Terrorism works

Why so? — San Diego, November 2006

Has Osama Bin Laden heard about the recent decision by US congress to legalize torture – ooops, “coercive interrogation”, pardon my French... — in some Pakistani cave or in the Heaven of Allah?

Actually, it does not mind. Wherever he is, dead or alive, the greatest instigator of international terrorism just won another victory, because this the very reason of terrorists' strategy: inducing their ennemy to forget their own principles and show a hideous face that, in return, justifies violence.

After the invasion on Iraq based on fake reasons, and prisoners kept in Guantanamo jails for years without a trial or even an accusation, now comes the official disregard of ... where is the USA going with George W. Bush and its administration? Do they still know what the word ethics mean?

It seems now the present most powerful democracy is on the road to decline of human rights and sorry renouncement of proclamed values. It is a distressing evidence that terrorism does work.

Bulgaria, Romania, Welcome Home!

Sofia and Bucharest finally received the long awaited go-ahead from the European Commission to enter the European Union on 1 January 2007. The EU will now be made up of 27 democratic countries, institutionally opposed to death penalty, still the world's largest economy with a high level of welfare provided to about 480 million inhabitants.

Bulgaria and Romania have been accepted as EU new members under the strictest terms ever though. Especially, the European Commission emphasized that both countries will have to do a better job fighting organized crime and political corruption. Should the two countries be unable to comply with the terms, they will face consequences, some of which are directed specifically at the accession process.

Although both economies are growing rapidly, Bulgaria and Romania will be the poorest countries within the EU, with gross domestic product per capita only at about one third of the EU average.

There will now be a pause in enlargement of the EU that is likely to last for several years, since the EuropeanTreaty of Nice in 2000 mandated institutional changes within the Union before the number of members goes beyond the 27 maximum which has been reached now. Also, it is necessary to solve the question of a constitution for the EU, which was hit back in 2005 when French and Dutch voters rejected the proposal. Present official candidates to membership (Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey) might then wait quite a long time before then integrate the Union.

Cindy Sherman

Centerfolds — Untitled #83, 1981
Centerfolds — Untitled #83, 1981

For more than 30 years, Cindy Sherman has been taking photographs of which she is her own model, yet these are never self-portraits.

She has portrayed herself in hundreds storytelling pictures, using different poses, expressions, make-up, clothes, hairpieces, prostheses even sometimes.

I finally found time last week to go and see Cindy Sherman — Retrospective 1975-2005 in the Musée du Jeu de paume in Paris, just before the exhibition moved to Berlin. Funny, grating, often brutal, the figures in this gallery explore cultural and social stereotypes and their representation in the media, from magazine centrefolds to advertisements, films and classical painting.

Cindy Sherman — Untitled Film Stills #3, 1977
Untitled Film Stills #3, 1977
Sherman’s reputation was established in the late 1970s on the basis of her Untitled Film Stills, a series of 70 black-and-white photographs in which she depicted herself dressed in the guises of cliched heroines of B-movie and publicity shots from the 1950s.

In photograph after photograph, Cindy Sherman is always present, and yet never really there — her adaptation of a range of personae highlighting the masquerade of identity. I loved this series, as well as the next one, entitled Centerfolds/Horizontals.

Centerfolds — Untitled #93, 1981
Untitled #93, 1981

Centerfolds is a series of photographic double spreads initially commissioned by the magazine Artforum in 1981 — and rejected for publication at the end, by the way — where Cindy Sherman wanted to refer to the centre spreads of “men's magazines”, showing herself as a young, vulnerable woman seen from above.

The pictures suggest their subject as scared or dumbfounded, more as the victim of a sexual attack than the usual compliant, indeed nymphomaniac girl, stereotype of porno fantasy.

As I moved forward in the exhibition and in time through the 1980s and 1990s, the metamorphoses became darker with every series (Fairy Tales, Civil War, Sex Pictures, Broken Dolls...) and even macabre.

Two rooms exhibited repulsive imagery where she took herself out of the picture, using instead body parts, mutilated dolls, rotting foods and such. Yuck! although the photographs were technically irreproachable for sure...

Clowns — Untitled, 2004
Clowns — Untitled, 2004
I liked more the recent series Clowns exhibited in the last room. In these pictures, Cindy Sherman used digital photography and computers to multiply herself and integrate coloured backgrounds.

These are disturbing or threatening photographs where insane clowns seem to be closer to the clown depicted in Stephen King's novel "It" than usual sweet simpletons.

In my opinion, Cindy Sherman is undoubtedly one of the main photographers of the end of 20th century. Only, I prefer a lot photographs she took in her first years, before she touched on horror and repulsion, on the decay and dismembering of the body.

Poincaré's Conjecture


All French media have been talking mathematics last week, after 2006 Fields Medals — usually defined as the 'Nobel Prize of Mathematics' — were awarded by the International Mathematical Union.

First, because among the four awarded mathematicians, there was a French specialist of probabilities named Wendelin Werner, who is not only a high-level scientist, but a violinist, and once was a child actor. Second, because another awarded mathematician, Russian Gregori Perelman, got the medal because of his work on Poincaré conjecture... and refused it.

You know, Frenchmen as a rule are crazy about mathematics. Of course, many were not that good in maths at school, most of them barely understand anything in maths... but they do love maths anyway. Mathematics... this is so rational, so smart, so logical a matter, how could French people dislike maths?

In 1904, French mathematician Henri Poincaré forthrightly asked his colleagues:
Hey dudes! I have a funny question: consider a compact 3-dimensional manifold V without boundary. Is it possible that the fundamental group of V could be trivial, even though V is not homeomorphic to the 3-dimensional sphere?
Ha-ha, Good question indeed, Henri, other mathematician answered... for one century, until Gregori Perelman found the solution.

As for me, I don't even understand what the question means... Do you?

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Les Essais
by Michel de Montaigne