The Cuckoo Post

The Cuckoo

The Cuckoo
(Photo: Wikipedia/MDF)

A new phrase to coin?

Here’s a Facebook phenomenon that’s dying for a name …

Friend A has something posted on his wall by Friend B.  Person C sees this post, and comments on it, directing the comment at Friend B. Friends B and C then proceed to have a conversation entirely unrelated to the original post, on a topic to which Friend A cannot contribute.  But the conversation is taking place on his wall, often developing into a huge string of comments, and eventually occupying most of his news feed.

When cuckoos breed, the pair lay their eggs in another bird’s nest, leaving them to hatch and take over that nest.  Friends B and C are the cuckoos here – while poor old Friend A is that other bird, who has to put up with his friends’ little nest-egg of a conversation slowly filling up his wall.

A cuckoo post, ladies and gentlemen.  For that is what it is.

Of course, I may be over-analysing this …


A recent post on someone’s wall …
(Photo: Mull)

The Spring Buskers

A couple of years back I was living in Paris.  One day at the start of Spring, I took a walk around the streets near our flat, and took some footage of the streetlife there.  There were buskers and beggars and all sorts.  Some were worth a second look and a listen.  So here is a tiny sketch, a mini-doco, a clipped collage, or whatever you like to call it, of some characters I met out walking that day.

Consider it a new addition to my short film clip series, “Paris Calling”, from back in 2010.  It’s a little glimpse of what comes out of the woodwork in the French Spring …

(Best at full screen with sound up.)


Footage (2010) & editing (2012): copyright and all rights reserved by author.

When judges get bored …

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Chief Justice of the United States, Mr John Roberts, must have lost a bet.  Or maybe he was just bored.  Either way, he cooked up a stunner.  In the case of Pennsylvania v Dunlap, in 2008, he wrote the following paragraphs in a case judgment.  Astute readers will recognise the unmistakable tone of hardboiled 1930s detective writers Damon Runyon and Raymond Chandler.  Even a judge has to have fun sometimes.

* * *




No. 07–1486.  Decided October 14, 2008

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.  CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS, with whom JUSTICE KENNEDY joins, dissenting from denial of certiorari.

North Philly, May 4, 2001.  Officer Sean Devlin, Narcotics Strike Force, was working the morning shift.  Under­cover surveillance.  The neighborhood?  Tough as a three-dollar steak.  Devlin knew.  Five years on the beat, nine months with the Strike Force.  He’d made fifteen, twenty drug busts in the neighborhood.

Devlin spotted him: a lone man on the corner.  Another approached.  Quick exchange of words.  Cash handed over; small objects handed back.  Each man then quickly on his own way.  Devlin knew the guy wasn’t buying bus tokens. He radioed a description and Officer Stein picked up the buyer.  Sure enough: three bags of crack  in the guy’s pocket.  Head downtown and book him.  Just another day at the office.

* * *

The full judgment can be found here, on public record:

A fictional incident along these lines had been portrayed in TV series The West Wing a number of years back.  Life imitating art?  Probably not: judges have been doing this for years – just like all educated people, they enjoy working the English language to its fullest expression.  And, after all, they’re only human: we all need our ludic moments from time to time.


The Vintner’s Reply

Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)

One day in the 1960s, during an uprising, the French government announced that French settler-descendants in Algeria would be evacuated.  De Gaulle had previously promised to keep Algeria French.  The pieds-noirs saw the decision as a betrayal; they were being forced to leave their homeland.  Albert Camus tells the remarkable story of one ageing man, a winemaker, who had worked the land all his life, and was a born and bred French Algerian.  He responded calmly and methodically to the crisis.  But his calm is a chilling one, laden with silent rage at injustice, and the scene is intensified still more by Camus’ clipped prose.  (There are shades of Wyatt’s torch from the very roughly contemporaneous Atlas Shrugged, here, too.)

In another twist, the novel wherein Camus relates the tale, Le Premier Homme, is lucky to exist at all.  The manuscript for the book was pulled from the burning wreckage of Camus’ car, which had swerved on ice and hit a tree, killing both the Nobel laureate writer and his publisher, Gallimard, on 4 January 1960.  The work was only published – complete with unfinished text and marginal notes – in 1994.  Much of the sentiment of the time about the events, as expressed in it, is therefore still raw.

