Tag: France

Keeping an eye on the other side of the hill

Tuesday, 3 March, 2015 0 Comments

The Battle of Waterloo was a momentous event in European history and the Bicentenary is coming up in June. The two greatest soldiers of the age, Napoleon and Wellington, who had never faced each other before, finally met on the plains of Waterloo and the rest is history. Their encounter was a long time brewing.

In 1803, when fears of a French invasion of Britain were at code red levels, a new play, Goody Two Shoes; Or, Harlequin Alabaster, was performed at Sadler’s Wells theatre. In it, a French assault by balloon is foiled at the last minute. The drama was riffing on popular rumours of the day, such as the one where Napoleon’s engineers would construct a pontoon across the English Channel, with the work being supervised by officers in balloons. There was a factual basis for this. The French army had used reconnaissance balloons in the Low Countries in 1794 and Napoleon, aware of the potential of air war, set up a Compagnie d’Aérostiers. The revolutionaries lost interest in their innovation, however, and as Historic Wings notes:

“On Sunday, June 18, 1815, the armies of Emperor Napoleon would face the armies of the Seventh Coalition at Waterloo. The key to Wellington’s initial deployment was that his forces were hidden on the back slope of a ridge, along the top of which ran Ohain Road. If only Napoleon had the services of the Aerostatic Corps, he would have known the full deployment of the enemy from the outset — and thus, history could well have been rewritten that day.”

The Duke of Wellington probably wasn’t talking about balloons or related technologies when he spoke to John Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty, post-Waterloo but he did make this observation: “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.'” The Croker Papers


La Frontera

Saturday, 28 February, 2015 0 Comments

The late Lhasa de Sela was an American-born singer-songwriter who was raised in the United States and Mexico, and then divided her adult life between Canada and France. She died of cancer aged 37 on 1 January 2010.

When she was five months old, her hippie parents were reading a book about Tibet and the word Lhasa “just grabbed” them as the right name for the baby girl. The first decade in the life of Lhasa de Sela was spent criss-crossing the US and Mexico in a converted school bus with her family and La Frontera is autobiographical to the core.


I’ve got my freedom

Saturday, 21 February, 2015 1 Comment

On this day in 1933, the American singer-songwriter Nina Simone was born in North Carolina as Eunice Kathleen Waymon. In 1954, she adopted the stage name Nina Simone: “Nina” (from niña, meaning ‘little girl’ in Spanish) and “Simone” from the French actress Simone Signoret. Her music was a unique mix of jazz, classical, blues, gospel, folk, R&B and pop.

Nina Simone took part in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in 1965 but she advocated armed revolution rather than the non-violence favoured by Martin Luther King. His dream was of racial equality, achieved by protest and legislation; her dream was of a separate state for African Americans which, if necessary, would be established by force. Nina Simone moved to France in 1993 and died at her home in the sea-side resort of Carry-le-Rouet in 2003.


Nao speaks 19 languages. TUG delivers drugs.

Wednesday, 4 February, 2015 0 Comments

It’s Day 3 of our look at robotics/AI. “Japanese bank introduces robot workers to deal with customers in branches.” That’s a story from today’s Guardian. “Hello and welcome,” Nao said. “I can tell you about money exchange, ATMs, opening a bank account, or overseas remittance. Which one would you like?” Note: The humanoid was developed by French company Aldebaran Robotics, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese telecoms corporation SoftBank. Its slogan? “Happiness for everyone.”

Talking of robots and happiness, a team of robots programmed to transport meals, medications, linens and lab specimens began their 24/7 jobs on Sunday when the new $1.52 billion San Francisco Medical Center at Mission Bay opened to the public. The 25 TUG robots were created by Aethon Inc. and cost about $6 million. They will enable the human staff to spend more time on providing medical care and less on moving stuff around the hospital. Happiness for everyone? Certainly not for those supplying cleaning, catering or laundry services in hospitals. But just in case our white-coated friends think that they can ignore these changes, the Big Data doctor will see us soon.


A Drone’s Eye View Of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Wednesday, 28 January, 2015 0 Comments

Meandering from Cork to Donegal, the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s longest coastal touring route. This beautiful drone footage of the trail is by the talented UAV/drone pilot and photographer Raymond Fogarty.

