Friday, October 28, 2005

Vietnam Not Only Once You Come

Noodlepie [] has posted the results of the slogan contest organized some times ago by the Vietnamese National Administration of Tourism.

Some of the submissions are pretty lame («Vietnam - attractive ecosystem», «Been Here yet?», «Vietnam - The marvellous bamboo», «Vietnam the wet rice civilization»), some are weird («Coming to feel», «Vietnam with millions speaking flowers!», «Viet nam beauty from simples!»), some are in Engrish («Funny go and cheery comeback !», «Viet Nam - enlarging your eyes») and some are downright pornographic («Come! And you'll come again!», «Vietnam, deep inside»), not to mention hilarious («How is "No" said? We don’t know!», «We do not care for your travel satisfaction. We guarantee it !»)

AND THE WINNER IS : «Vietnam - The Hidden Charm».... Aaah! Perfect!

N'importe quoi

  • There is probably intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, and there is evidence in the Bible to suggest that it could be Christian, according to the Roman Catholic Church. The proof is to be found in the verses from John’s Gospel known as the Good Shepherd passage. In John x, 14-16, Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd . . . I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” []

  • Chris Craddock, Republican candidate in the 2005 Virginia election, said to a Westfield High AP government class that, in his experience, from the gay males he's known, there are three ways to become gay: You don't have a father figure in your life, you have an abusive father figure or you have no loving support in your family []. From which, according to BartCop [], we can only conclude that Alan Keyes [] is too feminine to be a male role model; US Vice-President Dick Cheney is an abusive father and Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich's sister was born in a house without love. Craddock also said that the reason there's an AIDS epidemic in Africa is because "Africans will have sex with anything that has a pulse."
  • Hijab Chic is not an oxymoron, as shown by Asra Q. Nomani in her Slate article about fashion for the« veiled-and-shrouded set» []. Nordstrom recently hosted a fashion show (called seminar) attended by about 100 women — their hair covered by scarves, their bodies cloaked in abayas or burqas, and at least two of them with their faces fully veiled. Montreal will soon hold a Défilé de Haute couture arabe called Caftans 2005 []. Of course, such frivolous attempts at fashion are strongly disapproved by conservative Muslims: "Everyday we see our Muslim sisters proudly displaying names and initials on their clothing. … What are they advertising? CD, YSL, D&G,"—as in Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana—"How ironic that the most modest of dressing—the cloak and scarf—should become contaminated by advertising the names of some of the most shameless and perverted people in the world." Nordstrom Fashion Seminar was «a miss», but as Ms Nomani indicated: «It's not easy to combine high fashion with religion».

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Confession

Let's cut right to the chase, here is my shameful secret: I'm a big fan of Steven Seagal.

There, I've said it! You can laugh, you can sneer, I just love the man. I love how he walks and talks and does everything calmly, deliberately, until pow! in a blink of an eye, he punches you in the larynx! People make fun of him, talk about him with disdain, I don't care. I even agree with most of his critics: his acting is bad, his facial expressions are rather limited, he's not particularly handsome and he does not look like the cerebral type. Not to mention that, with age, he has gotten fat. But in his eyes, I see irony, self-derision and compassion for the people around him who think they are his betters. I have all of his films, I even have a video of one of his teaching sessions when he was an Aikido sensei in Japan.

So, without further ado and in hommage to my idol, I give you: The Steven Seagal Show.
[Arigato, Meimei-san, for the tip.]

Episode 1 – Four O’clock Showdown

Overweight no-talent squares off against a tired old man who just wants to know what time it is. May the best man win!

Watch the cartoon…
Episode 2 – The Way Of The Donkey

Tubby show-off goes ballistic in a fast food eatery. Special guests stars include Paul “Mick ‘Crocodile’ Dundee” Hogan, and that donkey from Shrek.

Watch the cartoon…
Episode 3 – Scattered, Covered, Tortured!

Portly has-been tries to get revenge on the wimpy dork who keeps making fun of him on the internet. Christopher Walken appears briefly for no reason.

Watch the cartoon…

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Men are so full of sh*t

Maureen Dowd has written a very harsh criticism [] of her colleague at the NY Times, Judy Miller, for the latter's role in propagating the US administration lies about WMD in Irak and her connection with Scooter Libby who allegedly revealed the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Dowd is not the first, nor the last, to criticize Miller. But because she is a woman, her criticism has been described by other columnists as «catty».

A man can call an actress «a talentless bimbo», or a female singer «a skanky slut» and his opinion will be duly considered valid. People may disagree with him, but that's his opinion and it's just as good as anyone's. If I, however, as a woman, say that I don't find Cameron Diaz that pretty or that Julia Roberts does not deserve an Oscar, cause whatever role she's in, she can only play Julia Roberts, my judgement is immediately suspect and any comment I make on female celebrities will be greeted by derisive feline onomatopoeias and offers of «a saucer of milk with that?». From men. The women simply either agree or disagree.

To summarize: male opinions on other males or females = ok; female opinions on other females = boo! meow! Conclusion: Women are not entitled to a rational acceptance of their opinions, by virtue of their gender.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Family Affairs

Last week-end, I went to my uncle's house to celebrate the anniversary of my grandfather's death. In a traditional Vietnamese household, birthdays are not celebrated, deathdays are. The responsability of celebrating the family ancestors' deathdates falls on the oldest male. My mother is the eldest child of my grandfather and my uncle is her younger half-brother, but since she is female, the honour goes to the uncle, and the chores of organizing the family reunion, cooking, cleaning, etc. go to his wife. She is also the dates keeper, and has to remember who died when, in order to organize the celebrations.

All this sounds complicated, but it's actually just a family reunion, a bit like Thanksgiving or Christmas in North America. My children did not want to go, but most of my living relatives were there, three generations around the dining table. My aunt made some chicken curry, but everybody else brought catered food, cause who has time to cook nowadays: eggrolls, roasted duck, strawberry pie, etc.. Grandpa's spirit was invited to come and partake of the food and then it's our turn to stuff our face.

