Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Young Aussies killed in France in March 1966

When I moved to the Alpine village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse in the summer of 1993, I came upon an Australian tomb in the church cemetery, just opposite the building in which I had found a tiny flat.

Click to enlarge slightly.

It was the grave of two young Australian students who were killed in March 1966 when they were leaving the village in their car, bound for Grenoble. Blinded by the early-morning winter sun, they skidded off the road and rolled violently into the valley, a hundred yards lower down.

The driver Nicholas Jager, 17, died instantly.

His sister Christina Jager, 18, died three days later, in the Voiron hospital.

Their 16-year-old brother Michael Jager survived.

Two younger children — Jeremy, 11, and Claire, 10 — were attending a local school on the day of the accident. Here are two photos of the fatal corner that I took in 1993.

On that day of 7 March 1966, when the Alpine sun in the ancient monastic village of Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse blinded Christina and Nicolas, forever, one of the world's most popular songs was The Sun ain't gonna Shine Anymore by the Walker brothers.

On the web, today, you can find a short article about the accident from Melbourne's The Age of 9 March 1966. [Curiously, the article confuses the given names of the two brothers, Nicholas and Michael Jager.]

The children's father, Charles Henry Jager [1919-2008], was a well-known Melbourne cattle breeder and bookmaker.

Identifying myself to God

I'm not really speaking of our divine old-timer, God, but rather of the amazing company whose name starts with the same two letters: Go----. Let's call it Goddle. [Maybe Goodle would be a better nickname for our God the Second.] This morning, I already identified myself to Goddle/Goodle over the phone, a first time, in order to submit my blog post about submarines, here. Later, I had to identify myself to Goddle/Goodle a second time, in order to submit a comment to the blog Vienna for Dummies, here. At times, I've felt that this identification process is getting out of hand. But I suppose that Goddle/Goodle knows how best to run the universe. I must say, to be honest, that I've never spoken directly to Goddle/Goodle. Besides, I have the impression that He/It never actually communicates face-to-face with humble humans.

Submarine leak

Let’s suppose you’ve just ordered an impressive automobile, made in France, and that you suddenly learn that detailed technical descriptions of the manufacturer’s electronic devices for automobiles have just been stolen. As a future owner of a product from that French manufacturer, you might feel worried.

That kind of situation has just arisen in Australia concerning their massive order for French submarines. In a nutshell, the Australian press has revealed that a massive leak has been detected, apparently in India (?), concerning a model of the Scorpène submarine, manufactured by the French shipbuilder DCNS, and sold to the navies of India, Malasia, Chili and Brazil.

Worker at DCNS

Scorpène submarine

Let me point out immediately that the Scorpène is not the model sold to Australia, whose order concerns the Barracuda submarine, quite different to the Scorpène. Not surprisingly, France and the French manufacturer DCNS will be carrying out an in-depth investigation into the Scorpène leak. For the moment, nothing indicates that this Scorpène leak might present the slightest problem to Australia's future maritime defence.

You might subscribe to The Australian in order to obtain an original article on this leak. Here are some extracts of this article that were sent to me this morning by a political contact:

Our French submarine builder in massive leak scandal

The French company that won the bid to design Australia’s new $50 billion submarine fleet has suffered a massive leak of secret documents, raising fears about the future security of top-secret data on the navy’s future fleet.

The stunning leak, which runs to 22,400 pages and has been seen by The Australian, details the ­entire secret combat capability of the six Scorpene-class submarines that French shipbuilder DCNS has designed for the Indian Navy.

A variant of the same French-designed Scorpene is also used by the navies of Malaysia, Chile and, from 2018, Brazil, so news of the Edward Snowden-sized leak — ­revealed today — will trigger alarm at the highest level in these countries. Marked “Restricted Scorpene India”, the DCNS documents ­detail the most sensitive combat capabilities of India’s new $US3 bn ($3.9bn) submarine fleet and would provide an ­intelligence bonanza if obtained by India’s strategic rivals, such as Pakistan or China.

The leak will spark grave concern in Australia and especially in the US where senior navy officials have privately expressed fears about the security of top-secret data entrusted to France.