By the way, Raymond Fogarty made headlines last year when it emerged that drone photographers in Ireland needed licensing by the Irish Aviation Authority. And the regulation of these “unmanned aerial vehicles” is very much in the news this week after it emerged that an employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had (drunkenly?) flown a drone onto the grounds of the White House. This has led President Obama to call for regulating unmanned aircraft: “There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife,” he said. “But we don’t really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it.”

Meanwhile, take a look at Dronestagram, a website where drone photographers share and discuss their work. Love this shot of the sun setting over the town of Annecy in south-eastern France.

This just in: UAE plans new drones law following Dubai airspace alert


Michel Houellebecq reads in Cologne

Monday, 19 January, 2015 0 Comments

Topping the bestseller list at Amazon.fr is Soumission by Michel Houellebecq. Is his vision of a supine French “submission” to a gradual Islamic takeover a farce or a warning? Tonight, in Cologne, people will have a chance to make up their own minds when the controversial author makes one of his rare trips abroad to speak about his work. Unsurprisingly, the Lit Cologne event is sold out.

Soumission is set seven years in the future, in the year 2022. Mohammed Ben Abbes becomes president of France and immediately all women must be veiled in public, state secondary schools adopt an Islamic curriculum, and the protagonist, François, is told that he cannot return to his university job unless he converts to Islam. He happily submits to the new order, not for any religious or philosophical reasons, but because the new Saudi owners of the Sorbonne pay far better — and he can be polygamous. As he notes, in envy of his new boss, who has converted already: “One 40-year-old wife for cooking, one 15-year-old wife for other things… no doubt he had one or two others of intermediate ages.”

For those who are not fortunate enough to have a ticket to see Michel Houellebecq in action tonight, this Paris Review Q&A, “Scare Tactics: Michel Houellebecq Defends His Controversial New Book,” is essential reading. Snippet:

Have you asked yourself what the effect might be of a novel based on such a hypothesis?

None. No effect whatsoever.

You don’t think it will help reinforce the image of France that I just described, in which Islam hangs overhead like the sword of Damocles, like the most frightening thing of all?

In any case, that’s pretty much all the media talks about, they couldn’t talk about it more. It would be impossible to talk about it more than they already do, so my book won’t have any effect.

Doesn’t it make you want to write about something else so as not to join the pack?

No, part of my work is to talk about what everyone is talking about, objectively. I belong to my own time.

Soumission by Michel Houellebecq


L’immobilisme is destabilizing France

Thursday, 6 November, 2014 0 Comments

“As the Hollande presidency stumbles past its half-way point, it is hard to overstate the depths of pessimism in the country.” So writes the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in a grim piece titled “French ‘mess’ threatens real civil strife.” The cause of the latest bout of l’immobilisme is “a melange of incompetence, powerlessness, timidity and indecision to which the country’s government has fallen prey.”

The hapless Hollande brings out the Churchillian in Schofield’s prose: “The president makes a boast of being ‘normal’, when the times require exception. He invites ridicule, when France needs someone of stature. He vacillates, when France looks for steel.” Tonight, in an “interview exceptionnelle” at prime time on TF1, Hollande will face the nation, but Atlantico is convinced that nothing will change — until everything changes.


Easter flowers

Sunday, 20 April, 2014 0 Comments

Happy Easter to all Rainy Day readers! Festus Claudius McKay was born in Jamaica in 1889 and was educated by his older brother, Uriah Theophilus, a teacher, who had a library of English novels, poetry and scientific texts. In 1912, he moved to the US and in 1917 he published two sonnets, The Harlem Dancer […]

Continue Reading »

Revolution and Revolt in France

Tuesday, 11 February, 2014 0 Comments

Revolution: Yesterday, the French business daily, Les Echos, launched a news aggregator called Les Echos 360. To be precise, it’s not an aggregator, it’s an “aggrefilter” says Frederic Filloux, the head of digital at Les Echos, who explains that the word means an aggregation and filtering system that collects technology news and ranks it based on its importance to the news cycle. As Filloux points out in his Monday Note blog post, this move required courage and a lot of clever thinking:

“For Les Echos‘ digital division, this aggrefilter is a proof of concept, a way to learn a set of technologies we consider essential for the company’s future. The digital news business will be increasingly driven by semantic processes; these will allow publishers to extract much more value from news items, whether they are produced in-house or aggregated/filtered. That is especially true for a business news provider: the more specialized the corpus, the higher the need for advanced processing.”

