harry and the Hendersons, Renee Zellweger for Cold Mountains, Mauro Fiore for Avatar... some of them for cinematography, some for acting, some for make-up... - So what ? On the acting side, have you ever heard of these forgotten, but never forgotten, likes of : Paul Muni [The Story of Louis Pasteur], Robert Donat [Goodbye, Mr. Chips], Paul Lukas [Watch on the Rhine], Ronald Colman [A Double Life], Ernest Borgnine [Marty], John Wayne [True Grit], Dustin Hoffman [Kramer versus Kramer], Geoffrey Rush [Shine], etc., etc. ?

Some scenes, some situations, some one-liners have jumped off the big screen and become part of what-you-can-call "ordinary stuff" or, in certain areas, our sub-conscious, everybody's sub-conscious. I'm thinking of Boris Karloff as the monster in Frankentein, Clint Eastwood as the quintessential Western hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, for the first time, "Ill be back", or Orson Welles' "Rosebud". But, for Jack Nicholson, I can only think of : "You can't handle the truth" which has been so quoted and quoted and quoted again that it pratically lost its meaning.

Why am I, today, mentioning Nicholson and "You can't handle the truth" ? - Because I was thinking, recently, that I read a lot of stuff dealing with History (capital H) and, yes, I have to agree that, as a rule, we can't handle the truth. Like, nobody wants to hear, particularly in France, that Napoleon was a sleasy scumbag only interested in power, intimidation and, first of all, money, that some of the worst collaborators during the Ocupation are still regarded as heroes, or, closer to our side of the Atlantic, our most revered politicians didn't give a damn about people. Some were lucky : Kennedy was killed before it was discovered that he was a womenizer of the worst kind (which is why his wife was sleeping around on her side). - And then, some people lasted too long. They were "discovered" before they could retire : Nixon, the Bush family, Caucescu, Mother Teresa (now there goes a winner!), Henry Kissinger ... Hell, the Duvalier's are planning a comeback ! - And then come Trudeau's son. His name would have been Tremblay, he wouldn't have made it as a fourth class representive of an obscure by-election. - Wanna hear more ? How about Sarah Palin ? Rick Santorium ? Mitt Romney ?

Now, with an introduction like that, you would expect me to talk about politics, the Republicans, the Democrats, the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Green Party and even democracy versus what goes on in Saudi Arabia. - No way ! What I'd like to talk about is history and how it's being taught.

Very badly if you ask me. Or should I say very poorly ?

The problem stems from two major biais. The first is that history has always been written by winners, conquerors or, generally speaking, people who, for one reason or another, were on top. The second is that history is written by historians who, as unprejudiced they want to be, always try to make a point. A third aspect could be mentioned : that history is usually made up of a series of facts, explained by historians (point number 2), but with total disregard for what we could learned from theses facts. - See :

Michel Foucault

Take Jesus, for example. I know : not a subject with which one shouldn't deal historically. - The same thing applies to Mohamed but mentioning Mohamed, Islam or the Qur'an isn't something that should be, nowadays, discussed in mixed company... - There's two ways you can deal with Jesus : you can read the Bible which will ask you, to begin with, to believe that the world was created in six days, some 6.000 years ago, that there was a great flood some 2.000 years afterwards and other "facts" which have been debunked so many times that I can't believe that is is still considered as a crucial historical document or, you can read hundreds of books writen by historians who have researched everything dealing with archeology, the Roman's occupation of Palestine and\or read every books and accounts dealing with the first, second and third centuries and Christianity. Surprise, surprise : not one of them has been able to demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt the existence of a man called Jesus in the years he is supposed to have lived. - Ask me and I'll send you a list. - But you can find out for yourself by reading the four Gospels simultaneously and try to make sense of what was written about him years after his death : you'll find so many discrepancies and contradictions, you'll wonder why all four were included in the Holy Scriptures.

Another example ? Creation versus Evolution. - There's huge movement in the Southern part of the United Sates trying to have both thaught in schools, side by side. - I won't comment on this that much but I will say that if you consider both to be scientifically (read : historically) valid why not teach astrology and astronomy at the same time explaining that both are valid concept of waht makes the world ? Alchemy and chemistry ; and, while you're at it, St-Augustin and reality.

I could go on for pages, but one thing, I'd like to insist upon and allow me to be adamant on this :

Never - and I mean NEVER - read anything with which you might agree. Particularly when it comes to history.

History IS a storehouse of experiences. Let's understand and use them.

Fog anyone ?