At every family reunion, there's always a relative who's a big mouth and dominates the conversation. That role was played by my aunt's older brother, Mr. Know-It-All. My mother, who's not used to playing second fiddle, kept trying to outtalk him, but she's too old and too weak, so she did what women always do when they are losing an argument: she veered the conversation towards a typical female subject: trying to find a wife for my aunt's son, a 26-year-old photographer. Uncle Know tried feebly to interject an opinion, but we all knew he lost the battle.

Meanwhile, the hotshot photographer, who's shuttling between New York, Paris, Milan and Montreal for his work, taking pictures of gorgeous top models and having the time of his life, tried to explain to my mother, as politely as he could, that he was not interested, but we're talking about my mother here! I predict a wedding by next spring.

P.S. [25 October 2005] I forgot to mention that, in trying to warn her nephew against the life of sin and debauchery that he is leading, my mother compared New York to «Sorbonne et Gonorrhée».

Sunday, October 23, 2005

This is what I've been saying all along

But of course, not as eloquently as Cenk Uygur. (Thank you, Neb, for the tip) []

«If you're a Christian, Muslim or Jew - You are wrong!

We live in a twisted world, where right is wrong and wrong reigns supreme. It is a chilling fact that most of the world's leaders believe in nonsensical fairytales about the nature of reality. They believe in Gods that do not exist, and religions that could not possibly be true. We are driven to war after war, violence on top of violence to appease madmen who believe in gory mythologies.

These men are called Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Osama bin Laden is insane. He believes God whispered in the ear of Mohammed 1,400 years ago about how he should conquer Arabia. Mohammed was a pure charlatan -- and a good one at that. He makes present religious frauds like Pat Robertson look like amateurs.

He said God told him to have sex with as many of the women he met as possible. I'm sorry, I meant to say "take them as wives." God told him to kill all other tribes that stood in his way or that would not placate him with assurances of loyalty or bribes. God told him, conveniently, that everyone should follow him and never question a word he said.

He sold this bag of goods to the blithering idiots who lived in the Arabian Peninsula at the time. If that weren't shockingly stupid enough, over a billion people continue to believe the convenient lies that Mohammed told all that time ago -- to this very day.

We live in a world full of insane people. Sanity is an island battered in an ocean of frothing delusion. The people who believe in science are the minority. The people who believe in bloody fairytales are the overwhelming majority.

George W. Bush is the most powerful man alive. He is a class A imbecile. He is far less intelligent than the average Christian. But like most of the others, he believes Jesus died for his sins. That idea is so perverse and devoid of logic it should shock the conscience. Instead, it gets him elected, and earns him the reverence of a great percentage of America. America! The most advanced country in the world -- run by a bunch of villagers who still believe Santa Claus is going to save them.

There is no fucking Easter Bunny. There is no Jesus waiting to return. Moses never even existed. These were all convenient lies from the men of those times to gain power. Their actions were rational -- they wanted to deceive their brethren so that they could amass power. I get their motivations. But I cannot, for the life of me, understand our motivations, thousands of years later, still following the conmen of yesteryear into our gory, bloody, violent end.

Jesus is said to have said on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Because Jesus was insane and the God he thought would rescue him did not exist. And he died on that cross like a fool. He fancied himself the son of God and he could barely convince twelve men to follow him at a time when the world was full of superstition.

Excellent marketing by some of his followers would later rescue his botched effort. How many people saw his miracles? One? Twelve? Eighty? Why didn't he show the whole world? Not because this is some giant pop quiz by God to test us -- but because he did not perform any miracles!

Even his apostles can't agree on what miracles he supposedly carried out or when he carried them out. Or whether he returned after death or he didn't. Whether they saw him in person or just as a vision. Rational human beings shouldn't believe this kind of nonsense. Yet most of the world does.

If a man today killed his only son to show how much he loved other people, he would be considered a madman, locked in jail and earn society's contempt. Yet we think this is some sort of noble act by our Father in Heaven.

In Heaven? What, with the harps and the winged angels and the 72 virgins? My God, how stupid do you have to be to believe that?

I know most of you don't actually read your religious texts, and when you do, you assiduously try to avoid the parts that make no sense whatsoever or hide underneath the comforting grasp of your religious leaders who have concocted a bunch of circular logic (a crime to even use that word in regards to Christianity, Islam or Judaism) to shield you from the obvious folly of the written text.

So, I'm not calling you stupid if you haven't really read the material. And I know how powerful brainwashing is. We all received it when we were young and it is exceedingly difficult to break its grasp. But people dance around the issue out of politeness because they don't want to call you what you are -- ignorant.

There are a lot of people I love dearly and respect wholeheartedly who believe in religion. I hate to do this to them. But we have killed far too many people, wasted far too much time on this nonsense for us to keep going in this direction for fear of offense.

Jesus was a lunatic. God is not coming to your rescue. He hasn't come to anyone's rescue in thousands of years, including Jesus. Mohammed was a power hungry, scam artist and ruthless conqueror. Moses and Abraham were figments of the imagination of some long dead rabbi. He would probably laugh his ass off at all of you who still believe the fairytales he made up thousands of years ago. He probably wouldn't even believe it if you told him.

Did I mention Judaism? The chosen people? Come on, get off it. People walk around in clothes from 18th century Russia, thinking they have been chosen by God when they look like a bunch of jackasses. I'm tired of all the deaths because we did not want to give offense. Orthodox Jews are wrong and ridiculous.

As are the orthodox and fundamentalists of all of the religions. It says in the Bible that it is an abomination to wear clothes made of two different cloths or to eat shellfish. If you think God will hate you because you mixed wool and linen or because you ate some shrimp, you are insane.

How long are we going to dance around the 800-pound gorilla in the room? The world is run by madmen. It's not just Bush and bin Laden. It is the leader of all of the countries in the Middle East, almost all of the Americas and most of the rest of the world.

Have I offended you? That's too bad. Stop killing each other in the name of false and ridiculous Gods and I will stop ridiculing you. Trust me, your offense is much worse than mine.

