June 2004


platopi.jpeg   A popular bar had a new robotic bartender installed. A fellow came in for a drink and the robot asked him, ‘What’s your IQ?’

The man replied, ‘150.’ So the robot proceeded to make conversation about Quantum physics, atomic chemistry, and so on.

The man listened intently and thought, ‘This is really cool.’

The man decided to test the robot. He walked out the bar, turned around, and came back in for another drink. Again, the robot asked him, ‘What’s your IQ?’

The man responded, ‘100.’ So the robot started talking about football, baseball, and so on.

The man thought to himself, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’

The man went out and came back in a third time. As before, the robot asked him, ‘What’s your IQ?’ The man replied, ’50.’ The robot then said, ‘So, you gonna vote for Bush again?’

IQ and the US Census

(sent to me by email–no source)

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In a secret ceremony, US authorities handed power to the interim government in Iraq. The early handover has been described as a deft move and a propaganda coup. It has also been described as symbolic, as the only thing being handed over is administration. Aside from the interim government being just about as American-handpicked as apples in an orchard, and that US forces will remain in Iraq, whatever that piece of paper will tell you is really contrary to what you and I understand as sovereignty.

There are plans to build the largest US Embassy, and it will be in Iraq. American presence will still be felt long after the initial relief of hasty announcements such as this, and that other announcement by George W. Bush a few days after the invasion, that the war in Iraq was over.

And it will never be over, as long as America makes its military presence felt anywhere around the world where they have locked on a sovereign nation’s natural resources. Euphemistically referring to these as their national interests, you will always find revolutionaries who will organise themselves in militia groups to rid the world of American imperialism.

The only way America can neutralise this threat–the only way America can change things for the better, is to leave the responsibility for world affairs to the United Nations, drastically reform their foreign policy, and redefine their national interests. Aside, of course, from choosing better leaders.

The Handover in Iraq
US Edicts Curb Power of Iraq’s Leadership

The French must have a vivid imagination. Men and women outside of the norm are being attacked verbally and physically, as they are discriminated for their sexual orientation.

The issue of the day here in France, and an on-going issue for several years now, is gay pride. A mayor has been suspended for one month for marrying a homosexual couple, in defiance of the French civil code. The Interior Minister, in a televised interview, stated that any other mayor who wants to defy the authority of the State will be suspended for a year.

Every summer, French gays demonstrate in the street. More effeminate than the average woman, and more macho than the average man, most are dressed like you and me.

And while we are vividly imagining things, is everything normal in a heterosexual relationship? Catholics take pains to confine the act within the sanctity of marriage. So why can’t homosexuals?

Mind you, I am a heterosexual with a vivid imagination. But I do think that as long as something doesn’t harm anyone, then this really is no business of anybody else.

There are all kinds of people who make up the world in which we live in. We are not all born yellow. Some societal norms are confining, and it thus behooves us to get along well with one another or make changes to impractical norms. You mustn’t think that your own race, language, religion, education or sexual orientation can be or should be the only norm.

First Gay Marriage Held in France

DSCN1300-thumb.jpg   Life is a game. The rules include obligations, social etiquette and norms, education, family and work responsibilities. How we play the game is defined according to our values.

Are there any values which are absolute, or are they relative to either the individual or the society? In ancient Greece, the Sophists argued that values are individually determined by each person. But because individuals have contradictory ideas, Plato affirms that individuals should leave it to philosophers to declare what these absolute values are.

But among and within geographical areas, values differ among and within the societies. Certain individuals practice certain values and cherish some more than others. Plato considered that truth, beauty and goodness were absolute values. But human nature and human rationality will judge these in subjective terms.

What is right and what is wrong, and what is good and what is bad, has some standard which society dictates and from which our values should, but not necessarily be based on.

reference: College Level Philosophy by Leo Charles Daley (Monarch Press, Inc., New York: 1965)

Within a short period of time, in the past several years, sources of energy have been a primary preoccupation of industrialised nations. Forty percent of global energy needs uses petroleum, and two-thirds of the use of petroleum is in the area of transport. Without transport, economic life will grind to a halt.

The Petrol Wars we see today is a crisis that must be intelligently addressed. It is not by exploiting the natural resources of other countries through war and corruption that this problem will be resolved. The solution can be found in developing alternatives to petroleum.

A French company, Bolloré, is developing a car battery that can run for at least 200 kilometres. The Toyota hybrid, the first to use an electric-powered engine, can run at a maximum 50 kilometres before switching to the petrol-engine alternative. Hydrogen3, a natural gas, is also being studied. Progress and new technology will find a solution to our existing petroleum constraints.

“Forty Years Worth of Petrol Left to the World” was the title of a programme on France 5 this evening. It might be forty, it could be eighty. What is significant here is that there is a limit to what Mother Earth can provide.

See: http://www.france5.fr | C’est Dans L’Air
Panel discussion with: Pierre Radanne, Jean-Pierre Favennec, Jean-Marie Chevalier and Edouard Toulouse

The Undeclared Oil War
News Gateway

Here is another summary [fr] and interpretation of the same programme by my son, a freshman student in Engineering in France:

Avec une consommation de 25 milliards de barils de pétrole par an pour un total de réserves mondiales de 1000 milliards de barils, le calcul est vite fait: dans 40 ans nous n’aurons plus de pétrole.

Pourtant, ne disait- on pas en 1973 lors du premier choc petrolier que ces mêmes réserves s’épuiseraient dans 30 ans? Cette erreur d’appréciation de la situation s’explique entre autres par la découverte de nouveaux gisements après 1973 et par l’élaboration de nouvelles techniques d’extraction permettant de meilleurs rendements. De plus, il faut noter que le volume annuel de pétrole comsommé ne cesse de varier, ce qui contribue à fausser l’équation.