In April DCNS, which is two-thirds owned by the French government, won the hotly contested bid over Germany and Japan to design 12 new submarines for Australia. Its proposed submarine for Australia — the yet-to-be-built Shortfin Barracuda — was chosen ahead of its rivals because it was considered to be the quietest in the water, making it perfectly suited to intelligence-gathering operations against China and others in the ­region.

Any stealth advantage for the navy’s new submarines would be gravely compromised if data on its planned combat and performance capabilities was leaked in the same manner as the data from the ­Scorpene. The leaked DCNS data details the secret stealth capabilities of the six new Indian submarines, including what frequencies they gather intelligence at, what levels of noise they make at various speeds and their diving depths, range and endurance — all sensitive information that is highly classified. The data tells the submarine crew where on the boat they can speak safely to avoid ­detection by the enemy. It also discloses magnetic, electromagnetic and infra-red data as well as the specifications of the submarine’s torpedo launch system and the combat system.

It details the speed and conditions needed for using the periscope, the noise specifications of the propeller and the radiated noise levels that occur when the submarine surfaces.

The data seen by The Australian includes 4457 pages on the submarine’s underwater sensors, 4209 pages on its above-water sensors, 4301 pages on its combat management system, 493 pages on its torpedo launch system and specifications, 6841 pages on the sub’s communications system and 2138 on its navigation systems.

The Australian has chosen to redact sensitive information from the documents.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was important to note the submarine DCNS was building for India was a completely different model to the one it will build for Australia and the leaked information was a few years out of date. Nevertheless, any leak of classified information was a concern.

“We have the highest security protections on all of our defence information, whether it is in partnership with other countries or entirely within Australia,” he told the Seven Network today.

“But clearly, it is a reminder that, particularly in this digital world, cyber security is of critical importance.”

Influential senator Nick Xenophon said he would pursue the security breach when parliament returns next week.

Senator Xenophon, who leads a bloc of three senators, said Australia needed serious explanations from DCNS, the federal government and the Defence Department about any implications for Australia.

“This is really quite disastrous to have thousands of pages of your combat system leaked in this way,” the senator told ABC radio.

Sea trials for the first of India’s six Scorpene submarines began in May. The project is running four years behind schedule.

The Indian Navy has boasted that its Scorpene submarines have superior stealth features, which give them a major advantage against other submarines.

The US will be alarmed by the leak of the DCNS data because Australia hopes to install an American combat system — with the latest US stealth technology — in the French Shortfin Barracuda.

If Washington does not feel confident that its “crown jewels’’ of stealth technology can be protected, it may decline to give Australia its state-of-the-art combat system.

DCNS yesterday sought to ­reassure Australians that the leak of the data on the Indian Scorpene submarine would not happen with its proposed submarine for Australia. The company also implied — but did not say directly — that the leak might have occurred at India’s end, rather than from France. “Uncontrolled technical data is not possible in the Australian ­arrangements,” the company said. “Multiple and independent controls exist within DCNS to prevent unauthorised access to data and all data movements are encrypted and recorded. In the case of India, where a DCNS design is built by a local company, DCNS is the provider and not the controller of technical data.

“In the case of Australia, and unlike India, DCNS is both the provider and in-country controller of technical data for the full chain of transmission and usage over the life of the submarines.”

However, The Australian has been told that the data on the Scorpene was written in France for India in 2011 and is suspected of being removed from France in that same year by a former French Navy officer who was at that time a DCNS subcontractor.

The data is then believed to have been taken to a company in Southeast Asia, possibly to assist in a commercial venture for a ­regional navy.

It was subsequently passed by a third party to a second company in the region before being sent on a data disk by regular mail to a company in Australia. It is unclear how widely the data has been shared in Asia or whether it has been obtained by foreign ­intelligence agencies.

The data seen by The Australian also includes separate confidential DCNS files on plans to sell French frigates to Chile and the French sale of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship carrier to Russia. These DCNS projects have no link to India, which adds weight to the probability that the data files were removed from DCNS in France.

DCNS Australia this month signed a deed of agreement with the Defence Department, ­paving the way for talks over the contract which will guide the design phase of the new ­submarines. The government plans to build 12 submarines in Adelaide to replace the six-boat Collins-class fleet from the early 2030s. The Shortfin Barracuda will be a slightly shorter, conventionally powered version of France’s new fleet of Barracuda-class nuclear submarines.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said his officials believed the leak had “no bearing” on the Australia’s submarine program.

