Friday, 30 November 2007

Questions for Umberto Eco

From New York Times:

Media Studies

Published: November 25, 2007

Q: Although you’re known best as the author of the highbrow murder mystery “The Name of the Rose,” you’re also a prolific political commentator whose essays have now been collected in a book, “Turning Back the Clock,” in which you warn against the dangers of “media populism.” How would you define that term? Media populism means appealing to people directly through media. A politician who can master the media can shape political affairs outside of parliament and even eliminate the mediation of parliament.

Much of your book is an assault on Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy who used his media empire to assist his political ends. From ’94 to ’95, and from 2001 to 2006, Berlusconi was the richest man in Italy, the prime minister, the owner of three TV channels and controller of the three state channels. He is a phenomenon that could happen and is maybe happening in other countries. And the mechanism will be the same.

But here we have the F.C.C. and other federal agencies to prevent the sort of monopolies that would allow a politician to control the country’s newspapers and TV stations. In the States, there is still a great separation between the media and political power, at least in principle.

So why would any country besides Italy be at risk of having the media takeover you describe? One of the reasons why foreigners are so interested in the Italian case is that Italy was in the last century a laboratory. It started with the Futurists. Their manifesto was in 1909. Then fascism — it was tested in the Italian laboratory and then it migrated to Spain, to the Balkans, to Germany.

Are you saying that Germany got the idea of fascism from Italy? Oh, certainly. According to what the historians say, it is so.

Maybe just the Italian historians. If you don’t like it, don’t tell it. I am indifferent.

You’re saying that Italy was a trendsetter in both fashion — or art — and fascism? Yes, O.K., why not?

What do you make of Berlusconi’s successor, Romano Prodi, who was elected last year and has shifted the government leftward? He is a friend. I like him, but I think he has been overwhelmed by the infighting after the election within his own majority. Berlusconi has the advantage of being a big actor. Prodi is not an actor, which is not a crime, but it is a weakness.

Prodi is an intellectual as opposed to a businessman? Yes, he was a professor of economics. In the early ’90s, Prodi was also a teacher in one of my programs. Suddenly he went into politics.

You’re referring to the department of communications at the University of Bologna, where you’re a professor of semiotics. I retired this month. I am 75.

Have you ever wanted to go into politics? No, because I think everybody must do his job.

Do you see yourself mainly as a novelist? I feel that I am a scholar who only with the left hand writes novels.

I am wondering if you read Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code,” which some critics see as the pop version of your “Name of the Rose.” I was obliged to read it because everybody was asking me about it. My answer is that Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel, “Foucault’s Pendulum,” which is about people who start believing in occult stuff.

But you yourself seem interested in the kabbalah, alchemy and other occult practices explored in the novel. No, in “Foucault’s Pendulum” I wrote the grotesque representation of these kind of people. So Dan Brown is one of my creatures.

Do you care if people read your novels 100 years from now? If somebody writes a book and doesn’t care for the survival of that book, he’s an imbecile.

How long should copyright last?

From The Guardian:

How long should copyright last?

Victor Keegan (
Thursday November 29 2007
Rufus Pollock of Cambridge University has done such a study ( or here). He told the seminar that the optimal length of copyright came out at 15 years. Hogarth would have been unsurprised.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Pushing peace with videogames

Peacemaker is one serious game, i think they should interview players after they experienced that game

Here you can see NYT article about the videogame

The Peres Center for Peace Partners with ImpactGames to Distribute 100,000 Free PeaceMaker Video Games in the Mideast

Pittsburgh and Tel Aviv, November 21, 2007 — With the Mideast Peace Summit in Annapolis, Maryland just days away, 100,000 Israelis and Palestinians living in the actual conflict zone are about to try their hands at solving the peace puzzle—one game at a time. In an unprecedented giveaway, the Peres Center for Peace is distributing 100,000 free copies of the interactive game PeaceMaker to people in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

PeaceMaker is an award-winning interactive game that allows players to get inside the unpredictable politics of peace, discovering firsthand the huge challenges of leading a country, a people, and an international process. PeaceMaker players must choose to play either as the Israeli Prime Minister or Palestinian President. In the course of a typical game, players encounter real-life incidents affecting the Mideast, from protests and political pressures to violent acts, and the player must decide what to do next in order to achieve a virtual peace.

