27 May 2007

I think my g/f is cheating on me.

"I think my g/f is cheating on me". Thus begins this strangely compelling tale of raw human drama that turns out to be nothing more than the backdrop to a most benign of technical inquiries at the MiniDisc Community Forums.

I'm not sure if this is real or not, but I couldn't control my laughter after reading the technical question that is posed in the final sentence of the narrative, with no transition whatsoever. Comedy, intentional or not, is all about timing.

24 May 2007

Varsity Blues

France's universities could be first test for Sarkozy. From Marco Chown Oved of the Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune:

The Sorbonne, France's most renowned university, has no cafeteria, no student newspaper [and] no varsity sports. [....] It also costs next-to-nothing to attend, and admission is open to everyone who has finished high school. [....] The Sorbonne also has no alumni associations.

Well, jeez Louise! No varsity sports. Golly!

Who remembers that epiosde of The Simpsons when the owner of a Thai Restaurant hires Bart to distribute menus so that he can do more business, thereby preventing his daughter from having to attend one of those American universities where there are 'baseball caps everywhere' and 'serious students [are] powerless against drunken jock-ocracy'?

Seriously, why are North Americans so shocked to find out that, very often, the rest of the world does things differently? I mean, the Sorbonne was founded in 1257, centuries before European North America came into being. If I were to embark on a study of French universities I would have been more surprised to find that they had taken up the American model. After all, having grown up in the Canadian Midwest, just 100km north of the American border, and now living in the world's second-largest French speaking city (with a huge French expat community), a mere 70km from the American border, I can tell you that even though the article states that 'only 14.2% of adults have a university education in France, compared with 29,4% in the United States', you'd never know it. For all of their supposed education, your average American cannot come close to your average French (or indeed European) person when it comes to possessing a culture générale, the kind of UNIversal, all-round general knowledge in the areas of arts, science and culture (to say nothing of basic world geography) to which any civilised person can reasonably aspire and that a UNIversity education is supposed to provide. In North Dakota, a border state, they actually ask you with a straight face in what American state Canada is located in.

It should also be noted that the baccalauréat, the French secondary school leaving exam, is much more difficult and comprehensive than anything an average North American public school is likely to challenge you with, and could easily be placed on a par with first or second year exams in most of North America's universities. Indeed, the most prestigious high school programme in which one can be enrolled in North America and in much of the world is called the International Baccalaureate and is directly modelled upon the French baccalauréat.

I will however conceed that there should at least be some tuition fee for attending French universities and that way too many resources are allocated to the network of Grandes Écoles (the Ivy League of France if you will) while the universities are left to cope with too many students and not enough funding. At the same time, if you possess the intelligence to succeed at university but can't afford the tuition, then that's a problem too.

What I'm basically saying is that the French aren't as fat as Americans, so they don't need varsity sports. They have their own traditions and, to a certain extent, they should just continue to go their own way.

20 May 2007

Trois minutes, douche comprise

Le Tout Chirac: A life at the top: From John Lichfield in yesterday's Independent, a brilliantly succinct A-to-Z summary of Chirac's political career. Truly an essential read.

Choice excerpts:

In the 1980s, M. Laumond says, the procession of women into M. Chirac's office was so constant that women staffers would joke: "Chirac? Three minutes. Shower included."


In 1979 he campaigned as a virulent Eurosceptic in the European Parliament elections. France, he said, faced "economic servitude to Bonn ... national annihilation by Brussels". In the presidential campaign of 1988, he transformed himself into European visionary, with forests of blue and yellow European flags at all his rallies.


In their last eight years in the official apartments of the Mayor [of Paris], Jacques and Bernadette spent €2m on food and drink (not including official functions). This worked out at €684 a day (including €60 a day on "herbal tea").


Vast quantities of cash passed through M. Chirac's hands. It was moved around Paris in briefcases, even suitcases. Chirac is said to have kept the cash in a safe in his private lavatory at the town hall, using the flush to cover the sound of the "clicks" when he turned the dial.


[In the early 1950s] he also sold ice cream in a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Boston. One of his most treasured possessions is a certificate, signed by Howard Johnson himself, which declares that: "Mr Jack Chirac is a first-class soda jerk."


In July 1979, Anh Dao Traxel, a 21-year-old Vietnamese " boat person", arrived friendless at Charles de Gaulle airport. She was approached by a tall man who told her: "Don't cry any more, my dear. From now on, you will live with us." And so Anh became the Chiracs' " secret" foster daughter, living in the Paris town hall.


His favourite food is "Tête de Veau", which is not for the squeamish. One recipe, in English, on the internet begins with: "Rip the face off a baby cow ..."


In 2005 an open microphone recorded M. Chirac's distaste for British cuisine. He said: "The only thing that they have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease. You cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine. It is the country with the worst food after Finland."


Jacques Chirac is a great fan of Japanese Sumo wrestling. He sits up late at night drinking Corona beer and watching Sumo tapes, sent from Japan.


Why did M. Chirac spend part of his 2004 summer holiday in the small, rainy village of North Hatley in Quebec? The satirical television puppet show, Les Guignols de l'Info, suggested M. Chirac sneaked away to have a face-lift, something for which Canada is celebrated.

As a flag-waving patriot, I was unware of that particular source of Canadian national pride.

At the end of the piece is a list of famous Chirac quotes. To summarise the career I would choose "Promises are binding only for those who receive them" and to summarise the man it's got to be "You know, at the end of the day, I like only two things: cavalry trumpets and detective novels". Brilliant!

For more amusement from the political career of Jacques Chirac, see Karl Zéro's scathingly hirlarious documentary film Dans la peau de Jacques Chirac (2006). I don't think it's been released here, but it was shown at the 2006 Montreal World Film Festival.

Old People and Old Dutch

Winnipeg mayor launches seniors council: "Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz announced plans Friday to appoint seniors to an advisory council to offer recommendations about how the city can better serve its aging population."

*yawn* How about a plan to keep educated young people (who continue to flee in record numbers) in Winnipeg? Just a thought... While the NDP builds Waverly West, the mayor cancels funding for rapid transit and the police brutally represses pro-cyclist events like Critical Mass, I'll continue to enjoy the metro system, countless bike lanes and all-round vibrant urban living here in Montreal.

Winnipeg's one big advantage over Montreal, namely the availability of Old Dutch potato chips (which was not even an advantage over Calgary, where most young people seem to move), is no longer. Commericals on local Montreal television this spring tipped me off, and I can now happily confirm that Dutch Crunch kettle chips are now being sold at Métro supermarkets and Jean Coutu pharmacies. They're being marketed out here (and perhaps elsewhere in Eastern Canada?) as a premium snack food.

Meanwhile, an ageing Winnipeg becomes one big seniors' council.