“The Future Submarine Program operates under stringent security requirements that govern the manner in which all information and technical data is managed now and into the future,” Mr Pyne’s office said in a statement.

“The same requirements apply to the protection of all sensitive information and technical data for the Collins class submarines, and have operated successfully for decades.”

Deadly bagpipes fungus

When I was a child in Grafton, I started to dislike bagpipes of the Scottish variety. I simply found their sounds unpleasant. More recently, in Brittany, I met up with so-called Celtic bagpipes, and found them equally unpleasant.

I was therefore intrigued by a story in the French press of the death in 2014 of a 61-year-old British fellow who had inhaled for years a deadly fungus that had proliferated in his bagpipes. Click here to see the original article on this affair of fatal lung disease that has just appeared in the Thorax medical journal. Musicians can apparently encounter mortal molds in other wind instruments such as saxophones.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Changes that don't really change anything

As of tomorrow, an allegedly major event will take place in the French national media context. A new name will come into existence. But don't ask me to explain what exactly it means — along with what it doesn't mean — to common folk such as me.

As I said in my previous blog post, France is a complicated nation, and the French are a complex people. There's a tendency to use the time label of midday for two o'clock in the afternoon [popular saying].

Montebourg asks Hollande to drop out of the race

After announcing his own candidacy, Arnaud Montebourg asked the president François Hollande politely to drop out of the forthcoming presidential course. Is the current president likely to follow this advice? I don't think so. Montebourg is indeed a powerful but fragile young athlete, whereas Hollande is an experienced Marathon Man.

Incidentally, Montebourg hasn't defined and announced his candidacy in clear terms. That's to say, he hasn't yet declared whether or not he intends to participate in possible "primaries" in the Socialist context. Count upon the French to render their elections as incomprehensible (for outsiders, in particular) as you might possibly imagine. They're a fine nation, but a mixed-up people. They refrain eternally from speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They prefer to beat around the bush.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Google Chrome will drop Flash by the end of 2016

The total disappearance of Flash is a major announcement from Google. The only thing that annoys me personally is that I have several old Flash websites sitting around in purgatory. People such as my friend Natacha and me can of course survive comfortably without the survival of our antiquated legacy websites... but it's nevertheless sad to see them disappearing slowly but surely.

Sarko announces his presidential candidacy

Nicolas Sarkozy lors d'un rassemblement à Arcachon (Gironde),
le 23 juin 2016. (THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP)

This is the biggest non-surprise of the year. The former president Nicolas Sarkozy has written a book, Tout pour la France (Everything for France), in which he announces his intention to abandon his present role as chief of the political party Les Républicains in order to become a presidential candidate for next year’s election.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Powerful cartoon by Plantu

Click to enlarge slightly

The first victims of terrorism
are Muslims.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ecology candidate

Photo Guillaume Souvant.AFP

Cécile Duflot has just confirmed that she will be a candidate in the French presidential election of 2017. She speaks the truth when she says that the battle will be tough (in French, rude). For Cécile in particular. In her declaration, she praises a recent papal encyclical named Laudato si, but I see no praise for the individuals who recently made COP21 a grand success.

Jérôme Monod [1930-2016]

Jérôme Monod was a prominent French industrial leader and a political figure in the context of Jacques Chirac. Member of a distinguished French Protestant family, he was the cousin of Jacques Monod [1910-1976], Nobel-winning biologist, and Théodore Monod [1902-2000], naturalist, explorer and humanist.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Richard Dawkins on language

Click here to see the article by Richard entitled Ban the voice-over.

I'm thrilled to rediscover my hero Dawkins joking once again about why ancestral giraffes magically developed long necks for the simple reason that they "needed" such long necks in order to reach up for leaves. I believe that many ordinary people, not familiar with evolution and genetics, would believe in that "need"... but I hope I'm mistaken.