Right now as you read this, there are ignorant, hateful Muslims teaching other ignorant Muslims how to put on a suicide belt. There are orthodox Jews telling other Jews how they must never leave their "holy land" no matter what the consequences are to other human beings. They assure their followers -- remember, they are not the chosen ones, we are. If we crush and oppress them, don't worry, God will excuse it, and even desires it, because He is on our side.

There are maniacal Christians who are praying for the end of time. Who are hoping that most of the world's population is wiped off the face of the Earth by their vengeful and murderous God. Whom they believe is, ironically, a loving God. Unless, of course, you make the fatal mistake of not kissing his ass and appeasing him, in which case he will slaughter you and condemn you to eternal torture. What kind of sick people believe this?

The kind who live next to you. The kind who voted for George Bush. The kind who send their religious leaders to the White House to argue against even-handedness in the Middle East because it would prevent their sick prophecy. The kind who have undue influence over how we use the greatest and most lethal army ever built by man.

If you don't want to be called ignorant or misinformed, then get informed. Learn the real nature of our universe and put aside old wives tales about resurrected Gods, omniscient prophets and a guy who could split the Red Sea but couldn't find where he's going in the desert for forty years.

It's the year 2005. Let's start acting like it.»

P.S. I am not dumping on Christians, Jews and Muslims in order to prozelytise for Buddhism. I think all organized religions should be abolished. But religions that promise me sex with a bunch of virgins, or a snack of green grapes depending on the translation, or threaten me with torture by fire, after I'm dead, are a little bit too unsophisticate for my taste.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Guerre par robots interposés

Mon fils est féru de tout ce qui touche à la guerre, l'armée, les armes, les tactiques et les stratégies de combat, etc.. Un de mes postes récents sur l'immoralité des scientistes chargés de R&D en matière d'armement a donné lieu à des commentaires passionnés de sa part. Dans la même veine, je reproduis ci-dessous, à son intention, un article du Monde («Alerte aux robots-guerriers» de Yves Eudes) [] sur les nouvelles technologies de guerre et l'émergence des robots-guerriers. Je m'attends (avec un plaisir non dissimulé) à de futurs débats acharnés avec fiston.

«La Mule pèse 2 tonnes. Elle a la taille d'une camionnette, mais sa carrosserie arrondie et moulée d'un seul bloc lui donne l'air d'un jouet. Grâce à ses six énormes roues indépendantes, elle peut circuler sur n'importe quel terrain, franchir un bourbier et même grimper un escalier. Lorsqu'il faut aller vite, elle actionne son moteur diesel. S'il vaut mieux avancer lentement et en silence, c'est le moteur électrique qui prend le relais.

Elle n'a ni porte ni fenêtre, car personne ne monte à son bord : la Mule est le premier véhicule robotique au service de l'armée américaine, capable de se déplacer toute seule, sans pilote ni télécommande. Elle est surmontée d'une grosse tête ronde translucide, fixée à un bras rétractable et bourrée de caméras, de micros, de capteurs, de radars, de sonars et de lasers. Elle peut voir et entendre tout ce qui se passe autour d'elle, de jour comme de nuit. Elle détecte les mouvements et les sources de chaleur, calcule la distance la séparant d'un objet fixe ou mobile. Grâce à ce flux continu de données, son ordinateur de bord dessine en temps réel une carte dynamique de son environnement, puis définit un itinéraire praticable. La Mule est "intelligente".

Sa première mission sera d'accompagner les fantassins en opérations et de porter leurs paquetages – ­ d'où son nom. Plus exactement, elle suivra un mini-émetteur logé dans la veste de l'un des soldats de son unité. Equipée d'une benne, elle pourra transporter des centaines de kilos d'armes, de vivres et de matériel. Les GI qui doivent parfois porter sur leur dos plus de 40 kg d'équipement seront ainsi plus agiles. Elle servira également de groupe électrogène, de purificateur d'eau et de détecteur de mines ou d'armes chimiques et bactériologiques.

Attention, la Mule n'est pas encore au point. Mais au printemps 2005, le Laboratoire de recherche de l'armée américaine (USARL), installé près de Washington, a annoncé que ses tests réalisés sur un circuit accidenté avaient été très encourageants. La décision a été prise de lancer la fabrication de plusieurs modèles, ainsi que d'une gamme étendue de véhicules robotiques dont le nom de code générique est simplement UGV pour "Unmanned Ground Vehicles" (véhicules terrestres sans pilote).

La production en série pourrait commencer dès 2012, pour un déploiement sur le terrain à partir de 2014. Le Darpa (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), l'agence de recherche scientifique du Pentagone, a confié les différentes parties du programme à plusieurs consortiums, réunissant des laboratoires publics, des universités, des grands fabricants d'armements et des petites start-up d'informatique et de robotique.

Dès à présent, le Darpa organise des expositions de maquettes dans les écoles militaires, pour familiariser les jeunes officiers avec ces machines du futur. En mai 2005, il a choisi le War College de Carlisle, en Pennsylvanie, pour présenter une vingtaine de futurs UGV, à roues et à chenilles. Les plus gros seront des wagons d'une quinzaine de tonnes, les plus petits des tanks miniatures de moins de 100 kilos. Le Darpa a aussi annoncé la prochaine naissance de Big Dog et Little Dog, deux plates-formes de transport dotées de quatre pattes articulées.

Les élèves de Carlisle ont aussi découvert que les UGV de la deuxième génération ne se contenteront pas de suivre les fantassins : ils pourront se déplacer de façon autonome, grâce à des logiciels de navigation leur permettant d'éviter les obstacles et de choisir des itinéraires discrets, genre lisières de forêt ou rues étroites. Dès 2015, on devrait voir apparaître des UGV programmés pour parcourir indéfiniment un même itinéraire, par exemple la navette entre une zone de combat et une base arrière.

L'arrivée de ces UGV pleinement "autonomes", vers 2020, va d'abord bouleverser les règles de surveillance et de reconnaissance des zones de combat. Grâce à ses batteries de capteurs, un robot patrouillant inlassablement autour d'une zone sera plus efficace que toute une armée de sentinelles. Aucun bruit, aucun mouvement, aucun dégagement de chaleur, même infime, ne lui échappera. De même, un robot envoyé en éclaireur en territoire hostile pourra collecter en quelques minutes des masses gigantesques d'informations sur les positions ennemies et les transmettre en direct à sa base arrière.

