Thursday, July 31, 2014

Woman denies trying to hide Syria rebel cash in underwear

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Lunar Module seen from the Command Module of Apollo 11.
If you have an even faint interest in the history of space exploration, you will probably lose a few hours at where several searchable transcripts of famous space flights can be found.  At the moment eight flights are available, with more to come.  I first went for Apollo 13, but then I quickly switched to Mercury 3, the first American manned mission to space (the first manned mission, Vostok 1, is also available, but only in Russian.) 

It's all very technical, but even if I don't understand most of what's going on, it's fun to feel like I'm reliving some of those heart-stopping moments.  Like landing on the moon.  Forty-five years ago, three guys went to the moon.  Well, actually only two of them made it to the surface, the third, Michael Collins, stayed in the Command Module that remained in orbit around the Moon.  He was vital to the mission, but man, I would've felt a tad jealous if I were him.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dignité, égalité, et absurdité

Two recent stories out of France have reminded me just how grand it is to live in the land of the free, at least when it comes to heaping vitriol upon others with impunity.  These two stories ought to shock most of my compatriots, since the supremacy of the First Amendment is so ingrained in our legal tradition that even most leftists understand why the ACLU defended the right of KKK members to express themselves in public.  As Voltaire never said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

The first news item stems from an image posted on the Facebook page of an ex-extreme-right candidate named Anne-Sophie Leclère, which seems to imply that the Justice Minister, Christian Taubira, was very cute indeed when she was 18 months old:

Well, this poorly constructed photo-montage incited quite a fuss, especially because of what happened next: Leclère was sued, sentenced 9 months in prison, and fined €50,000 ($67,529).  Her political party (the Front National, or FN) was also fined €30,000, even though it disapproved of the image at the time, and even excluded her from the party.  (In recent years the FN has been trying to revamp the hard fascist/racist image left behind by James Bond villain and party-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, and has clamped down on any overt racism.)  Leclère will appeal the decision. 

Emilio Largo from Thunderball, left, and Jean-Marie Le Pen, right.
  This reminds me of the Sarkozy Voodoo Doll incident, in which the President of France took legal action against the company producing the dolls.  In the end the dolls were re-released on the market, but were required to wear a warning on the box, which I will translate for your enjoyment:

It has been judged that inciting the reader to poke the doll herein with the provided needles, an action that carries the underlying idea of physical harm, however symbolic, constitutes an insult to the dignity of Mr. Sarkozy.
You can't make that shit up.

 In contrast, the US has a long and fine tradition of likening our political elites to other primates, and entire industries have been spawned to allow us to crush George W. Bush's head on a stress ball, beat the crap out of his likeness on a punching bag, and wipe his face on our asses with novelty toilet paper.

The next story is really incredible though.  A blogger named Caroline Doudet panned a restaurant, citing poor service.  The restaurant owner sued the blogger.  The judge fined the blogger $3,400, in part, she explained, because the blog was ranked highly by Google, and was thus damaging to the restaurant.  The End.

While this story is getting quite a bit of play in the English language press, all I could find in French were a few grouchy blog posts.  If the French think that such a judgement is business-as-usual, or isn't newsworthy, the state of affairs in France is worse than I imagined.

I know that there have been abusive lawsuits against sites like Yelp, but picking out a single blogger because she said that the service was horrible?  Amazing.  More details from wapo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Capricious Unibrow Story

When I was a young teen I remember listening to a particularly irritating story being told by my Italian-american grandmother in her Chevrolet Caprice.  "I used to have eyebrows just like you when I was young," she warbled.  "They grew right to the middle.  So I plucked them."

I remember hating her right then and there, not only for bringing up such an embarrassing subject for me, but also for being genetically responsible for the trait that got me harassed at school.1  I fought my nausea and feigned interest: "So what happened?" 

"It just stopped growing back as I got older," she squinted back at me, through the rear view mirror.

1 I had always wondered why I had a unibrow while nobody else in my family did. It turns out they were all just assiduous pluckers.