A long-discredited alternative to Darwinism invoked ‘need’ as the driver of evolution: ancestral giraffes needed to reach high foliage and their energetic striving to do so somehow called longer necks into existence. But for ‘need’ to translate itself into action, there has to be another step in the argument. The ancestral giraffe mightily stretched its neck upwards and so the bones and muscles lengthened and . . . well, you know the rest, O my Best Beloved. The true Darwinian mechanism, of course, is that those individual giraffes that succeeded in satisfying the need survived to pass on their genetic tendency to do so.

Dishonest French TV shows

A popular fellow on French TV participates regularly in travelogues in which he gets filmed in the midst of local folk in all sorts of exotic places throughout the world. His friendly personality enables him (so it seems) to meet up with unexpected friends. He also has a taste for doing crazy things such as patting a wild animal.

In reality, these TV shows are dishonest, in that they've been assembled out of fake elements that were not at all spontaneous. I'll give you an example, so that you'll understand what I'm trying to say. Let's refer to this TV star as Fred. At one stage, you see Fred moving towards a group of locals, and asking them in French, with a friendly smile: "Can I join you?" Then you see the locals smiling back at Fred and saying something along the following lines: "Yes, please sit down. What would you like to know?"

Most French TV viewers would imagine that this guy has such a friendly personality that he can meet up easily with locals and communicate with them immediately. First, you must realize that, when Fred arrives in such-and-such an exotic place, he probably (?) can't speak the local language, and the locals surely can't speak fluent French. So, much later on, what French viewers seem to see on their TV screen has been totally contrived, well after the events, by a team of smart video specialists. It's as fake as false breasts, but the tricks are so smartly executed that most people fail to see that they've been tricked. In reality, the production operations would be carried out along the following lines:

1. The video director (let's call him Jacques) is in contact with a local native (let's call him Wombat) who understands a few words of French. Jacques asks Wombat to gather together a small group of locals who are prepared (no doubt for a small fee) to be filmed in a would-be contact and conversation with Fred, who might be thought of as a stooge (like the secondary actors in old-fashioned Chaplin comedies).

2. Once everybody is gathered together in front of a few video cameras, the director Jacques says to the stooge Fred: "Put on a big smile, say hello to the locals, and ask them if you can join in with them. Tell them that you would like to learn how to catch koalas." Easily said. Easily done. Smiles everywhere.

3. The director Jacques then calls upon Wombat, and explains: "Tell your friends to smile as if they're happy to meet up with our Fred. Then ask one of them to look into the camera and talk for a few minutes on the subject of catching koalas, saying anything that comes into his head." All this local gibberish will, of course, be replaced by everyday French in the edited video. The locals are then filmed, talking gibberish, and that's basically the end of this nonsense.

4. The director Jacques then says to Fred: "Let's imagine that these idiots have given you information on how to catch koalas. Let me film you now, smiling happily while you listen to their alleged explanations. Then finish your supposed listening by asking them, with a big smile, if koalas are dangerous animals that can bite you."

5. The director Jacques tells Wombat that he wants to film the locals once again, all laughing hilariously, and apparently making fun of Fred. Obviously, Jacques knows exactly how he's going to put together the fake conversation, once all the elements have been obtained.

6. My readers will have understood by now that Jacques will surely produce a sufficient stock of fake elements that will enable a video editor to put together a convincing would-be conversation between Fred and the locals. So, that's the end of my explanations.

I'm disgusted by this kind of fake TV, but it's an everyday phenomenon in France. If the cutting and editing are handled expertly, most viewers would fall into the trap of imagining that they're watching a real encounter between friendly Fred and a group of naive savages who are happy to teach him how to catch koalas.

As a former member of the French Service de la Recherche de l'ORTF, which enabled me to make authentic science documentaries in France, England, Sweden and the USA, I dislike intensely this new kind of fake TV.

Humble French athlete

Christophe Lemaitre is a splendid French athlete. His determination, intelligence and humble personality have always impressed me.

Australian invention

I learn with surprise and sadness that my native land has the honor of having invented the Moslem burkini. That doesn't surprise me greatly. I've known for ages that many of my compatriots are capable of doing silly things. I think it's an effect of the constant sunshine, which can bake parts of the brain. If you search around on the web, you'll easily find a photo of the bright lady who was responsible for this Aussie gift to modern society and humanity. Don't count on me to show you a copy of such a photo... which makes me want to vomit.