A partir de 2025 ou 2030, l'armée américaine espère posséder, en sus des UGV autonomes, de véritables robots guerriers capables de prendre part aux combats. Il s'agira d'une gamme de blindés rapides de 2 à 10 tonnes. Il est déjà prévu de les équiper de fusils à longue portée, de mitrailleuses, de lance-grenades et de missiles à guidage électronique. Ils ne seront pas programmés pour une mission précise. Ils devront être capables de patrouiller dans une zone hostile et d'analyser des situations complexes.

S'ils repèrent une unité ennemie, ils se placeront eux-mêmes en embuscade et transmettront les informations au QG. Là, des officiers décideront de la suite des événements. Si les robots reçoivent l'ordre d'attaquer, ils se chargeront eux-mêmes de sélectionner les cibles prioritaires et déclencheront les tirs. Selon M. Omead Amidi, ingénieur en robotique de l'université de Carnegie-Mellon, cette division du travail est logique : "Dans vingt ans, les hommes resteront meilleurs que les robots pour reconnaître les formes et les objets. En revanche, les robots seront meilleurs que les hommes pour viser juste." Qu'un robot puisse appuyer seul sur la détente pour tuer des humains ne lui pose pas de problème : "Dans une guerre urbaine, un robot pourra atteindre un homme au milieu d'un groupe sans faire de dommages collatéraux. En général, un robot fera moins de victimes innocentes qu'un soldat fatigué, stressé ­ ou agressif."

Bob Quinn, directeur de la société Foster-Miller, qui fabrique des mini-tanks télécommandés, imagine déjà le passage au stade suivant, après 2030 : "Techniquement, l'intervention humaine au moment de la décision de tirer ne sera plus nécessaire. Le problème sera plutôt d'ordre éthique, ou politique. Les officiers actuels se disent hostiles à l'idée de voir un robot prendre l'initiative de tuer un humain, mais la prochaine génération aura peut-être une vision différente. Si, dans trente ans, l'armée américaine se retrouve embourbée dans une guerre meurtrière et incertaine, l'intervention humaine dans la décision de faire feu sera peut-être considérée comme une perte de temps."

Il est prévu de déployer des robots-guerriers dans toutes les divisions. Mais les officiers chargés de penser l'armée du futur souhaitent donner la priorité aux unités spécialisées dans la lutte antiguérilla. Grâce à leur avance technologique, les États-Unis se considèrent déjà sur un champ de bataille ouvert, comme invincibles face à n'importe quelle armée conventionnelle. Ils savent en revanche que leur avantage est moins net face à une insurrection dans une grande ville.

Apparue dès 1991 lors de la désastreuse expédition en Somalie, la prise de conscience est renforcée chaque jour par la guerre en Irak. Une fois de plus, les stratèges américains misent donc sur la technologie pour remédier à leur faiblesse tactique. Charles Shoemaker, chef du programme robotique du US Army Laboratory, fait la liste des vertus du robot de guerre dans un futur conflit "de basse intensité". "Il ne sera pas seulement plus précis qu'un humain, son tir sera si rapide qu'il pourra intercepter un projectile. Il supportera des chocs et des accélérations intolérables pour un organisme vivant. Il pourra fonctionner nuit et jour sans se reposer, ou rester caché sous des gravats pendant des semaines, puis repartir au quart de tour. Pour faire tout cela, il n'aura besoin de rien, sauf de carburant." Sera-t-il pour autant invincible ? "Bien sûr que non, mais s'il ne rentre pas de sa mission, personne ne le pleurera."

Plus prosaïquement, les robots-guerriers pourraient aider l'infanterie à gérer une possible pénurie de main-d'œuvre. Si les États-Unis décidaient à l'avenir de mener de front plusieurs conflits de longue durée, leurs armées courraient sans doute le risque de manquer d'engagés. Or le rétablissement du service militaire obligatoire semble à ce jour improbable, en tout cas pour des guerres "périphériques" dans des pays lointains. En octobre 2004, un projet de loi en ce sens a été rejeté par la Chambre des représentants de Washington par 402 voix contre 2.

Cela dit, personne n'envisage la création d'une armée de robots partant seuls au combat, tandis que les humains resteraient tranquillement à l'arrière. "L'îlot automatisé fonctionnant en autarcie est un mythe, affirme Charles Shoemaker. Les robots sont faits pour accroître l'efficacité des combattants, pas pour les remplacer." En fait, les soldats devront apprendre à travailler en collaboration avec les UGV et à les intégrer dans leur vie quotidienne.

Le Darpa travaille sur un char d'assaut miniature d'une dizaine de kilos, portable à dos d'homme, le Packbot, qui pourra être activé en quelques secondes et partir à l'assaut en terrain découvert ou pénétrer dans un bâtiment suspect. Les fantassins disposeront de modèles encore plus petits comme le Throwbot (robot à lancer), qui pourra être jeté comme une grenade par la fenêtre d'une maison tenue par l'ennemi. Une fois au sol, l'engin dépliera ses six pattes et parcourra toutes les pièces, en envoyant des informations aux soldats restés à l'extérieur. Une version explosive du Throwbot est à l'étude.

La robotisation de l'armée américaine devra évidemment être accompagnée d'une refonte complète de l'équipement des fantassins. Armes, casques et uniformes seront bardés de caméras, de micros et de capteurs, qui dialogueront en permanence avec les UGV. Le système robotique saura exactement où se trouvent les soldats. Il pourra mesurer leur rythme cardiaque, leur pression sanguine, leur niveau de stress et de fatigue. Quand un humain sera blessé, le système enverra au QG un message d'alerte ainsi qu'un premier bilan médical ­ – éventuellement un avis de décès.

