Archive for May, 2009

Glorious morning!

Posted in Kids with tags , , on May 24, 2009 by xi'an

pancakesAh, a glorious lazy Sunday morning breakfast outside, with homemade pancakes and rhubarb marmalade… Plus a warm sunny weather and a pile of unread newspapers, including an interesting piece about beavers reappearing in Belgium. What else could I look for?!

Ps-The rhubarb grows in my garden (see picture) and the pancakes can be made in ten minutes from 1.5 cups of flour and of milk, plus one egg, a tablespoon of melted butter and of sugar…

Beyond the acceptable…

Posted in University life with tags , , on May 22, 2009 by xi'an

I came across this video yesterday about an exam at the Université de Besancon being interrupted by a group of students, calling themselves the Brigade de la Grève (the strike brigade) who systematically block exams across the campus to enforce their call for a “neutral” semester (meaning that everyone would get their credits for this semester without any grade)…

I find this story quite appalling in that a self-nominated committee can decide to stop exams on the basis they are on strike and so should the other students and so should the professors. I am also quite relieved this has not happened to me because I do not think I would react as moderately as the professor in the video

That this professor has to justify his action (of organising an exam) to the gang of half-articulate brigadiers (or that one student seriously finds it amazing that he could go against the decisions of the general assembly) is reminding me of China’s “cultural revolution” where Red Guards would bring their teacher to volunteer their auto-criticism. (The very denomination “Brigade” stinks of a para-military orientation!) This is the final step in an escalation of protests where others´ opinion can no longer be respected, as also shown by the numerous blockades/pickets organised by students on strike or calls to boycott Le Monde because the journal was not sufficiently favourable to the protests… Actually, given the discourse of the students in the video, I am not certain they have any higher goal than expressing a general protest against the current government.

Brands, brands, brands…

Posted in Kids with tags on May 19, 2009 by xi'an

bensimmon1burberry2

burberry1bensimmon2

I am always amazed at the time wasted by my kids at getting the “right” brand and at the fascination those brands exert on them! As above for instance the Burberry scarf my daughter found in a closet at home and can no longer leave, rain of shine!, or those Bensimon shoes she definitely had to get before the latest school party…

converse1gsr1

gsr2converse2

And obviously the same applies to my son, just ten-fold!!!, with Converse shoes and G Star Raw jeans…

More of my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2009 by xi'an

books4In continuation of the previous post, here are the other books on the pile, which—by a coincidence due to the way books are ordered on my bookshelves—are predominantly 19th century French novels:

  • Maupassant’s Bel Ami, for his precursor style in psychological novels that somehow prefigures Joyce—although many may prefer Joyce!—as well as the narrative power of his short stories—that involves Norman peasants as well as Parisian courtisanes—, and for his description of the Belle Epoque;
  • Mérimée’s Chroniques du Règne de Charles IX, which is a Romantic [genre] novel, both for its historical aspects (Saint Bathelemy’s massacre) and its tale of tolerance versus fanaticism. Although I could have instead put Dumas’ La Dame de Monsoreau in the list, since it describes the same period and I like it very much, I think Mérimée goes further and deeper;
  • Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme, maybe the Romantic novel. It was certainly my preferred book as a teenager and I still enjoy very much this description of (post-)Napoleonic Italy and the intricate love triangles that multiply throughout the novel;
  • Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties, because of its poignant and dark beauty and of its minimalist style;
  • Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, another strong psychological portrait at the turn of the (xxth) century, full of Wilde’s witicisms, with a touch of gothic fantasy;
  • Dickens’ Dombey and Son, as, for all his defaults, Dickens remains one of my favourite authors. Actually, I could not find [on my shelves] David Copperfield, a book I read almost every year from a very early age and which remains my top novel from Dickens (if only for Mr Micawber!), but Dombey and Son has an additional darkness that makes it a major novel as well;
  • Borgés’ Fictions, unclassifiable and sublime existentialist tales of the absurd that have so much appeal for mathematicians;
  • Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Une vieille maîtresse. While considered a minor 19th century writer, I really enjoy this author his nostalgic description of the upper Norman peninsula and of a provincial nobility erased by the French revolution.