Le calcul précédent comporte ces mêmes inexactitudes qui demeurent de taille. Cependant, si la pénurie de pétrole n’est pas pour demain, elle est pour après demain.

Deux sujets abordés dans cette émission sur la 5 concernaient le problème de la hausse de la demande et son impacte sur l’environnement.

La hausse de la demande est entre autre liée à l’émergence du tiers monde dont les pays ne possèdent pas les moyens de préserver l’environnement. Si l’on ajoute à cela les émissions actuelles de gaz carbonique, la planète cours au désastre climatique.

La question devient alors: comment gérer cette hausse et préserver l’écologie tout en ayant à l’esprit la finitude des réserves?

Divers éléments de réponse ont été mis en avant tels qu’une augmentation de l’utilisation de gaz naturel. Des moyens de transport écologiques permettraient de faire d’une pierre deux coups mais les voitures électriques par exemple tardent à se faire une place sur le marché de l’automobile. Les matières plastiques pourraient être produites à partir de matière végétale mais les terres cultivables étant limitées et ce combiné à l’augmentation de la population mondiale et donc de celle des surfaces agricoles cultivées pour l’alimentation, cette alternative ne peut être adoptée à grande échelle. De toute manière, ce secteur ne représente que 4% de la consommation de pétrole. Une autre solution serait l’utilisation d’énergie renouvelable mais le secteur des transports étant le principal consommateur de pétrole, les énergies solaire ou éolienne ne résoudraient pas le problème.

Il semblerait donc que chacune de ces solutions soit peu efficace mais c’est l’addition de leurs effets qui le serait.

update: Argonne’s Research and Development: Achieving Commercially Viable Lithium-Ion Battery-Powered Vehicles

It was a summer day when I first came to France. The weather was fine and the drive from the airport to Paris was a sightseeing trip in itself. I knew France from what I’ve read about the country and the people. They were very good impressions: the history, the culture, the food, the excellent manners and the romance.

But those were first impressions, and alas, those impressions quickly vanished on my first trip to Paris. From one ghastly experience to another, I wondered how I could have had such a favourable impression of this great nation.

At the four-star hotel where I was staying, the receptionist said she wanted to check if I had settled my hotel bill before giving me a token to take my rented car out of their garage. First, I wasn’t checking out yet, so how could she assume that? Second, if it were a standard procedure, she need not announce it. And third, how can a four-star hotel employ such unprofessional people? I was so shocked, I became speechless and had to look for a chair to sit down and find my bearings. Where was I? At a seedy hotel?

Then I went to the bank to exchange Japanese yen to French francs. It was ten minutes to noon and both female tellers were engaged in conversation. I was polite and waited for them to finish. I knew they could see me waiting to be attended to in front of them. At twelve, they both stood up and told me to come back at 2:30pm. Tell me, where are the manners? It need not be excellent, but some form of it will do.

I collect stamps and inevitably during my trip, I found my way on a Thursday to a philately stall on the Marigny. I must have the words “cheat me” written on my forehead because when I came back to the hotel with my carefully chosen stamps, I opened the bag to find a worthless collection of Mariannes–the ordinary stamps you get from a tobacconist.

Thank goodness I left Paris and went down to the south of France. While there, I went to the hairdresser’s and the lady doing my hair was gregarious. She was telling me that the French people outside of Paris detest the Parisians because they are so rude, impolite and aggressive. You cannot imagine how relieved I was to hear that.

The French are never happy. They are always complaining. They absolutely have no idea what “service” means. They believe the world revolves around them. They want to work less for more, and the one thing on their mind is their coming vacation. They are one of the most xenophobic of Europeans, regarding foreigners especially North Africans, with extreme contempt. The French women are the most jealous people I have ever met. For all their romanticism, two out of three marriages end in divorce.

So if you have a good impression of France and do not want to be disillusioned, I would seriously advise you go to the countryside and skip Paris, the most visited city in the world. But if you must go, then see the city but avoid rubbing elbows with the Parisians. And if you really must have contact with those abominable people, then do as the Parisians do. Be rude, impolite and aggressive. You might be better treated than when well-mannered, polite and sympathetic.

Le Parisien

cover_cnn-thumb.jpg   Right now I am in the south of France, in a tiny farming village of about 600 people. There are fields of sunflowers, grapevines, plums and cherry trees. Aside from the farmers, there are magpies, swallows and red-tailed squirrels who have made their homes in the trees that dot the village, and bats in the cemetery not far from where I’m currently staying.

Next door to where I live is a haggard woman who reminds me very much of George W. Bush. She is elderly, obese, and has ten demented children (all right, I exaggerate–but at least three or four show signs of mental deficiencies). You can smell her armpits a mile away, which tells you more than anything else, that she is in dire need of a bath.

All that has probably little to do with George W. Bush, except for one other characteristic which my neighbour and the American do share in common. In my neighbour’s garden is a large cross. You know, the kind you see along the roads which trace the pilgrimage walks of devoted Catholic saints. When the sun sets, she turns on the spotlight on her cross, and people passing by feel good and think that here lives a godly woman.

First impressions are very difficult to change, and the truth of the matter is, my smelly neighbour has got to be the meanest witch on this side of the universe, but I won’t get into a petty accounting of her ways here. Unfortunately, those who come to my house to pass the time of day refute whatever I have to say about her–as if they know my cross-bearing neighbour better than I do, me who lives next door to her all summer.

Remember the story of the wolf dressed to look like somebody’s grandmother? Grandmothers are very difficult to think of as someone bad. And this is the same thing. Religious symbols have very strong connotations. When God is manipulated to look as if He’s on the side of the “good,” it is almost impossible to re-orient the average mind to consider that something is amiss somewhere–unless you have a neighbour like I do.

Bush’s Faithful Balancing Act

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