Reste à résoudre un problème majeur : pour fonctionner et coordonner leur action, les robots-guerriers auront besoin d'un réseau de communication sans fil qui couvrira l'ensemble du champ de bataille et se déplacera au gré des opérations. Or, contrairement à leurs homologues civils, les ingénieurs militaires préféreraient éviter les communications par satellite, car un ennemi bien équipé pourrait les brouiller ou les pirater. La seule solution est que les robots constituent eux-mêmes leur propre réseau : chacun d'entre eux servira de relais aux communications destinées aux autres UGV évoluant dans son voisinage, les messages se propageant de façon aléatoire jusqu'à ce qu'ils atteignent leur destinataire. Grâce à cette architecture horizontale et décentralisée, le système continuera à fonctionner même si une partie de la flotte d'UGV était détruite.

Au fond, les robots ne seront que la partie tangible d'un système dont le véritable cœur sera le réseau. Leur "intelligence" ne proviendra pas de super-ordinateurs embarqués dans leurs flancs comme l'avaient imaginé les auteurs de science-fiction du XXe siècle. Elle sera collective et émanera de l'interaction entre un grand nombre d'engins travaillant "en essaim". Un gros robot de combat pourra envoyer en éclaireur un mini-robot bon marché ou un avion sans pilote. Certains sauront sécuriser un pont, d'autres tendre une embuscade, encercler un bâtiment, se disperser pour ratisser une zone, puis se regrouper pour bloquer une offensive ennemie. Ils pourront aussi éparpiller dans la nature des milliers de mini-capteurs jetables dotés d'émetteurs, créant ainsi des systèmes de surveillance éphémères déjà baptisés "dust networks", les réseaux-poussière.

Pour communiquer avec les humains, les robots devront envoyer des sons et des images. Ils auront donc besoin de réseaux à haut débit, lourds, complexes et vulnérables. Mais pour communiquer entre eux, ils utiliseront des codes informatiques très légers, et se contenteront de réseaux à bas débit, souples, faciles à installer et presque indétectables. Pour résoudre le problème du réseau, il suffirait en théorie d'augmenter au maximum l'autonomie des robots et diminuer autant que possible la supervision humaine. Cela dit, un problème inédit pourrait alors surgir : les humains ignoreraient la teneur des messages échangés entre robots en temps réel.

Effrayante perspective...»

Another one bites the dust

Neil French, worldwide creative director of WPP Group PLC, the world's second-largest marketing company, has quit his job following the furor caused by the controversial comments he made in response to a question from the audience at a Toronto event. «The woman asked why there are so few women creative directors. I said because you can't commit yourself to the job. And everyone who doesn't commit themselves fully to the job is crap at it.» Mr. French said yesterday in an interview. «You can't be a great creative director and have a baby and keep spending time off every time your kids are ill. You can't do the job. Somebody has to do it and the guy has to do it the same way that I've had to spend months and months flying around the world and not seeing my kid. You think that's not a sacrifice? Of course it's a sacrifice. I hate it. But that's the job and that's what I do in order to keep my family fed.» []

Reactions to this can be filed under two categories. The first one, quietly shared by most men and most traditional/resigned women is that Mr. French has a point because often the raising of family and keeping a household running befalls women today in society for the most part. That's wrong, but that's the way it is. The second one, found among «feminists» and other more modern/politically correct minds, is that French’s comment is simply the last gasp of a dinosaur.

It is undeniably true that the biggest share — if not the totality — of housework is placed under women’s responsibility, whether or not they accept it, and whether or not they also hold a job outside the house. The scope of their workload is multigenerational: they have to take care not only of the house, the husband, the children, the pets and themselves, but also of any sick and/or old parents and sometimes siblings. It will take many, many, many, many more generations before the unfairness of such burden reaches the necessary critical mass to induce any deep change in society.

So while waiting for the time when all male and female adults are truly autonomous and effectively responsible for their own livelihood and welfare, I would like to submit a third, middle-way solution. I would like to suggest that we change society expectations and organisation and that gender should no longer be a factor in preparing the younger generations to become productive adults. If every single citizen, on reaching an arbitrarily set age (let’s say 18 years old), is guaranteed a non taxable minimum income that he/she is free to supplement by doing some other remunerated job, the burden of having to earn a living would be eliminated. Children would be taught to cook, to clean, to change a faucet, etc. without any genderization of such tasks, to eliminate the sorry spectacle of men starving when their wives are away or women in distress because they can’t change a light bulb. In fact, nobody would be forced to get married at all, at least not in order to stay physically alive. Anyone, man or woman, who wants to stay home to take care of the children or a sick parent, would be free to do so. Nobody would be forced to choose between their job and their family; or at least they would no longer have the excuse of their demanding job to escape from their family.

Of course, my solution is far from perfect. But so is the present situation.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Wireless Dream

«A growing number of cities in the US are treating high-speed internet as a basic amenity for citizens, like running water or the electricity grid. But as the concept expands so does the battle with big business.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia - one of America's oldest and most historic cities - thrust itself onto the technological frontline by announcing plans to build the biggest municipal wireless internet system in the country.

The 135-square-mile network will be built and managed by Earthlink, and will offer low-income residents a service for about $10 (£5.70) a month.» (

San Francisco is thinking of following suit, but of course, the big telecoms firms, who have invested billions in cable or fibre optic links, are not taking this encroachment on their market lying down. They are submitting bills to ban such municipal initiatives.

I happen to agree with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom
who said that wi-fi as a basic service is inevitable and long overdue. « It is a fundamental right to have access universally to information». Montreal is now in the midst of a municipal election. My vote will go to the party that promises to give universal and quasi-free wi-fi access to Montrealers.

Monday, October 17, 2005

It's a sad, sad situation

Anthony Faiola from the Washington Post Foreign Service writes :

«TOKYO -- Sakura Terakawa, 63, describes her four decades of married life in a small urban apartment as a gradual transition from wife to mother to servant. Communication with her husband started with love letters and wooing words under pink cherry blossoms. It devolved over time, she said, into mostly demands for his evening meals and nitpicking over the quality of her housework.

So when he came home one afternoon three years ago, beaming, and announced he was ready to retire, Terakawa despaired.

