a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

We need good souls: Lawrence Lessig

Posted on the July 31st, 2010

Lawrence Lessig brilliantly explains once again how there’s serious trouble in river city — the river being the Potomac and the city, Washington D.C.

To learn more about Lessig and the campaign to reform Congress, go to Fix Congress First!

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What does the Wikileaks Afghan doc story tell us about where journalism is headed?

Posted on the July 27th, 2010

Can the question of “Are we seeing anything new?” in relation to this week’s huge Wikileaks Afghan documents story also be applied to journalism itself?

The answer is yes, according to journalism professor C.W. Anderson writing in a post yesterday for Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab website (“Data, diffusion, impact: Five big questions the Wikileaks story raises about the future of journalism” July 26, 2010).


The release of the Wikileaks stories yesterday was a classic case study of the new ecosystem of news diffusion. More complex than the usual stereotype of “journalists report, bloggers opine,” in the case the Wikileaks story we got to see a far more nuanced (and, I would say, far more real) series of news decisions unfold: from new fact-gatherers, to news organizations in a different position in the informational chain, all the way to the Twittersphere in which conversation about the story was occurring in real-time, back to the bloggers, the opinion makers, the partisans, the politicians, and the hacks. This is how news works in 2010;

Anderson goes on to point out how the three major newspapers breaking the Wikileaks documents story — New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel — each talked in a different way about the Wikileaks data. And he identifies the emergence of something new in journalism (read post here).

Definitely fascinating reading.

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Let’s play news, information and shopping: digital natives

Posted on the July 27th, 2010

The first thing Frédéric Filloux tells us in his blog post Sunday about a recent study on “digital natives” (scroll down) is that “they see life as a game.” (“Understanding the Digital Natives” Monday Note.com, July 25, 2010).

Filloux summarizes the findings of French polling agency BVA in a study it conducted recently on the digital habits of hundreds of 18-24 year-olds.


The way a Digital Native see his (or, once for all “her“) environment is deeply shaped by computer games. “When he is buying something”, says Edouard Le Marechal who engineered the survey, “finding the best bargain is a process as important as acquiring the good…

Filloux provides a link to the original BVA study report (in French).

I found the link to the post by Filloux at editorsweblog.org in a blog post by Dawn Osakue yesterday (Digital Natives versus brand elite?  July 26, 2010). Okakue offers further details about the digital native group.

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For those who still don’t understand how crucial Twitter is?

Posted on the July 25th, 2010

If you want to change the world, as they say, and still don’t understand how important social media (Twitter, Facebook et al) is as a primary tool, then you might want to watch this short video featuring digital strategist, Cheryl Contee.

Contee was speaking at the Netroots Nation conference (ending today) in Las Vegas. She highlights some important statistics about who’s using social networking media, and offers a few powerful dos and do nots for social activists and organizations.

For example, Contee explains why now “there is no digital divide.”

Though the conference is USA focused, the info about Twitter and Facebook is applicable across the globe.

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Times’ paywall experiment down, but is it out?

Posted on the July 25th, 2010

Although the paying-members-only policy recently enacted by The Times in the UK reportedly has caused online readership to plummet 90 percent (see here), it’s still too early to declare the experiment a dead duck, according to a blog post by Peter Robins, media and technology editor at rival UK newspaper the Guardian (“The paywall won’t be built in a day” July 22, 2010).

Robins writes that it would be “very unwise” to conclude that Times‘ publisher Rupert Murdoch’s paywall has failed. As argument, he raises the analogy of another Murdoch publication behind a paywall, the quite successful Wall Street Journal.


The Wall Street Journal acquired its million online subscribers by following a consistent strategy for a decade…

Robins cautiously predicts that a definitive answer about the success or failure of the Times‘ paywall (if continued) won’t emerge for six months or more.

Robins does omit mentioning that the WSJ is primarily a financial newspaper and — like the Financial Times that also operates successfully behind a paywall — has a select subscriber base that reportedly is quite willing to pay for the speciality of business and finance news (see here).

Earlier post on Times’ paywall here.

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More Rosey Chan

Posted on the July 24th, 2010

Can’t resist posting another Rosey Chan video (previous here).

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And just a bit more about Facebook: 10 facts, 25 cartoons

Posted on the July 23rd, 2010

Following up on yesterday’s post about how Facebook is faring outside the U.S., I’m posting two links to things that  I saw today about the website .