Liberation

Revolt: Journalists at France’s third-biggest national newspaper, Libération, have responded with rage at a plan by the owners to try to save the declining daily by transforming it into a “social network”. The owners also want to convert the central Paris building rented by the newsroom into a cultural centre with a café, TV studio and business area for start-ups. Liberation staff voiced their opposition on the cover of the weekend edition: “We are a newspaper, not a restaurant, not a social network, not a cultural space, not a TV studio, not a bar, not a start-up incubator.”

Started by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973, Libération is a leftist fixture on Parisian newsstands, but it has long trailed Le Monde and Le Figaro, and, with a circulation of just 100,000, it has proved to be a bottomless pit for its shareholders. Last year, it lost more than €500,000 as sales sank 15 percent. Marx would be delighted with such energetic destruction of capital.

Prediction: Les Echos will survive. Libération will not.


Françoise Hardy at 70

Saturday, 18 January, 2014 0 Comments

The story goes that on 24 May 1966 at a concert in l’Olympia in Paris, Bob Dylan refused to return to the stage unless Françoise Hardy agreed to meet him. Later that night, during his 25th birthday party celebrations at the George V Hotel off the Champs-Elysées, he took Hardy to his suite and serenaded her with I Want You and Just Like a Woman. She recalled that he looked like a vampire with yellow skin and long yellow fingernails. Françoise Hardy was 70 yesterday. Joyeux anniversaire!

Another Side of Bob Dylan, the singer-songwriter’s fourth studio album, was released in August 1964. The liner notes contained the following verse:

françoise hardy
at the seine’s edge
a giant shadow
of notre dame
seeks t’ grab my foot
sorbonne students
whirl by on thin bicycles
swirlin’ lifelike colors of leather spin
the breeze yawns food
far from the bellies
or erhard meetin’ johnson
piles of lovers
fishing
kissing
lay themselves on their books. boats.
old men
clothed in curly mustaches
float on the benches
blankets of tourists
in bright red nylon shirts
with straw hats of ambassadors
(cannot hear nixon’s
dawg bark now)
will sail away
as the sun goes down
the doors of the river are open
i must remember that
i too play the guitar
it’s easy t’ stand here
more lovers pass
on motorcycles
roped together
from the walls of the water then
i look across t’ what they call
the right bank
an’ envy
your
trumpet
player


The mistress ménage of M. Hollande

Tuesday, 14 January, 2014 0 Comments

The observation that “when one marries one’s mistress one creates a vacancy” is attributed to Sir James Goldsmith. Someone should have passed the quip along to the French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler. She’s still in hospital suffering from depression and shock, three days after Closer magazine revealed that her “boyfriend”, President François Hollande, was having a love affair with a 41-year-old actress, Julie Gayet.

Although Médiapart, the left-leaning online investigative journal created by the former editor-in-chief of Le Monde Edwy Plene, has revealed that the Hollande-Gayet “love nest” was linked to the Mafia, Renaud Revel, who writes a media blog for L’Express, sharply criticizes the embarrassed silence of France’s mainstream media about the affair. “We’re in the middle of a tabloid drama and the media has taken a vow of silence,” he says. “In a mature democracy it would be a given that they would have done their homework, like Médiapart is now doing. What kind of country is it where most media hide behind the sublime argument of respect for a person’s private life?”

Sir James Goldsmith, by the way, had three wives, innumerable mistresses and eight children, two born in the late 1980s to the last love of his life, the well-connected French journalist Laure de Boulay de la Meurthe, a reporter for Paris Match magazine and a member of the Bourbon family. Coincidentally, Valérie Trierweiler is a journalist and she’s under contract with Paris Match. She’s a socialist/socialite, however, not a Bourbon.

140114match