Approximately 75,000 copies will be sent to subscribers of the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz on November 27, with 10,000 copies of the game distributed through the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds. An additional 15,000 copies of PeaceMaker will be distributed to Palestinian and Israeli high school classrooms and taught by specially trained teachers in the coming months.
Leading a new breed of games that are based on current events, PeaceMaker was created by a former Israeli Army Intelligence Corps captain, Asi Burak, and American Eric Brown, who met at Carnegie Mellon University’s prestigious Entertainment Technology program. They created PeaceMaker with a panel of Palestinian and Israeli consultants and launched the game earlier this year. PeaceMaker is the first in a line of news-oriented games the Pittsburgh-based company is developing and is available in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Global conflicts Palestine is another serious game where you play the role of a freelance journalist: you can see the conflict from both sides and decide what story the media will tell.

British broadcasters want to launch online TV

From The Times:

ITV, Channel 4 and BBC to launch online TV

Three UK broadcasters develop new online TV under the working title Kangaroo, which is set to compete with YouTube

Dan Sabbagh, Media Editor

Britain’s three most popular broadcasters will next year launch a joint television over internet service in an attempt to compete with the likes of YouTube for online audiences.

ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC’s commercial division are each planning to take a one-third stake in the “Freeview online” venture, and will make available current and archive programming to watch over the internet on demand.

The supply of ITV and Channel 4 programmes promises to be comprehensive, although the BBC plans to keep separate programmes released in the past seven days. These will instead be released through its iPlayer software.

Clearly commercial in intent, the service will accommodate advertising both within and around clips, and according to Michael Grade, ITV’s executive chairman, “the deal is structured so that we each benefit from content being viewed”, implying that some advertising revenue will be shared.

Other broadcasters are invited to submit their content to the service, currently dubbed Kangaroo, but it is not clear if they will be offered the chance to buy an equity stake. It will be launched sometime in the middle of 2008, under a brand name yet to be decided.

The three broadcasters are planning to discuss their plans with the Office of Fair Trading to ensure that it complies with competition law. Although the trio dominate viewing in the UK, they argue that their true competition is powerful multi-nationals such as Google, the owner of YouTube.

The group also argues that a shared service, using a single software application is simpler for consumers to use. Until now, Channel 4 and the BBC have both developed services that use incompatible software to play their programmes — 4OD and the iPlayer respectively — although other broadcasters, including ITV, simply rely on streaming video without a special software on the desktop.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Sirius satellite radio is the fastest growing company

2007 Technology Fast 500 List

The Deloitte Technology Fast 500 recognizes North America’s fast-growing technology, media, telecommunications and life sciences companies in terms of percentage revenue growth over five years.

The year 2007 marks the 13th anniversary of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500. Through the years, the companies that have appeared on our list have shown a remarkable ability to maintain spectacular growth, not just during the heady times of the technology boom, but also through this now increasingly competitive landscape. The five-year growth rates of the companies on the 2007 Deloitte Technology Fast 500 list, although still stellar by any measure, reflect a business environment that rewards sustained performance.

View the companies on this year's 2007 Technology Fast 500 in the PDF attached here (20 pages)

View the press realease

SIRIUS Satellite Radio Inc. was named the fastest growing technology company in North America: SIRIUS reported a revenue growth rate over five years of 79,060 percent, moving from revenues of $805,000 in 2002 to $637,235,000 in 2006.

Based in New York City, SIRIUS ( is a publicly held provider of satellite radio services. The company delivers more than 130 channels of the “Best Radio on Radio,” including 68 channels of 100 percent commercial-free music and 65 channels of sports, news, talk, entertainment, traffic, weather and data services. This is its first appearance on the Fast 500 ranking.

On February 19, 2007, Sirius announced a merger deal with the competitor XM Satellite Radio. Upon government approval, the merger will combine the two radio services and create a single satellite radio network in the United States.

In addition to Number 1-ranked SIRIUS Satellite Radio Inc., the top five Fast 500 winners include:

Number 2 — SkyBitz Inc., a Sterling, Va.-based privately held communications/networking company, came in second on the 2007 Fast 500 listing. SkyBitz (, a real-time tracking and information management solutions company, reported revenues of $26,673,000 in 2006, a leap of 40,314 percent from 2002 revenues of $66,000. This is its first appearance on the Fast 500 ranking.