One is from Mashable.com, an article about ten Facebook facts you may not know (“10 Fascinating Facebook Facts” by Amy-Mae Elliott, July 22, 2010).

The second is social media specialist Chad Richards’ pick for the top 25 cartoons about Facebook. Don’t know the criteria he used to select them, but they’re fun (Slideshare.net, 2009). See here.

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In praise of our world: ARKive.org

Posted on the July 23rd, 2010

The ARKive project has unique access to the very best of the world’s wildlife films and photographs, with more than 3,500 of the world’s leading filmmakers and photographers actively contributing to the project, and giving ARKive unprecedented access to their materials. Contributors include the most famous names in natural history broadcasting, commercial film and picture agencies, leading academic institutions and international conservation organisations, as well as myriad individual filmmakers, photographers, scientists and conservationists. (from ARKive  – About page)

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How’s Facebook doing outside the U.S.?

Posted on the July 22nd, 2010

With more than 136 million European users (as of April 2010),  Facebook’s popularity in Europe is evident, according to InsideFacebook.com (“Who’s Using Facebook Around the World?” June 8, 2010).

Total penetration for Europe now stands at a respectable 21.1% with a total audience of 136,549,060 Facebook users…

And this popularity echoes a worldwide trend. More than 70 percent of Facebook users are outside the U.S., according to the New York Times. That would be 70 percent of a total of 500 million users that Facebook reports it now has on board, according to a flood of news reports this week.

I would be willing to bet that most Facebook users — though aging, still predominantly ages 13 to 34 — don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the man, Mark Zuckerberg, who’s behind the website that stars in their daily lives. But others do, especially privacy advocates, and some critics and enemies Zuckerberg gained along the way to his astounding success.

Recently Zuckerberg answered some questions about himself and Facebook in an interview that was broadcast last night on ABC Television. Related story here (“Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Talks to Diane Sawyer as Website Gets 500-Millionth Member” by Ki Mae Heussner, July 21, 2010).

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If elephants can do it, why can’t we?

Posted on the July 21st, 2010

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Online media is vastly improving journalism: Henry Blodget

Posted on the July 21st, 2010

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Online media, hard to believe, still endures shovels full of badmouthing and tsk tsking from its detractors. The blogosphere in particular is routinely chopped up, skewered, fried and refried by its critics.

And that cyberspace represents the killing of journalism itself, well that’s a grumble still coming from some.

So the praise served up today for journalism and online media by Henry Blodget (rehabilitated) is a fine, fine thing to see (“On Our Third Birthday, Some Thoughts On Digital Media And The Future Of The Newspaper Business” Business Insider, July 20, 2010).


The future of journalism, in fact, is bright.  Despite the struggles of many newspapers–and the pain that many newspaper folks have experienced in the past 10 years–the world is vastly better informed than it was only a decade ago.  Thanks to millions of blogs, experts, organizations, causes, digital media companies, print media companies, electronic media companies (Bloomberg, Reuters), Twitter, Facebook, and other next-generation information outlets, the world is now awash in primary and secondary information.

It’s true that this the information often appears in a rough, unedited, or incorrect form.  But within seconds, millions of online fact-checkers descend upon it and hammer it into shape.  This participatory, conversational journalism is certainly different than what came before, but it’s vastly more powerful…

Blodget’s praise is the summing up of a piece about the turbulent future of the newspaper business. He focuses in particular on the New York Times. There are some dismaying facts and figures that he says newspaper bosses aren’t telling their staff (read more here).


UPDATE: Recent news story from Bloomberg Business Week on Henry Blodget and Business Insider (“Henry Blodget’s Risky Bet on the Future of News” by Andrew Goldman, July 8, 2010)

P.S. Really appreciate the free cartoons (see above) from Dave Walker at weblogcartoons.com

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Will Aussies choose to keep their first woman Prime Minister?

Posted on the July 20th, 2010

In about a month from now, on August 21, Australia’s first ever woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard will find out if the voters of the country also want her in the government’s top spot.

According to a Guardian Weekly story last week, Gillard’s Labor Party has pulled ahead  in the national polls (“Julia Gillard calls snap Australian election” by Peter Beaumont, July 18, 2010):

The country’s first female prime minister, Welsh-born Gillard was appointed by the ruling Labor party as the government faced what seemed like certain electoral defeat, and a party coup saw Kevin Rudd ousted. Since then, however, Gillard has been credited with rebuilding support for her party, to an extent that Labor is narrowly ahead in the opinion polls.

