a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Have you read Flash Boys?

Posted on the April 24th, 2015

Flash Boys: A Wall Street RevoltFlash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Extraordinary and alarming front row seat view into deeply buried exploitation practices of some Wall Street traders. The good news is that the book also tells the story of a handful of heroic finance whizzes to restore some fairness to the stock market.

Even so, Lewis doesn’t sugarcoat the news that the battle is ongoing, even though some progress is being made. As usual with Lewis, he writes in such an energetically paced and colorful style, that the book is an enjoyable read. Highly recommend for anyone wanting to understand a little bit more about the finance markets and how they work — or don’t work is perhaps more accurate.

And for anyone who needs a glossary to help follow the narrative, here’s a good one that I found online (free): http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/financ…

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Just enough to keep us going: Diana Athill

Posted on the May 17th, 2013

Excerpt from the memoir “Stet: An Editor’s Life” by Diana Athill (Granta Publications, 2000):

Years ago, in a pub near Baker Street, I heard a man say that humankind is seventy percent brutish, thirty per cent intelligent, and though the thirty per cent is never going to win, it will always be able to leaven the mass just enough to keep us going. That rough and ready assessment of our plight has stayed with me as though it were true, given that one takes ‘intelligence’ to mean not just intellectual agility, but whatever it is in beings that makes for readiness to understand, to look for the essence in other beings and things and events, to respect that essence, to collaborate, to discover, to endure when endurance is necessary, to enjoy:  briefly, to co-exist. It does, alas, seem likely that sooner or later, either through our own folly or collision with some wandering heavenly body, we will all vanish in the wake of the dinosaurs; but until that happens I believe that the yeast of intelligence will continue to operate one way or another.

Even if it operates in vain, it remains evolution’s peak (as far as we can see): something to enjoy and foster as much as possible; something not to betray by succumbing to despair, however deep the many pits of darkness.

Publisher’s website (grantabooks.com) and book page here.

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What’s a writer to do when publishers say no? Bradley Abruzzi

Posted on the August 23rd, 2012

If you have 70 or so minutes to spare and you are interested in the heated, at times hysterical, debate now underway about traditional publishing versus self-publishing, here’s a link to a video I highly recommend.

The speaker is Bradley Abruzzi, an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at MIT. In this candid and thoughtful talk, however, Abruzzi’s topic isn’t his successful day job or the legal field. Instead he relates a personal story — his own long search and failure to find a publisher for his literary fiction manuscripts, and his decision finally to self-publish his own novel.

Abruzzi doesn’t try to hide his frustration and disappointment. This is fortunate for his listeners because it gives us a close-up view of the dilemma a writer confronts when publishers repeatedly say no.  Abruzzi discusses the promise, and difficulties, of digital media for writers, beginning his talk with a concise and informed historical overview of writers and publishing, ranging from the feudal times to present day.

The talk was given at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. You can watch the full video here, or click on the screenshot above.


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SPECK ‘N U: (24) Suddenly things seem so much brighter

Posted on the May 26th, 2012


Speck’N U is a cartoon series mostly about books by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato. To see more Speck cartoons, click here.


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SPECK ‘N U: 23 (“In Defence of Dogs” – John Bradshaw)

Posted on the March 1st, 2012
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SPECK ‘N U: 22 (Marcelo Gleiser – A Tear At The Edge of Creation)

Posted on the January 27th, 2012

From “A Tear At The Edge of Creation” by Marcelo Gleiser

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SPECK ‘N U: 21 (Marcelo Gleiser)

Posted on the December 5th, 2011

From “A Tear At The Edge of Creation” by Marcelo Gleiser

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SPECK ‘N U: 20 (Carl Safina)

Posted on the October 14th, 2011

From “The View From Lazy Point” by Carl Safina

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SPECK ‘N U:19 (Carl Safina)

Posted on the October 14th, 2011

From “The View From Lazy Point” by Carl Safina


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What do we mean by language? (Madalena Cruz-Ferreira and Sunita Anne Abraham)

Posted on the September 6th, 2011


If someone asked you, “Do you know what the pro in pronoun stands for?” would you know the answer?

Or, perhaps, “What is the most irregular verb in English?”

Or maybe, “Do you know why (with exceptions, of course) we can add er or est to some adjectives for purposes of comparison but we must use more or most with others. As in:

largest country
most populous country

The answers are nestled in “The Language of Language” (2011), a compact work by two linguistics scholars, Madalena Cruz Ferreira and Sunita Anne Abraham. The origin of the book, according to the preface, was a series of lectures by Cruz-Ferreira to university undergrads.

But as the book assumes no familiarity with linguistics, it’s also an illuminating read for language enthusiasts or the randomly curious. Some samplings: What are the nuts and bolts of how language itself – any language, not just English – is built and developed by its expert caretakers, the professional linguists, and by users themselves? Why do some languages live and others die? What distinguishes one language from another?