As so often with Camus, however, it is set out in plain language, concise, clear, direct.  So here it is: the story of the vintner’s reaction to De Gaulle’s Algerian exit.  I include first the translation (by Hapgood, for Penguin) and then the original text, from the manuscript.

When the order to evacuate came, he said nothing.  His grape harvest was over, his wine was in the vats.  He opened the vats, and he went to a spring of brackish water that he’d diverted long ago, and he turned it back to run into his fields, and he equipped a tractor with a trench plough.  For three days, at the wheel, bareheaded, saying not a word, he uprooted the vines all over his property.  Think of it, that skinny old man bouncing around on his tractor, pushing the accelerator lever when the plough wasn’t getting a vine that was bigger than the others, not stopping even to eat, my mother bringing him bread, cheese, and sobrasada, which he ate calmly, the way he had done everything, throwing away the last chunk of bread and accelerating some more, all this from sunrise to sunset, without even looking at the mountains on the horizon, nor at the Arabs who’d soon found out and were watching him from a distance – they weren’t saying anything either.

And when a young captain, informed by who knows who, arrived and demanded an explanation, he said to him, “Young man, since what we made here is a crime, it has to be wiped out.”

When it was all finished, he headed towards the farmhouse, crossed the yard that was soaked with wine pouring out of the vats, and began to pack his bags.  The Arab workers were waiting for him in the yard.  (There was also a patrol the captain had sent, no one knew just why, with a nice lieutenant who was waiting for orders.)

Boss, what are we going to do?”

If I were in your shoes,” the old man said, “I’d go and join the guerillas.  They’re going to win.  There’re no men left in France.”


– from p. 140-1 of Albert Camus’ The First Man, translation published by Penguin, 1994.


Algeria (at Tlemcen)

Quand l’ordre d’evacuation est arrive, il n’a rien dit.  Ses vendanges etaient terminees, et le vien en cuve.  Il a ouvert des cuves, puis il est alle vers une source d’eau saumatre qu’il avait lui-meme detournee dans le temps et l’a remise dans le droit chemin sur ses terres, et il a equipe un tracteur en defonceuse. Pendant trois jours, au volant, tete nue, sans rien dire, il a arrache les vignes sur toute l’etendue de la propriete. Imaginez cela, le vieux tout sec tressautant sur son tracteur, poussant le levier d’acceleration quand le soc ne venait pas a bout d’un cep plus gros que d’autres, ne s’arretant meme pas pour manger, ma mere lui apportait pain, fromage et soubressade qu’il avalait posement, comme il avait fait toute chose, jetant le dernier quignon pour accelerer encore, tout cela du lever au coucher du soleil, et sans un regard pour les montagnes a l’horizon, ni pour les Arabes vite prevenus et qui se tenaient a distance le regardant faire, sans rien dire eux non plus.

Et quand un jeune capitaine, prevenu par on ne sait qui, est arrive et a demande des explications, l’autre lui a dit: “Jeune homme, puisque ce que nous avons fait ici est un crime, il faut l’effacer.

Quand tout a ete fini, il est revenu vers la ferme et a traverse la cour trempee du vin qui avait fui des cuves, et il a commence ses bagages.  Les ouvriers arabes l’attendaient dans la cour.  (Il y avait aussi une patrouille que le capitaine avait envoyee, on ne savait trop pourquoi, avec un gentil lieutenant qui attendait des ordres.)

Patron, qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?

Si j’etais a votre place, a dit le vieux, j’irais au maquis.  Ils vont gagner.  Il n’y a plus d’hommes en France.”


– from p. 198-9 of Albert Camus’ Le Premier Homme, published by Gallimard/Folio, 1994, Paris.


Algeria (at Biskra)

Kipling’s Shilling

Rudyard Kipling, poet and writer extraordinnaire

Some time ago it was stated in various papers that Rudyard Kipling had received a shilling a word for a story he had written for Pearson’s Magazine.  This induced a young American to write to him and enclose a shilling.

“Hearing that wisdom was being retailed at a shilling a word,” wrote the youth, “I enclose a shilling for a sample.”

Kipling kept the order, and sent back the word: “Thanks.”

– from “A Sample of Kipling Wisdom”, published at p.27 of “The Kipling Guide Book” (1899), by William Roberton, held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.