" 'This is it,' I remember thinking. 'I am going to have to divorce him now,' " Terakawa recalled. "It was bad enough that I had to wait on him when he came home from work. But having him around the house all the time was more than I could possibly bear."

Concerned about her financial future if she divorced, Terakawa stuck with their marriage -- only to become one of an extraordinary number of elderly Japanese women stricken with a disorder that experts here have recently begun diagnosing as retired husband syndrome, or RHS.»

While the syndrome is probably more widespread than reported, at least in Asia, I want to discuss an even more prevalent situation: the commonality of unhappy marriages among Orientals. I rarely go to events organized by the Vietnamese diaspora but every single time I do, I spend the evening listening to wives complaining about their husbands: he drinks, he gambles, he is unfaithful, etc.. I used to ask the complainers: «Why don’t you leave him?». But divorce is not socially acceptable. One of my Vietnamese friends complains incessantly about her husband. Not that he ever did anything wrong, it’s just that he’s boring and cheap and never wants to go out. She never loved him and married him for the same reasons most Vietnamese women marry : because it’s time and he was a good prospect. «Divorce him? After spending all these years waiting on him, cooking, cleaning, enduring his sweaty body on mine, bearing his children, I would leave him and his money to the whore he will bring home the minute our divorce is finalized? Never!» So she spends the rest of her life hoping he’ll die soon and dreading the day he will retire and she’ll have to spend more time with him.

I assume the men are also dissatisfied with their married life, if only out of boredom. But in their case, their sole duty is to go to work and bring back a regular income. In exchange, the wives will take care of all the housework and the children. So when they get home from work, dinner’s ready, the house is relatively clean, the laundry washed and ironed, and the kids’ homework done, even in families where the wives also work outside the house. So of course, Vietnamese husbands don’t like to go out and waste money in movie theatres and restaurants, since Blockbusters are a few blocks away and whatever they want to eat, the wives can cook.

And when the couple grows older and the children are gone, the wife would find a pagoda where she can devote her time to serve, this time not her husband, but the high priest. Every priest at a Vietnamese pagoda has his «harem» of middle-aged and older matrons, fighting over the privilege of cooking his vegetarian meals, squeezing his fresh orange juice, serving him the most expensive and exotic fruit, chocolate, pastries, etc.. For these women, the need to be somebody’s handmaid will never die.

As to the men, after their retirement, the first thing they do is fly back to Vietnam where they can flash their dollars and buy themselves a concubine or two, younger and prettier than Old Wives and much more appreciative of their manly mediocrity.

All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
Where do they all belong?


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hard Day's Night

First Born has bought a new toy for Doggie. She played with it, and played and played and played... So now she's exhausted.

It's been a hard day's night, and I been working like a dog
It's been a hard day's night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I'll find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright

John Lennon

P.S. I decline all responsability for the crappy presentation of this post. It was perfect when I previewed it, but when I clicked on«Publish Post», somehow the pictures switched place and the Beatles song got moved up.

Billmon is a God

One of my favorite bloggers, Billmon, has a hilarious take on Bush's fake teleconference with soldiers in Iraq:

I am reproducing it below in case you take too long and it disappears.

A Chorus Line
If he gives us a question that's not something that we've scripted, Captain Kennedy, you're gonna have that mic and that's your chance to impress us all.”

Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Allison Barber
Rehearsal for presidential teleconference with the troops
October 13, 2005

Scene: A soundstage somewhere on the outskirts of Baghdad. In front of the stage, a camera crew is adjusting their equipment, while other technicians fiddle with the lights. On the stage, a dance company is warming up – doing stretches, practicing their kicks, twirls, etc. We see they are in military uniform, or rather, military costume – camouflage tights and khaki leg warmers, olive drab tank tops with screaming eagle logos on the front, red-white-and-blue headbands, etc. Most are the dancers are men, lean and hard bodied, but one is a woman, looking a little confused and awkward. She tries a few leg kicks and we can tell right away she isn’t a real combat dancer. An Army captain and a tough, hard-faced drill sergeant stand by the side of the stage.

A middle-aged woman in civilian clothes – pants suit, blouse and scarf, with the suit jacket draped over her shoulders and a pair of designer sunglasses pushed up on her forehead -- strides on stage, clapping her hands to get everyone’s attention. This is deputy assistant defense secretary Allison Barber. Her assistant -- a short, stout little man in a polo shirt – trails behind, holding a clip board. The dancers quickly line up and snap to attention.

Barber: (in a loud, raspy voice) OK, listen up people. We’ve only got an hour until air time and we still haven’t run through the opening number. Captain Kennedy, are your people ready?

Kennedy: Yes, SIR . . . uh, mam. All teams in place and ready to execute Operation Chorus Line on your orders. (he salutes crisply)

Barber: (scowling) Where’s Rasheed? Don’t tell me he’s gone AWOL again. (whirls on her assistant) Goddamit Jimmy, can’t you find me one fucking Iraqi soldier who knows how to take direction?

Jimmy: I’m sorry, Ms. Barber. But the Secret Service guys didn’t like the way he read his lines this morning. They said he sounded, ah, insincere.

(Offstage we hear an electrical sizzle, and the sound of a man screaming in agony.)

Jimmy: I think the dialogue coach is, um, working with him now.

Barber: There better not be any screw ups when we go live, Jimmy. The president expects to be loved by his faithful Iraqi subjects and Goddammit he is going to be loved. Got it?

Jimmy: Yes, Mam. I’ll make sure the car battery is hooked up.

Barber: (turns back to Captain Kennedy, suddenly all sweetness and light) OK, sugar, show me what your baby dolls can do. (shouts) Cue soundtrack.

(A technician pushes a button and we hear music – the opening bars of “I Hope I Get It,” from A Chorus Line. Captain Kennedy nods to the sergeant, who pivots sharply to face the line of dancers.)

Sergeant: OK you maggots, and . . . DANCE.

(The dancers swing into their routine, prancing and whirling around the stage.)

Sergeant: (screaming) On time, dammit! ON TIME, you sorry ass sons of bitches! ONE, two, three, and KICK, and step step, KICK.