The three questions I posed in the opening above offer more examples of the many explored in the book. What is especially fun — works great as a word game — are the dozens of boxed questions running through the chapters. Some are riddles:

The owner of a restaurant, fed up with regular customers asking for meals on credit, one day put up this sign:

Free meals tomorrow only

Can you explain why his customers first became all excited and then very disappointed?

Here’s another:

Can you explain the language play in this dialogue?

Speaker A: Time flies!

Speaker B: I can’t, they fly too fast!

Hint: the play has to do with nouns and verbs.

For those tired of the usual car travel games with restless children, these boxed riddles offer a wonderful and painlessly-instructive alternative.

The most enjoyable features of the book, though, for me are the “Food for thought” sections at the end of each chapter. Here the authors include famous, scholarly and funny quotes about language, and poems on wordplay and pronunciation quandaries.


“We sometimes take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don’t fing?
If the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn’t the plural of phone booth be phone beeth?
If the teacher taught,
Why didn’t the preacher praught?”

But lest I mislead by highlighting  the book’s entertaining content, it’s important to emphasize that “The Language of Language” is a substantive scholarly work. In the authors’ own words from the Preface:

Our main purpose in this book is to explore the nature of language, both as a social phenomenon and a human cognitive ability. Our goal is to encourage informed thinking about issues relating to language structure and use, by discussing as broad a sample as possible, in a book of this size, of the kinds of activities that linguists busy themselves with.

Finally, for those who are still stumped by the questions at the top of this post, I offer the answers to the first two, as provided by Cruz-Ferreira and Abraham: The pro in pronoun stands for proxy (as in substitute). And the most irregular verb in English is to be – it can appear in eight different forms: “am, are, is, was, were, being, been and be itself!”

But for question three, I opt to refer you to the book. The first reason being that the answer is rather complex and lengthy (hint – see page 58). And the second reason being that I highly recommend that language lovers and parents of young children buy this book (linguists have to eat too, you know).

Cybershoppers can find the book here.

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SPECK ‘N U: 14 (Jon Kabat-Zinn)*

Posted on the July 16th, 2011

* From the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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SPECK ‘N U: 13 (Jon Kabat-Zinn)*

Posted on the July 8th, 2011

* From the book, “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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The superrich and robbery in plain sight (“Winner-Take-All Politics”)

Posted on the May 25th, 2011

A Book Review

That the superrich across the globe are in the process of stealing most of the world’s wealth and resources from the rest of us is by now common knowledge among those who aren’t persisting in turning a blind eye. That superrich defined is the top 1 percent approximately (or 0.01 percent more accurately).

But for those who still don’t know about this mindboggling raid on the human planet and its population, I hope you will take a look at two recent sources of information that describe the process chapter and verse.

The first, thoroughly documented and alarming, is the book “Winner-Take-All Politics” – the authors are two political science professors in American universities (Yale and UC Berkeley), Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

As an example of what they are writing about, here’s a 1954 quote they cite from President Dwight Eisenhower (Republican):

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt…, a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Unfortunately, as Hacker and Pierson demonstrate over and over in their book, Eisenhower was wrong about his central point. One of the two US major political parties (and the other one also to a huge extent) is persisting in doing just what he described as impossible, and that party is very much still part of political history in the making.

A second source of information about the superrich and their grand theft of all there is to have is a recent article in the UK’s Guardian“Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage” by Peter Wilby (May 18, 2011).


That is the most important point about what has happened to incomes in Britain and America during the neoliberal era: the very rich are soaring ahead, leaving behind not only manual workers – now a diminishing minority – but also the middle-class masses, including doctors, teachers, academics, solicitors, architects, Whitehall civil servants and, indeed, many CEOs who don’t run FTSE 100 companies, to say nothing of the marketing, purchasing, personnel, sales and production executives below them.

Neither Hacker and Pierson in their book nor Wilby in his Guardian article play favorites with political labels. The superrich driving this ruthless and barbaric raid on the planet and their fellow human beings evidently don’t care whether you call yourself a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, Communist, Anarchist or general apolitical layabout. To paraphrase the pop song, they just want your money, honey, they don’t need your love.

Again, I highly recommend reading these two exposès. What you choose to do once you are aware of the real state of affairs is, of course, your choice. But this is not the time to stand silently by on the sidelines.


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SPECK ‘N U: 9 (C.G. Jung and feminism)

Posted on the May 6th, 2011

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SPECK ‘N U:8 (C.G. Jung and feminism)

Posted on the April 14th, 2011

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SPECK ‘N U:7 (Marshall McLuhan)

Posted on the April 4th, 2011

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SPECK ‘N U: 6 (Marshall McLuhan)

Posted on the March 19th, 2011

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SPECK ‘N U: 5 (Marshall McLuhan)

Posted on the March 12th, 2011

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SPECK ‘N U: 4 (Marshall McLuhan)

Posted on the March 6th, 2011

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SPECK ‘N U: 3 (Stephen Hawking)

Posted on the February 26th, 2011

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