Thursday, January 19, 2006

chirac goes bush

Today, Jacques Chirac all but declared war on Iran. The French president made a fine U-turn with respect to 2003 and is now fully in line with George WMD Bush. Chirac promised to use his nukes, so splendidly tested in the South Pacific in the mid-1990s, to free the world of rogue states. And first in line these days is, of course, Iran, whose president discovered, shortly after being elected, that he has absolutely nothing to offer to his eager people but savage words directed at a vilified world. He is desparately trying to distract Iranians from the misery in their country and quell their anger at tyrrany and religious vice.

Big talk and ruthless oppression are nothing new around the world, except this guy is building a bomb. The German secret service reported - since when do secret services report? - that he might only be a few months short of his goal. This is much more than the infamous 45 minutes that Blair, oddly quiet these days, claimed of Iraq three years ago, but all the more believable. At the rate things are going, there can be no doubt that something cataclysmic will happen. I have no desire to imagine what the Middle East will look like if Iran and the Western world, and Israel as an obvious first target, will duke it out on the nuclear battle field. All the wars, aggression, terror attacks, and every-day atrocities that the region has seen in the last 60 years will look like a Sunday at the beach in comparison.

free speech

One of the things France is rightfully proud of is the telecommunication infrastructure. I have never seen anyone use a laptop while sitting in a cafe or on the train, but when the French are at home they like to surf the web with the speed of the TGV Marseille-Paris. A dozen companies constantly top one another with ever more spectacular offers. I signed up as soon as I found an apartment, which was soon connected to the world through an 8Mbit/s ADSL line that ends in an inconspicuous black box. This little box of magic talks to my computer for internet access, my telephone for calls, and my TV for about 40 useless stations. All for a flat fee of 23 euros per month.

This was only the beginning, though. Progess doesn't stop, in particular in anything IT related. So this evening I discovered that I can upgrade my line to 20MBit/s and, for an extra 9 euros per month, get all my phone calls absolutely free. This doesn't just include France. No, the entire European Union, Canada, the US, India, and China are covered. As promises, I can now talk to half the world's population for free. Why I would want to do that is a question they don't have an answer for, but one thing is sure. Once my service is modified (in three weeks or so), I won't have the slightest excuse for not talking to my friends. Make me call you back!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

google earth

It can only be a question of time until Google achieves world domination. For many years, this has been the search engine of my choice (and of everyone else's as well, it seems). The launch of Google maps has vastly improved online cartography, and local Google will change the way you look at your city (once it is covered). Google book search might be the best thing to happen since the Sumerians started collecting clay tablet in their temples. All these services are offered online without the need for software to be installed on your computer. I'm all for that.

I'm less enthusiastic when a company, be it Google or anything else, claims it needs the power of my laptop for their offerings to work. Thus I have not made use of Google earth yet. I might have to change my mind, though. This morning I came upon a little gallery that Russell Standring created for his pages, and I must confess that I'm extremely impressed. Now I don't even have to leave my desk in order to ride up mountains.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hey baby

The other day I walked over to the climbing gym next door to get a membership and to start feeling some (fake) rock again. I gave my name, paid my buck or two, and was on my way to losing serious skin on my fingertips. Something was missing, though.

Today I went snowboarding for the first time this season. We drove up to Sept Laux, a resort in the Belledonne, a short hour's drive from Grenoble. It seemed that every other slope was decorated with slalom poles or downhill gates.

There was no race going on, and no one seemed to mind if people took a chance on the challenge. That's when it finally dawned on me what had been missing in the climbing gym. In stark contrast to when I lived in the US, I had no waivers to sign, no proof of insurance to show, and no one lectured me on the dangers inherent in rock climbing. The same laid-back attitude today in the snow - no waivers, no warnings.

It is so refreshing not to be treated like a baby anymore. You are responsible for your own actions. No one tells you that coffee is hot or that knives are sharp. People seem to know. If you fall off a cliff or impale yourself on your skis, it's your own fault. If you can't handle that, don't go out and play.

But play I did. There was one thing that I could hardly handle, though - the snow. To my spoiled eyes, it looked like grated ice. Falling hurt, after six years in Utah a completely new experience, and not a pleasant one. I ought to go have my board waxed and my edged sharpened. Or maybe I'm just a baby and should stay inside.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

bonne année

The new year is already one week old, but I say my greeting anyway because I've only today returned to France. I spent Chrismas and New Year's with family and friends more or less far away. Today I came back from Indiana.

Exhausted from long hours of air and rail travel interrupted by extended waiting periods in chairs that looked like they were designed exclusively for the good looks, I put "Downfall" into my computer. Fifteen minutes later, after much subdued mumbling around me and countless furtive glances at the screen by my seat neighbors, I abruptly end the film. More than 20 hours into my voyage I don't feel like explaining to a Frenchman why I'm staring at Hitler and swastikas galore. This would be a challenging excercise even if it was three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon.

Instead, I opt for a rerun of "Crash", my clear favorite for movie of the year 2005. It's hard to say what the movie really is about. It is an intense, highly stylized and artistic parable of, well, of what? Of humans? Of live? Of ignorance? Of California? To me it is a reminder that every one is a racist, in that everyone has evident or subconscious racial preconceptions that influence how we interact with strangers. This in itself is no problem in my opinion, as long as we act with compassion and humanity and are never locked in our judgment.

"Crash" traces 36 hours in the lifes of about two handful of people whose paths cross over and over again, often unknown to them. Tragedy and happiness, drama and joy, crime and charity, love and hate are so close together that one single action of any one of the actors, even one word or a mere gesture, can tip the scale into one or the other direction.

Before the movie ends, I arrive in Grenoble. Walking through the dark city, my own little multiracial home, I pass Lebanese kebab shops and Armenian grocery stores, Chinese restaurants and African art galleries. I buy a baguette, which doubles as a handwarmer, pass by my favorite Vietmamese store where the smells of tea, spices and overripe bananas unmistakably tell me that I've arrived, enter my entryway and am home.

Happy new year to all who happen to read this.