Statue of a naked man on Union Square in New York


This statue was erected rapidly (maybe I shouldn’t speak of erection) but it was soon removed (unfortunately?) by local authorities. Click here for more photos. There's even a short YouTube video that presents the making of this masterpiece, whose copies are springing up rapidly in several US places. Will the man in question survive this delightful and powerful attack, clearly well planned and executed? I hope not.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

We attach ourselves to familiar old objects

Early this morning, I was awoken by images of my old fountain pens that needed to be loaded with new supplies of ink. Now it's at least a quarter of a century since I abandoned forever the use of writing implements of that old-fashioned kind, before replacing them by ball-points, felt-tipped pens, typewriters and, finally, computers. But the name of the required ink, Quink, appeared clearly in my dream, along with its color and the appearance of its bottle.

I was so surprised by my dream that I awoke instantly and dashed to one of my desks, to see if I did in fact retain ink of that kind, and maybe even a few fountain pens. After a bit of hurried searching, all I found was an old forgotten box of plastic cartridges, but not the least presence of any kind of writing implement that might use such a cartridge.

In a state of bliss, I went back to sleep... and dreamed of nothing more. Later on in the morning, when I was soundly awake, I used my computer to check that this brand of ink still exists. My nightware is still functioning well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Australian refugee camp to be closed

There is news that Australia’s controversial Manus retention centre for refugees will be closed as soon as possible. For the moment, we don’t know what will become of the 800 inmates. Apparently Australia has a second refugee camp at Nauru, which will remain operational.

Is there any kind of problem?

 Beach scene at Marseille
photo France Keyser. Myop pour LIbération

In theory, there's nothing wrong with the idea that ladies might decide to cover up their bodies when they bathe.

In reality, though, the situation is far more complicated. In France today, clothes of this kind are called burkinis. And the elected mayors of certain beach resorts have officially banned them, for the simple reason that, in the confusing aftermath of recent nasty events, they might be a source of civil strife. Our prime minister even claims that the burkini is incompatible with French values!

Once upon a time, French beach gendarmes were capable of moving into action whenever they ran into an unclothed or scarcely clothed lady. These days, on the contrary, it's not the absence but rather the presence of clothes that can cause problems. France is changing...

Nothing makes me feel more like a biological piece of meat

Many TV observers of Olympic events are no doubt charmed when they see twin competitors holding hands as they cross the line.

To my mind, alas, an image of that kind is troubling. Those identical ladies are not simply cute ; they're clones. The situation becomes more troubling when we move to triplets.

For the moment, this situation has not reached alarming proportions. But, what would happen if we were to end up with a group, say, of four identical Usain Bolt clones ? Would gold medals have to be chopped into pieces, enabling each clone to take away a fragment?

I don't believe that this clone phenomenon, all on its own, will soon be responsible for ending the Olympics. But, with everyday annoyances such as dope, biased judges and (last but not least) Brazilian boos for non-Brazilian athletes, the end is probably near. Another trivial but slightly disturbing subject (but not necessarily a problem) is transgender athletes: individuals born as males who end up competing as females. The case of Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old South African female athlete, is disturbing, to say the least.

So-called “gender verification” tests were called for by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). They indicated an “unusually high level of testosterone” in her body. A newspaper revealed that a coach of South Africa’s runners is a former East German coach named Ekhart Arbeit. The former shot-putt champion named Heidi Krieger says that this fellow fed her so many anabolic steroids that she finally underwent an operation in 1997 that made her a male, now known as Andreas. Is that what we once knew as sport?

One of the most troubling events of all is when a once-champion athlete finds himself or herself beaten by a new-generation competitor. Emotions rise to an almost suicidal level.

For me, as a TV viewer, an annoying aspect of the whole Olympic show is that various sports have risen to a degree of technical complexity that often prevents me from understanding what is actually happening. Often it's no longer fun to watch a TV transmission of a sporting competition than I can hardly understand. For example, in a canoe/kayak race, I'm totally incapable of realizing whether a competitor has handled a "doorway" correctly. In a fencing duel, I never know who touched whom in an acceptable or less acceptable fashion. In judo, I have no idea whatsoever of who's winning and who's losing. In diving, I don't have the faintest idea of which competitor hit the water in the best style. And I'm sure I'm not the only person who gets bored by watching synchronized swimming, which has always appeared to me as a silly joke that has never made me smile let alone laugh.