(Barber, watching intently, notices the female dancer is stumbling and falling behind.)

Barber: Cut, cut. I said CUT!

(The music stops. The dancers fall in line, sweaty and panting. Barber walks slowly over to the female dancer, who snaps to attention.)

Barber: (looking her over critically) Honey, where the hell did you get the idea you could dance?

Female dancer: (panting) I’m not really a dancer, mam, I’m a public information officer. I was told to report here for presidential photo op duty. (sullenly) Nobody said anything about high kicking.

(Barber’s assistant, Jimmy, hurries over.)

Jimmy: It was Mr. Card’s idea, Ms. Barber. He didn’t think the cast was gender diverse enough.

Barber: Well why couldn’t we find a girl with talent? Someone who’s qualified for the job?

Jimmy: Mr. Card said it didn’t matter. He just told us to find a female candidate who loves the president more than life itself and will tell him exactly what he wants to hear.

Barber: (eyes the female dancer) Does that sound like you?

Female dancer: Oh yes, mam! (her eyes glaze over) I think President Bush is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known.(snaps out of it) And he and Laura are both super cool!

Barber: (shrugs) Well, if it’s good enough for his Supreme Court, I guess it’s good enough for his chorus line. (she glances at her watch) OK, boys and, uh, girl, we’ll take it again from the top in a minute. But first I’ve got some last-minute script edits I need to go over with you.

(Jimmy hands her the clip board.)

Barber: (flips through a few pages) OK, which one of you is “freckle faced Midwestern farm boy”?

(One of the dancers raises his hand.)

Barber Right. When the president says: “We are fighting for the freedom of all free people yearning to live freely in freedom,” you answer: “Mr. President, we would all gladly lay down our lives to make your bold vision of peace and democracy come true in Iraq.” And don’t forget to put the quiver in your voice at the end. But you can leave out the part where you swear your own personal loyalty to the Bush family. The lawyers decided that was a little over the top.

Dancer: Do I still kneel in prayer after I’m finished?

Barber: Yeah, but skip the sign of the cross. Karen Hughes says we have to keep this non-denominational. (looks at clipboard) OK, who’s “Pedro, the sassy Latino guy.”

Dancer: Yo.

Barber: Here’s the deal, Pedro. When the president asks: “It’s a long way from east LA to west Baghdad, isn’t it, amigo?” you start to answer him in broken English – just like we talked about at rehearsal yesterday. But here’s the change: You pause in mid-sentence, and then finish what you were saying in Spanish. Then the president will say something back to you in Spanish. And then you act like you’re really impressed. Can you do that?

Dancer: (rolls his eyes) Yeah, I guess I can handle it.

Barber: Good. And remember to emote. (looks at clipboard) “Military lawyer”?

Dancer: That would be me, mam.

Barber: OK this one’s really important. The White House has added some lines to your dialogue. After the president compares Iraq's ayatollahs to the founding fathers, he’ll make a few remarks about article 47 of the Iraqi constitution and explain how it resembles our own 10th Amendment. Your cue is the line that ends “and that’s the beauty of federalism.” Then you say: “Gosh Mr. President, did you go to law school and business school?” And he’ll chuckle and say: “No, my Supreme Court nominee explained it to me.” And then you say: “Boy, it sounds like that lady sure knows her stuff!”

Dancer: You’re kidding, right?

Barber: (suspiciously) You do support the president, don’t you? (looks at clipboard) Your background clearance says you’re a member of the Federalist Society.

Dancer: Well yes, but I still don’t think Ms. Miers has the right kind of . . .

Barber: (cuts him off) Maybe you’d like to take it up with the dialogue coach?

(Again we hear an electric sizzle and the sound of a man screaming.)

Dancer: (loudly) Boy, it sounds like that lady sure knows her stuff.

Barber: (smiles sweetly) I knew you’d come around. (glances at her watch) Oh Jeez, look at the time. OK listen up, everybody. If you’re not sure when it’s your cue or you forget a line, just look to the right of the camera – the far right – and you’ll see the teleprompter. And don’t worry if the president flubs his lines. They’ll edit that out later on the White House end. And remember: act natural! Now let’s run through the opening number again. I wanna make sure you got that kick-salute-kick routine down. Captain?

(Captain Kennedy nods to the drill sergeant, who twirls and faces the line of dancers.)

Sergeant: OK ladies, you heard the lady. Let’s see some DANCING, goddammit.

Barber: Cue soundtrack.

(As the opening bars of “I Hope I Get It” fill the soundstage, we can see the sergeant striding down the line of kicking, whirling dancers.)

Sergeant: SHAKE those booties, you miserable maggots. And . . . Step, kick, kick, SALUTE, kick, SALUTE. Again! . . . and SING.

Dancers: God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it. How many people does he need?

Sergeant: I can’t HEAR you!


(The dancers whirl and kick, the sergeant shouting in their faces. The stage lights dim and an outside scene – a stone terrace, with an Iraqi city in the background – appears on a projection screen behind the stage. Barber stands chatting with the captain while the technicians scurry around making last-minute preparations. The dancers twist and kick.)

Fade to black.


Posted by billmon on October 15, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Every sperm is sacred

The news about that woman in Arkansas who just gave birth to her 16th child [It's only news in the developped countries. A large family is very common in the Third World, where women do not have easy access to contraception] is a perfect excuse for me to tell you this Groucho Marx joke:

In the late 1940s, Groucho hosted a very popular radio program You bet your life, which moved over to television in the 1950s. The show consisted of Groucho interviewing the contestants and "ad libbing" jokes. One of the interviewees was a mother of 10. Groucho asked the woman: «Why so many kids?». The woman blushingly answered: «I love my husband a lot and...». Groucho did not let her finish: «Well, I love my cigar too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while».