Below is a video of Gillard last Saturday announcing her decision to call for the August election:

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Time to move on from capitalism: David Harvey

Posted on the July 19th, 2010

In a recent talk for the RSA Society, social theorist David Harvey asked if the time has come for a new social order that would be more humane and responsible than capitalism. The video above is a special excerpted portion of Harvey’s 31 minute talk — accompanied by an entertaining cartoonist’s animation (full version here).

Harvey is a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). His most recent book, “The Enigma of Capitalism,” was published in April of this year.

I’ve transcribed a short excerpt from the ending portion of Harvey’s talk:

Any sensible person right now would join an anti-capitalist organization. And you have to. Because otherwise we’re going to have the continuation. And notice it’s the continuation of all sorts of negative aspects. For instance, the racking up of wealth.

You would have thought the crisis would have stopped that. Actually more billionaires emerged in India last year than ever. They doubled last year. The wealth of the rich — I read something this morning — in this country has accelerated. Just last year, what happened was the leading hedge fund owners got personal remunerations of $3 billion each. In one year.

Now, I thought it was obscene and insane a few years ago when they got $250 million. But they’re now hauling in $3 billion. And as the famous statement — I think it was by Andrew Mellon — way back… ‘In a crisis,’ he said, ‘assets return to their rightful owners,’ i.e., him. And that, in effect, is the plug of the financial world right now. ‘Yeah, the assets are going to return to us.’ Now that’s not a world I want to live in. And if you want to live in it, be my guest.

But you’ve got to start thinking. And what bothers me about academia… I don’t see us debating and discussing this. I don’t have the solutions. I think I know what the nature of the problem is. And unless we’re prepared to have a very broad based discussion that gets away, you know, from the normal pablum you get in the political campaign and — you know, everything’s going to be okay next year if you vote for me — it’s crap. You should know it’s crap and say it is.

And we have a duty, it seems to me, those of us who are academics and seriously involved in the world, to actually change our mode of thinking.

I know I’m pretty sick of pablum. But I do think it’s not only academics who need to change their mode of thinking. We all need to (see more here).

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Is the laugh on him? Nick Clegg and the cartoonists

Posted on the July 18th, 2010

In a recent Pew Research poll, only 19 percent of a random sample of 1,007 U.S. adults surveyed knew the name of UK Prime Minister David Cameron. So it follows, don’t you think, that the number who know Cameron’s governing coalition partner, Nick Clegg, would ring in even lower.

Too bad for those Americans living in their blissful political ignorance. The UK Cameron-Clegg coupling is (among other more serious matters), a most interesting spectator sport for political junkies.

Today’s Guardian carries a three-minute video interview with political cartoonist Chris Riddell. He’s shown putting the final touches on a cartoon about Clegg.

The video tops an article on how minority party leader Clegg is faring in the satirical vision of UK political cartoonists (“Nick Clegg as a cartoon figure – it’s fun but does it really hurt?” by Peter Preston, July 18, 2010).

As you need to know at least the ABCs of present UK politics to understand the cartoon, here’s a starter: in order to win his current Prime Minister title after a too-close-to-call election, so to speak, Conservative (Tory) Party leader Cameron was forced to form a first-of its kind coalition government with the third place vote winner, Liberal Democrat Party (Lib Dem) leader Nick Clegg.

It was a marriage made in the upheaval heaven of a confused and unhappy British electorate. But, though fascinating in its unprecedented nature, the pairing was predicted to be hell for one, or both, of the political marital mates Cameron and Clegg.

Excerpt from the article: (quote from cartoonist Peter Brookes):

The Lib Dems are a party to the left of Labour and they are doing the Tories’ bidding – they are fig leaves, being used to justify Tory policy. “At PMQs, you can see Clegg immediately behind Cameron. You can tell he’s uncomfortable, as you would be if you were having all this stuff heaped upon you by the Tories. The whole thing is riddled with these wonderful, strange anomalies that will never be resolved, which is why the coalition is so good for cartoonists.

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Listening on a lazy Saturday afternoon: Rosey Chan

Posted on the July 17th, 2010

Piano performer Rosey Chan — “A day in the life…” (J S Bach).