Some of my favourite books

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2009 by xi'an

books3Last night, I took some of my favourite books out of my bookcases: here they are from bottom to top (picture-wise!). Obviously, they are not all comparable in terms of literary “quality”, but they are books I like to re-read from time to time or books that impacted me the first time I read them…

  • Heckmair’s My Life, already mentioned in that post about Messner’s book, for the heart-stopping tale of the climb of the Eigerwand. There are better written (more literary) books about mountaineering, but this remains my favourite;
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that I read so often it is almost virtual by now. This is not here as my favourite fantasy book, but simply as one of my favourite books, because it subsumes the [fantasy] genre into a larger one, borrowing from Nordic sagas as well as Celtic folklore and German tales;
  • Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which is the most metaphysical love story he wrote. If I had only one book to carry around that would be the one! (I also love very much his novel Brighton Rocks, another unusual and dark love story);
  • Céline’s Voyage au bout de la Nuit, also discussed in that earlier post, which is for me the most impressive French novel of the xxth century, inventing a new style and seeing beyond the current ideologies;
  • Joyce’s Dubliners, so uniquely modern as well, especially the first short story, The Dead, with its conclusion of quiet despair. John Huston made a movie of it, where he superbly managed to convey the different currents in the story;
  • Hugo’s Quatrevingt-treize, his novel about the French Revolution (and the Breton counter-revolution), with an unforgivable trio of characters, the father, the son, and the defrocked priest, as well as a superb style. Certainly my favourite novel from Hugo with L’Homme qui rit;
  • Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, for translating both the horror of the war and the ultimate feeling of camaraderie only extreme situations can induce (also a favourite of my son in his rare excursions outside fantasy). The following novels by Remarque like The Road Back and Drei Kameraden carried the same feelings of hopeless friendship, but with less intensity;
  • Chandler’s The Long Good Bye, for, if you think Chandler wrote detective stories, read him again! This is a very deep and sad novel, mostly about jilted friendship, with a detective side that is quite incidental;
  • Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov, the quintessential Russian novel with the triptych of brothers as an idealisation of humanity and the undercurrent of spiritual questioning;
  • Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, for the bittersweet taste of wasted opportunities and things past;
  • Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, a literary genre by itself…

(to be continued for the remainder of the book pile…)

“Les universités dans un cul de fac”

Posted in University life with tags , , on May 14, 2009 by xi'an

This was the headline of Libération on Tuesday and, while the pun is difficult to translate (cul-de-sac turned into cul-de-fac for faculties, maybe Universities imteached would make sense…), it conveys both the feeling of the reform of faculty status, having reached a dead end and the terrible impact on the image of French universities (at least nationwide). As posted in earlier posts, the government and in particular the ministers for education and universities just botched their attempt at reforming the status of faculty members. Following Sarkozy’s principles of “ça passe ou ça casse!“, they first announced a whole range of radical changes without first discussing with anyone, then, faced with widespread protests, they started discussions and gradually removed items from this reform to the point it is now mostly empty… This was a recipe for a disaster that indeed happened: giving up in front of the protests lead to wider demands and the university protests have now reached such a wide scale of demands that (a) they obviously cannot be met and (b) as put by Libération, everyone is a loser. The reformation has not taken place, [some] teachers and researchers have not taught nor done any research for [most of] a semester, [some] students have not had classes for [most of] a semester, the lackluster French universities are even less appealing to prospective French students [as compared with engineer and business schools] and to Erasmus visiting students, and, in the end, the move towards a more autonomous and more efficient university governance has been stopped at an early stage, once again for ideological reasons. The situation is that hopeless that yesterday students started fighting other students who were picketing the entrance to Saint Etienne university… The last time I saw students fighting, it was on the UCV campus in Caracas, it figures!

Book sales

Posted in Books, Statistics with tags , , , on May 13, 2009 by xi'an

Springer-Verlag sent me its annual report about book sales this week and I am quite pleased at how well The Bayesian Choice is (still) doing, considering the French edition was first published in 1992 and the English first edition in 1994! Obviously, the choice made by Springer-Verlag of reprinting the book in a paperback version helped tremendously with keeping the book popular, since they sold 1235 copies since mid 2007, compared with the 2760 copies of the hardcover version sold since the first printing of the second edition in 2001. (This does not include the crate of the very first printing of the paperback lost by the carrier! If you ever see one, let me know!!!) Similarly, the 2004 edition of Monte Carlo Statistical Method with George Casella is doing quite well, with more than 6000 copies sold so far and close to 1000 for last year. I am not certain what the trend will be once the R book with George is published, but I think they will overall aim at different audiences. Last and not least, Bayesian Core (published in 2007) is also faring well with 1987 copies sold to this point, which is rather comforting when considering it came right at the same time as Jim Albert’s Bayesian Computation with R, which is a direct competitor.The next step is in writing a second edition of Bayesian Core adapted to the “Use R” series, including a specific R package, but I think this will have to wait till next year.

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