Every sperm is sacred,
Every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.
Michael Palin and Terry Jones

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why Pol Pot wanted to kill all intellectuals

In yesterday’s edition of Slate, Fred Kaplan shed some light ( on the role played by Thomas C. Schelling, who just received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Schelling won the prestigious award for his ingenious applications of "game theory" to labor negotiations, business transactions, and arms-control agreements. But what is little-known in general is the crucial role he played in formulating the strategies of "controlled escalation" and "punitive bombing" during the war in Vietnam.

That concept of war as a bargaining process was adopted in the early months of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who were looking for ways to step up military action against North Vietnam. The bombing campaign—called Operation Rolling Thunder—commenced on March 2, 1965. Of course, it didn’t alter the behavior of the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong in the slightest. The bombing escalated. When that didn't work, more troops were sent in, a half-million at their peak. The war continued for another decade, killing 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese. In 1967, McNamara resigned and the following year, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

Tom Schelling didn't write much about war after that. He'd learned the limitations of his craft.

Saletan concluded his article by postulating that If Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had studied history better, they, too, might have appreciated those limits before chasing their delusional dreams into the wilds of Mesopotamia. The fact is, if sixty years ago, the United States had studied Vietnamese history better, they would have spared their people and the hapless people of Indochina a lot of grief.

I am always surprised to find people in academic or scientific fields that are engaged in what the Buddhists call un-rigthful occupations, particularly in fields like weaponry, warfare, psy-ops, etc. A friend of mine once proudly told me that he knows a Vietnamese woman who's famous among US researchers for her work in perfecting the daisycutter bomb. For a Vietnamese citizen to be engaged in research on how to inflict more bodily harm on people is, in my opinion, equivalent to a Japanese doing research in nuclear weaponry for the US, or a Jew studying to improve the efficiency of gas ovens for Germany. I guess my scruples are not shared by most people. There are doctors and psychologists in Iraq who are using their professional skills and knowledge to help the American army in their torture sessions. What have these people been thinking? How can one be so engrossed in one's intellectual process as to ignore the consequences of that process?

Science sans conscience n'est que ruine de l'âme -

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Change of seasons

This is the dog I have to walk every day, sometimes twice a day.

It's getting colder now. I've put away the patio furniture and the air conditioners and some evenings I have to turn on the heat a bit. Walking the dog at night is not so pleasant anymore and I'm looking for excuses to avoid the chore. But as soon as we're outside, the dog's obvious happiness makes it all worthwile...I guess....

Anyhoo, I'm feeling a bit lethargic today, so I'm just going to point you to two blogs about Vietnam: and and also

I know, I know, there are three kinds of people ... etc...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Unclear on the concept

It's 2 in the morning and I'm browsing on eBay. Category: Asian antiques. One item seems particularly interesting: « AMAIZNG (sic) EXCELLENT CHINESE SILVER BUDDHA STATUE».

The description seems straighforward enough: «As well known, China is one of four ancient civilization countries in the world. It could as a gift send to your relatives or friends! If you win the item, it will bring you and you family good luck and bless! If you love it ,please do not missing this good chance to get it ! Enjoying your biddi.» (re-sic).

And then you look at the picture and you can't help being a bit disappointed:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Montreal = Paris = Tokyo. Yay!!

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, Vancouver is the best place in the world to live. Calgary and Toronto are in a six-way tie for fifth place with Zurich and three Australian cities. Montreal is in a four-way tie for 16th place with Paris, Hamburg and Tokyo.

No U.S. city is in the top 25.

Before I pop the champagne (I live in Montreal), I have to remind myself that this ranking is based on some very specific standards. Says the Unit:«With low crime, little threat from instability or terrorism and a highly developed infrastructure, Canada has the most livable destinations in the world... In the current global political climate, it is no surprise that the most desirable destinations are those with a lower perceived threat of terrorism».

This type of classification reminds me of the methodology used by UN agencies to calculate the perdiem rate for their experts on mission, which is based on the cost of items such as a bottle of coke or a hamburger. I'm not saying that their analysis or their calculation is technically wrong, but the measure of a good place to live is a bit like IQ tests, in the sense that there are no intrinsic, universal values for happiness. Each individual has his or her own priorities. When I started to think about my values, I realize that what I thought was most important to me: my children, my dog, my books, would still not make me happy unless I have my freedom. For me to live in Vietnam, for example, would mean putting up with a lot of petty regulations and interdictions, loss of privacy, traditional social pressures, etc. while for most male members of the Vietnamese diaspora, there is no higher dream than to go back to Vietnam and live like a king, since their non-resident «ngoai kiêu» status and their access to US or Canadian dollars would make them irresistible to the local young, pretty and desperate gold-diggers.

The two toughest cities in the world are Algiers and Port Moresby, both of them places "where many aspects of daily life present challenges," the study says. Among the challenges: high crime rates, corruption, instability, low availability of entertainment, goods or services and a dilapidated infrastructure.

Come to think of it, I'll open that bottle of champagne, after all.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Autumn Omakase

Tasting Menu is a wonderful blog dedicated to food and cooking. They are generously offering free books to download, the latest being a splendid Japanese cooking book called: Autumn Omakase, A Tasting Menu from Tatsu Nishino of Nishino.

Go here to download:

Not without my dog

My favorite carmaker, Honda Motor Co, has designed a car that's friendly for dogs. A special crate for dogs in the glove apartment allows owners to interact with their pets while driving. [By interaction, I assume they mean the driver can pet her dog at a red light. Not teach it to beg or play dead.] A bigger crate pops up from the floor in the back seat area and can be folded back into the floor when it's not needed. For even bigger dogs, just buckle them up with a special seat belt to the floor.

The W.O.W. Concept, which stands for "wonderful openhearted wagon," shown to reporters recently, is an exhibition model with no plans for commercial sale that will be exhibited at the Tokyo auto show later this month.

The W.O.W comes with removable, washable, rollout flooring and has wide sliding doors to keep dogs happy. "We created this vehicle from the point of view of a dog, but it turned out to be a gentler vehicle for the elderly, children and other family members," said Honda designer Katsuhito Nakamura.

If they ever decide to mass produce the car, I'd be the first in line to buy it. Imagine! A car where pets and children (and maybe even an old hag of a mother) can be transported around in crates!!! WOW indeed!