Monthly Archives: November 2002

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China views 

Dan Gillmor is teaching journalism in Hong Kong. Appropriately, he has encouraged his students to start weblogs. Simon Song‘s angle is to look at how the rest of the world views China. Song’s view is one Chinese persective (not the Chinese perspective), but it’s an interesting start for a blog.

He hasn’t yet commented on Nicolas Kristof’s disturbing report on Aids in China. “Chinese officials are killing peasants every day through their denial and cover-up of the AIDS crisis. Instead of leading a campaign against the disease, they have arrested a leading doctor for speaking out about the disease, barred foreign and Chinese journalists from the area, prevented even Chinese doctors from visiting affected villages and banned humanitarian organizations from helping AIDS victims in Henan.”

As Kristof points out, “If the authorities just committed themselves to attack AIDS as zealously as they fight unauthorized births, the battle could be won.”

Swahili coast 

Giles Foden, whose novel Zanzibar is about the al-Qaeda bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998, offers his thoughts on the Swahili coast. “Mombasa itself has seen the rise and fall of civilisations, and it is from the embers of these that fundamentalist Islam has coaxed its flames.”

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Google searches 

Given how central Google is to my daily work, I got a lot of enjoyment from reading Jennifer 8 Lee’s Postcards from Planet Google. A Google search uncovered that the 8 in Lee’s name was given to distinguish from the millions of other Chinese Lees and 8, of course, is the luckiest number in China. (Unlike UK think-tanker Perri 6, who chose his name for effect.)

Deconstructing Chernin 

Dan Gillmor pointed me to Jonathan Peterson’s brilliant deconstruction of News Corp’s Peter Chernin‘s keynote address at Comdex. This detailed analysis of falsifications and misdirections is a truly original and valuable use of a weblog. I can’t see any conventional media devoting the time and space to this kind of work. A must read.

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The origin of googol 

Apparently, the word googol was coined by nine year-old Milton Sirotta, nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner.

The FDR comparison 

The always interesting Lincoln Plawg compares reports on administration battles between the Rumsfeld-Cheney hawks and the Powell doves to the tussles between Hopkins and Ickes in the FDR administration. “FDR’s purpose was, I suspect, not (or not wholly!) narcissistic, to see courtiers squabble over the place closest to him; but rather to give him cover — and to demonstrate to the various sections of the Democratic Party that their views were represented at the highest level.”

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Clinton v Rice 

The Los Angeles Times has a fun piece speculating about a Hillary Clinton versus Condi Rice presidential race in 2008 (registered users only).

Copyright wars 

Jonathan Zittrain has written a cogent piece on the copyright wars. “Freedom of trade must not trump freedom of mind.”

Eric Carle museum 

When I get a chance, I’m certainly going to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.


Philosophy is not one of my strong points, but I was struck by Chris Bertram’s comments on the death of John Rawls.

“In two centuries time I believe that people will still read and think about John Rawls and argue about how to understand him. In 1804, I imagine that few people would have taken seriously the idea that Immanuel Kant’s death marked the passing of the greatest living German and I don’t suppose many people today would think that the greatest living American has died — in two hundred years the verdict may be different.”

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Kurtz on Krugman 

Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post writes about Paul Krugman, following up Nicholas Confessore in The Washington Monthly. Confessore has the detail: “As major columnists go, he is almost alone in analyzing the most important story in politics in recent years — the seamless melding of corporate, class, and political party interests at which the Bush administration excels.”

“It is considered the appropriate thing to say at a dinner party that, while Krugman is very bright, he’s just too relentless on Bush,” Confessore quotes James Carville. “Because to accept Krugman’s facts as right makes the Washington press look like idiots.”

Weblogs v big media 

Jenny the Librarian highlights one of the advantages weblogs have over much of major media: RSS. “Until the BigPubs figure this out, blogs will continue to be more syndicated that even the biggest media machines. With the big, fancy, very-expensive re-design that the Wall Street Journal recently went through, you’d think they would have at least gotten a few RSS feeds up and even figured out how to handle authentication for their subscribers.”

As someone who increasingly relies on RSS feeds for my information, I am frustrated by good weblogs that lack RSS (Talking Points Memo, British Politics and D-Squared Digest, that means you), and I am thoroughly baffled by major media sources that don’t provide appropriate feeds. Get with the programme people.

Extremist setback 

Most stories these days are about the rise of extremism, so it’s nice to read about Austria’s rejection of the crazies.

Dismantling walls 

Last night I went to a presentation of the Peaceworks Network initiative, which is trying to dismantle the burgeoning wall between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mohammad Darawshe, an Israeli-Arab who chairs the steering committee of the initiative, gave a particularly moving example of why such efforts are needed. A year ago, Darawshe said, his eight year-old son came to him. “Dad,” he said. “You know I said I want to be a doctor when I grow up?” “Yes, son.” “And I want to be a footballer, too?” “Yes.” “Well, now I’ve decided I want to be a martyr.”