A few weeks ago (1),Le Castor™ published a note of mine which the editor had found in one of my carnets and in which I had mentioned the Fog Index. For those who don't remember, the Fog Index measures the readability of writing. This index estimates the years of formal education needed to understand a text on a first reading. A fog index of 12, for example, requires the reading level of a U.S. high school senior (around 18 years old). The test was developed by Robert Gunning, an American businessman, in 1952 and is therefore sometimes mentioned as the Gunning Fox Index. And for those who remember, 21.93 is the note that I obtained by submitting one of my previous columns to a computer program set up along Gunning's theory. - Not a good note. - PhD holders don't read Le Castor™.

Let me start by admitting, right off the bat, that my English is often over-the-board, complicated, too vocabulary-inclined and even "precious" ; its ridicule side ought to bring me to use everybody's language (to paraphrase Noah Webster (2)). Only problem is that I like style, writing styles, not every one of them but those that match the subject about which one is writing. I like Hemmingway's  subject-verb-complements, for example, or Proust's long-winded, endless sentences, Gide's use of the plus-que-parfait du subjonctif (3), Céline's pseudo-off-the-cuff-speaking style, Ruskin's vocabulary... Hell, I even like Simenon's total absence of style, sometimes referred to as "le style neutre".

Yes, at times, I might look like someone fishing for compliments (look how this or that sentence is brillant or note the cleverness of this or that expression) but I must insist that I try to be as precise as possible and I make sincere efforts to avoid pedantry (i.e. : Samuel Johnson's), or four syllable words (when two syllables equivalents exist) and will use any tournure de phrases to avoid unusual modes like the subjunctive or the potential modes (in English) which, in my opinion, ought to be outlawed. But then I have to face two handicaps :

The first is that I was raised in French speaking home, sent to an English primary school, a French (France) lycée for my secondary studies, and both French-Canadian and English (UK) colleges and universities with the result that I'm a linguistically hybrid.

I read "dreamt" when I was a kid, heard it and it stuck, so, out of a habit I still use that pass tense instead of "dreamed". I pronounce the "t" in "often" and still use the archaic contracted forms of "mustn’t", "needn’t", "oughtn’t", "usedn’t", "wouldn’t" and even "shan’t", and "mightn’t" , all of which occasionnal, raise eyebrows in polite conversation. Not to mention the last time I said "J'eusse aimé que vous vinsiez plus tôt" in a bar not too long ago.

Which reminds me of a commercial I saw on TV several years ago in which a French-Canadian comedian known for his impeccable social skill and his perfect French (Gérard Poirier) was selling God-Knows-what and at the end of which an innocent bystandard shouted : "C'est ça, mon Gérard, donne-s-y la claque !" to which he replied : "Donne-s-y la quoi ?"

Hilarious. But then I don't know if a joke like that would be understood yoday...


P.-S. : Been a little obsessed lately thinking about Newton whose Principia Mathematica caused hundreds of angels to loose their job pushing the planets around. - I wonder what happened to them.

(1) Le 11 mai 2015 (Note de l'éditeur)
(2) Dissertation on the English Language - 1789.
(3) Gide wrote at one point in his life (can't find where nor when right now) that a sentence being the expression of a complete idea, it should be written the way it presented itself into one's mind, sometimes by its end, sometimes by its middle and rarely by its beginning and, therefore, it required all the twists and turns of the French language dreaded concordance des temps to write them down.


P-S. No.2 : À Madame Suzanne T. de Longueil (Québec) qui m'a demandé la liste de mes livres de chevet :

Je suppose, Madame, que vous faites allusion à ma liste courante car elle varie énormément, parfois d'une journée à l'autre. - Il y a deux semaines, vous n'y aurez trouvé que des essayistes anglais. - Voici la dernière :

(Les livres suivis d'un astérisque sont des livres déjà lus, mais dans lesquels je recherche divers passages.)

- Arthur Buis - Chroniques 1 et 2 - Bibliothèque du Nouveau Monde - 1986 (*)

- Jeanine Moulin - Marceline Desbordes-Valmore - Poètes d'aujourd'hui - Seghers Éditeur - 1955

- Fernando Pessoa - Un dîner très original - Cambourakis - 2011

- Christopher Hitchens - Hitch 22 - Twelve Books - 2011

- Henri Amoureux - La grande histoire des Français sous l'occupation - Robert Laffont - 1997 (*)

- Stephen W, Hawkins - A brief History of Time - Bantam Books - 1988 (*)

- David Filkin - Stephen Hawking's Universe - Basic Books - 1997

- Stephen Hawkins - The Universe in a Nutshell - Bantam Books - 2001

Ces trois derniers étant tout à fait récents.

(Je ne vous dirai pas ce qui se trouve sur mon lecteur électronique !)


C. M.


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