As silly and boring as twirling...

In any case, the Olympic spirit has existed long enough, like competitive sport in general. It can't go on forever...

Meanwhile, here's a funny video of a loser:

Bugged nightware

In a recent Dilbert strip, the pointy-haired boss says he has just invested in new network software. When Dilbert asks him how he handled the technical aspects of this situation, the boss says he was assisted by the software vendor, who provided him with a weird explanation.

My present post is strange, almost crazy, but it’s perfectly genuine and understandable. Regularly, in my early-morning nightmares over the last year (since my fall in the Gamone staircase a year ago), I find myself programming a computer and striving to remove bugs from its faulty software. If the humorist Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) heard about my behavior, he would possibly see it as proof that we humans are participating in a gigantic theatrical play staged by superior creatures.

Personally, I have a more down-to-earth explanation. During the day, I spend time working on my computer (as I'm doing now) and trying to find logical explanations for certain complicated real-life situations and problems. So, it’s not surprising that a former software fellow like me might imagine in dreams that he’s still programming. The other night, the situation was enhanced by the fact that, before going to bed, I had watched Kubrick’s Space Odyssey movie (for the first time in years), which is frankly a sacred masterpiece for enthusiasts of artificial intelligence. Besides, I had spent time, during the day, trying to handle the reactions of my sisters to family-history puzzles. So, all the ingredients were present for a troublesome night of dreams.

The problem with nightmares of this character is that I’m terribly frustrated by the fact that, when I’m dreaming, I’m not using a real computer (as I am now) and that my imagined computing activities are totally fake. Inevitably, the absurd background of my nightware becomes obvious as soon as I wake up, as is generally the case with trivial dreams. I have no trouble in immediately getting back in contact with reality, including the presence of my authentic computer, just alongside the bed where I had been dreaming.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Two ends of the garden hose

My old garden hose has been left out in the sun and the cold for quite some time. So, I wasn't particularly astonished when it started to develop leaks at both ends. My guardian angel Martine brought her husband Denis to Gamone, to meet me and look into my garden-hose problems. The output end of the hose is a modern aluminium pistol, which has developed the fault of spraying out several voluminous leaks. Denis and I imagined that we would rapidly find a simple means of stopping these leaks... but that, surprisingly, would not be the case.

The input end of the hose is connected to a lovely old brass tap in the form of a bird, which my daughter Manya discovered long ago.

Denis rapidly replaced joints in the brass tap, which immediately worked perfectly. He checked the yellow hose itself, which appeared to be in perfect condition. The only remaining problem was the aluminium pistol, which simply offered no possibility of being opened. As Denis explained, the object had obviously been cast by a manufacturer who had done his best to make sure that the purchaser would never open it. So, Denis told me that I should purchase a new pistol device, and trash the old one. This time, I'll buy a low-cost garden-variety hose pistol.

My dog Fitzroy was excited to see Denis fiddling around with the hose, because he loves to jump around in vain attempts to clutch the spray of water between his teeth. As soon as I've purchased a new plastic pistol, I'll have to get accustomed to taking it off after using the hose, and keeping it safely in the kitchen. In that way, the pistol won't get baked by the heat, frozen by the cold, or chewed up by Fitzroy.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Olympian champion in the sport of survival

Fidel Castro in Havana
at his meeting with the French president François Hollande.
May 11, 2015 — photo from New China

In the course of his 47 years in power at the head of Cuba, terminating with his official retirement in 2008, Fidel Castro survived hundreds of conspiracies and assassination plots. If survival were an Olympic sport, 90-year-old Castro would indeed be covered in gold medals.

Six new Olympic medals for France

Friday was a good day for France at the Rio games. Here's our new score-sheet:

Click to enlarge

We're in the 8th position, between Russia and Australia.
That's better than what I was expecting over the last week.
I persist however in not looking upon France as a "great sporting nation" ... whatever that silly expression might mean.