In a room of 30 people, you could feel the chill with this remark. Fortunately, Darawshe believes he has convinced his son that he can do more for his country alive than dead.

Defining walls 

Tom Friedman has some worthwhile reflections on three walls: the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ and what he calls Israel’s Wall of Fear.

“[Arabs] don’t see that the wall of hostility they erected against Israel, and lately against America, has turned into a wall holding the Arabs back from modernity. And the longer the Arab wall of hostility has stood, the more it has debilitated the moderate Israeli majority and emboldened an extremist minority.”

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Education and effort 

Nicholas Kristof has an interesting glimpse of China’s elite education, and he believes he has seen the future. “The long-run competitive challenge we Americans face from China will have less to do with its skylines, army or industry than with its Super Kids, like Tony Xu.”

He writes about high school students who already qualify for graduate education in the US, and the arithmetical wizardry of kindergarten students. I think there’s a humbling divide in ambition and determination between what Kristof witnesses in China and I’ve seen, for example, in India, and the bulk of students in advanced, western economies. Let’s have more of that determination here, for sure. I’m less sure, however, how that translates into the future.

How much is gained by accelerating the achievements of the best students? What is the difference between taking GREs (the standardised US graduate examinations) at 18 or 22, in the long run? Are either predictors of future achievement in a discipline? I wouldn’t be as hasty as Kristof at leaping to conclusions.

Newspaper divide 

Rhetorica has started an interesting strand on the differences between US and UK newspapers. The assertion is that the overt political bias of British papers is part of their success in circulation, and encourages political participation.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. As some of the comments on Rhetorica have noted, Britain’s newspapers are for the most part national, not local. So while Britain has a quarter of the US population, the newspapers are selling into a much bigger market than their US equivalents. Further, British newspapers are in a uniquely competitive market. I think that demands that papers establish a distinct identity — in their politics and in many other attributes. If The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Independent were all trying to be “objective” newspapers of record (like The New York Times or The Washington Post), there wouldn’t be room for four of them.

And I haven’t even begun to discuss the tabloid papers, which follow very different rules indeed.

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Changing climates 

While the Bush administration continues to avoid any substantive policies to combat climate change, there are straws in the wind of a changing mood in the US. For example, Exxon has just given Stanford $100 million to help establish a programme on alternative energy technologies. Unlike Shell and BP, which have tried hard in the last few years to position themselves as environmentally aware, Exxon and the other US oil majors have instead traditionally pumped money into campaigns to deny the seriousness of global warming.

Outside the US, of course, the gravity of the issue is becoming increasingly clear. Those bastions of radical polemic, the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society, produced a report this week detailing the impact of climate change on Britain’s gardens. “The UK’s whole reputation as a green and pleasant land is under threat,” said one of the authors. And Network Rail, which owns the railway infrastructure in the UK, warned this week that railways face growing problems from flash floods and high winds as climate change brings the “wrong kind of weather”.

The Fox nation 

“We’re the Fox Nation, making Murdoch, with a little critical interpretation, our leader.” A worrying report from Michael Wolff on the state of media in America.

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Gingrich reviews 

Newt Gingrich apparently spends part of his time filing reviews on Two things struck me about these reviews: how much pulp fiction he reads (along with the more expected military histories and futurist thinking) and how seemingly uncritical his judgements are. Newt doesn’t seem to read anything of less than four-star standard.

Not fallen 

I’m startled by how profoundly The New York Times does not understand protest movements like the anti-globalisation activists. Today’s Times reports that Jose Bove’s star has fallen because he is being sent to prison. As Bove and his followers are keenly aware, imprisonment will ensure his star rises. That’s part of the reason he engages in violent acts of destruction.

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Poetry rules 

I’m all in favour of doing whatever it takes to support poetry. But I was rocked back in my chair by the report that Ruth Lilly has given $100 million to Poetry magazine. From a hand-to-mouth existence, like most literary publications, Poetry is now one of the world’s wealthiest publications. Good luck in figuring out how best to use the money.

Foreign aid 

Matthew Yglesias makes some important points on foreign aid. “I think we should give more foreign aid. We should also conduct a more enlightened foreign and military policy. We should open our agricultural and apparel markets more. But it’s far from clear to me that we’re actually behaving any worse than the Europeans. Being better than the Europeans, however, is not the goal — we should be the best we can be.”

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Inaccessible in China 

Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman have devised a means of real-time testing of China’s Internet filtering. Davos Newbies is reported as inaccessible in China. Update: either there’s a bug in the testing or the Chinese are very quick off the mark. Four hours after Davos Newbies was reported as blocked, it now reports as accessible. Maybe Jonathan can explain it to me.

Understanding technology 

Ed Felten decries what passes for technology coverage in many newspapers. To his mind, too many papers reckon coverage of technology companies is equivalent to coverage of technology. “Lately I’ve started to wonder whether this mislabeling is having insidious effects. What if the editors of these newspapers think they are educating their readers about technology, because they publish a tech section? What if readers think they are learning about technology because they read the tech section? What if lawmakers think that this stuff is what technology is really about?”