Monthly Archives: June 2008

Tin ears

The Newseum in Washington offers a great service of today’s front pages from around the world. I had a scan today of how Europe’s newspapers covered Obama’s clinching the Democratic nomination and one oddity leaped out. Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung, which is a left-of-center daily, has the huge headline: Onkel Baracks Hütte. Did they really mean to associate Barack Obama with Uncle Tom? I thought German education was better than that. I’m astounded.

Update Looking at the various front pages, I like that Il Corriere della Sera (not my favorite Italian paper, that’s La Repubblica) majored on Barack and Michelle Obama giving dap (and I wanted to use the word dap, which I only learned today):

Presidential language

Foreign Policy points to an article in Le Monde bemoaning that Barack Obama “doesn’t speak any foreign languages (except Indonesian)”. What that really means is Barack Obama doesn’t speak French. Not only is Le Monde wrong, because Obama does speak some Spanish, but the seeming belittlement of Indonesian is very misplaced.

Here’s how languages rank in terms of native speakers according to the very sober, conservative estimates of Ethnologue:

1. Mandarin (873 million)
2. Spanish (322 million)
3. English (309 million)
4. Hindi/Urdu (242 million)
5. Arabic (206 million)
13. Javanese/Indonesian  (75 million)
19. French (65 million)

So ya boo sucks to all those snooty people who don’t know any foreign languages (except French).


One of the things that gets my synapses firing is the frequent unlikely juxtaposition of items in my news reader. Because I’m looking at the feeds chronologically, in a river of news style, there are collisions that set off new ideas.

Today it was the close proximity of Geoff Manaugh’s Bldgblog on China’s dust bowl (amazing and frightening photos) with The Run of Play’s musings on Jose Mourinho’s move to Inter. Both blogs have consistently excellent writing. What struck me today, however, is that both were about dreamscapes in unlikely places.

I don’t claim any great significance for this – particularly in the week when we’re finally going to get the transformative Democratic candidate I’ve been waiting for – but it’s those interesting juxtapositions that keep my mind healthy.

Incidentally, for political junkie river of news fans, Dave Winer’s latest venture is essential reading. NewsJunk doesn’t create my favored unlikely clashes, but it is a way to immerse yourself in the stream of political news and analysis.

Political innovation

The UK group mySociety has produced an astonishingly steady stream of political innovations. The latest is a crowd-sourcing add-on to, which provides comprehensive information on your local MP.

TheyWorkForYou now has video of speeches in Parliament, taken from the BBC. They also have the complete text of Parliamentary debates from Hansard. So the site is asking readers to match the two. A Flash-based application lets users match the written speech to the video. Results are stored and time-stamped. At a quick glance, it looks like an extension of the kind of technology that powers the wonderful dotSub.