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Thoughts on a woodchuck and a hero on a day when I’m worn out reading the headlines

Posted on the July 15th, 2010

It’s a thought-provoking film, The Book of Eli (Codice Genesis), not least because the reality of a bumbling human race reducing our planet to a barren, burnt out brown, sparsely populated, primitively violent place seems less and less a fantasy with every passing decade. Just my opinion on bleaker news days.

So while watching Denzel Washington in Eli, for me it didn’t feel so much like escapist entertainment as a crystal ball glimpse into a looming, dark prospect.

This reaction stayed with me for some time after we watched the movie. In this shadowy mood, my mind reached for a little light. Possibilities?

Maybe human species progress is best viewed through a prism more akin to geologic time than through the stopwatch of a few centuries, relatively speaking, with which we’ve been recording our history.

Maybe the life force ruthlessly will push us to keep doing the thing until we get it right. Push us even to the point of destroying us unless we can learn to live in harmony with all of life, rather than inevitably falling victim to the bully’s will to power that plagues us to this day (see Gaia, for example). So, again and again and again and again, we may have to start over. We may have to wake up to the same day and same potential for something more intelligent and worthy of us, wake up and do this repeatedly until we learn to write a new plotline.

Call me odd, but this reflection made me feel a little more hopeful (in a grim sort of way). About something. Something that I don’t grasp well or see clearly or even truly believe is there, I confess. If it’s really a matter of geologic time, though, then such myopic vision is unavoidable. just about the best we can do at this point.

And the desperately Pollyanna among us persist in imagining that we can not only create nightmares, but also dreams.

Yes, I know, this is all thin whistling in the dark.

Eli also reminded me of another movie, though with a lighter color palate, of a few years back — Groundhog Day.

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If you can pay, here’s the news: Murdoch’s paywall

Posted on the July 5th, 2010

Yesterday a friend tried to send me a copy of an article in the Times, the UK newspaper that is now secreted behind a paywall, its online content available to paid subscribers only.

The article, so my friend wrote, was an interview with someone whose life story reminded her of a personal situation I had discussed with her recently. So, being a good friend, she took the trouble of scanning the article into an email for me.

Unfortunately some technical glitch messed it up, and all I got was html code instead of text. I asked her to try again and I’m waiting for the re-send.

In the meantime, in spite of knowing about the paywall, I clicked on the Times website to search for the article. Immediately, up popped a page saying either pay us or go bye bye.

Annoyance compounded! How do I mean this? Months ago when I read about media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s insistence that his News Corp newspapers be swaddled behind a paywall, I felt vaguely, though truly, annoyed by what seems to me a clear outbreak of Ludditus

But yesterday, I felt a personal sting from this imposition by Murdoch that access to information be only available to those able to pay. It feels a violation of what more and more seems to be a crucial human right — open access to a free flow of information. And, furthermore, the idea that a simple paywall can restore profits in today’s complex media-scape of vast options doesn’t seem probable.

Newspaper paywalls (I hope!) are futile wishful thinking for the claustrophobic old days when circulation and audience markets were sitting ducks. Readers and viewers were imprisoned by a relatively small number of news and entertainment outlets — it was quite awful for those of us who were there and remember.

So I perked up today when I came across an interview with Internet technologies expert Clay Shirky in the Guardian (“Clay Shirky: ‘Paywall will underperform – the numbers don’t add up'” by Decca Aitkenhead, July 5, 2010). I noted especially the following segment:

Rupert Murdoch has just begun charging for online access to the Times – and Shirky is confident the experiment will fail.

“Everyone’s waiting to see what will happen with the paywall – it’s the big question. But I think it will underperform. On a purely financial calculation, I don’t think the numbers add up.” But then, interestingly, he goes on, “Here’s what worries me about the paywall. When we talk about newspapers, we talk about them being critical for informing the public; we never say they’re critical for informing their customers. We assume that the value of the news ramifies outwards from the readership to society as a whole. OK, I buy that. But what Murdoch is signing up to do is to prevent that value from escaping. He wants to only inform his customers, he doesn’t want his stories to be shared and circulated widely. In fact, his ability to charge for the paywall is going to come down to his ability to lock the public out of the conversation convened by the Times.”

I like that last sentence so much, I want to pluck it out and highlight it again:

In fact, his ability to charge for the paywall is going to come down to his ability to lock the public out of the conversation convened by the Times.

Raise your hand if you want to be locked out, again.

UPDATE – July 20, 2010: “Murdoch’s First Newspaper Paywall Not Off to a Great Start” by Henry Blodget, Huffington Post

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