Number 3 — iTech US Inc., a privately held software company based in South Burlington, Vt., came in third on the 2007 Fast 500 listing. iTech US (, provider of IT services and e-business operations, reported revenues of $28,434,000 in 2006, a leap of 39,392 percent from 2002 revenues of $72,000. This is its first appearance on the Fast 500 ranking.

Number 4 — First Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR), a Phoenix-based publicly held semiconductor company, came in fourth on the 2007 Fast 500 listing. First Solar (, which specializes in renewable power generation, reported revenues of $134,974,000 in 2006, a leap of 27,446 percent from 2002 revenues of $490,000. This is its first appearance on the Fast 500 ranking.

Number 5 — ISTS Worldwide Inc., a Fremont, Calif.-based privately held software company, came in fifth on the 2007 Fast 500 listing. ISTS Worldwide (, a retail and payment technology-focused custom development, consulting and systems integration services firm, reported revenues of $10,064,000 in 2006, a leap of 19,254 percent from 2002 revenues of $52,000. This is its first appearance on the Fast 500 ranking.

Fastest Growing Companies Are Private

The proportion of private vs. public companies that make up the fastest growing businesses in the 2007 Fast 500 has completely reversed itself from 2002, with private companies now dominating the top 20 slots.[...]

Technology World Is Not Flat

The traditional technology hotspots in California and the Northeast constituted a growing share of the Fast 500, while other regions saw a general decline. Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley’s ecosystems of innovation, academia, venture capital and skilled employees are proving difficult to replicate in other regions.

Ahmadinejad wants your comments

We can say anything about mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (1956) but we can't say that he doesn't like new technologies

How many presidents have their own blog?
Ahmadinejad has one but he updates it seldom, in the last post he wrote:

"As you know, the purpose of running this blog is to have a direct and mutual ‎contact and communication with the viewers and even though I have received many ‎messages from the viewers to update the blog and write new notes, I preferred to write ‎less and spend more time on reading the viewers' messages – and not let this ‎communication tool become just a one-way medium."

He admitted that there's a staff ("some of my trusted students") reading messages and shortening them for him:

"I personally have read those messages that are considered to be short. I even ‎have read those messages that have started with a sentence like "I know that the ‎president is not going to read this message, but…." ‎

Also some of my trusted students have shortened the long messages for me ‎and have prepared a statistical report regarding all of the messages which I have read ‎and studied those too. God willing, a portion of the overall analysis of the messages ‎and its interesting results will be posted on the blog in the future."

In his blog there's a selection of messages sent by common people: some (the majority) pro the president and some against. It's a pity that i can't fully read the e-mail address of the people: how can i know that all the messages aren't fake?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

History of IMDb

From The Guardian:

Hooray for the internet movie database
Jack Schofield
Monday November 26 2007

You might not think a geek working from home in a village near Bristol in the UK would matter to Hollywood, but Col (Colin) Needham runs what is probably the industry's most important website. The Internet Movie Database is not just an important source of movie information and cast lists, it is also the place where more than 65,000 actors and crew members post their résumés and photos, in IMDb Pro.

In the early days, IMDb was also a beacon for web pioneers and regularly featured on lists of top sites. Before Netscape came out, IMDb was a towering example of what was possible.

That was because IMDb started before the web was invented. It grew out of a Usenet newsgroup called rec.arts.movies, where ordinary fans compiled biographies of dead film stars and directors. Over the years it added cast lists, plot summaries, photos, trailers, reviews, quotes, trivia points, awards info, user ratings, bulletin boards, show times and even movie-related games.

The data runs deep. For example, Robert Jackson was boom operator on Beowulf, Roisin Carty was the dialect coach, and the uncredited recruiter was Karen N. Sickles. How much detail do you need?

The site also allows you to shop at Amazon, which is basically what pays for it.

IMDb first went live on a server at Cardiff University in the UK, but as it became bigger and more popular, it was a struggle to keep it going as a free resource. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos solved that problem by buying the company. He wanted to expand into selling videotapes and DVDs, and all IMDb had to do was carry on doing what they were doing: serving users.

The design now looks somewhat old fashioned, especially compared with graphics-laden movie sites. However, it's fast and it does the job. That's what matters.

IMDb attracts a lot of casual visitors, partly because Google adores it. The site is almost always one of the top results for movie-related searches. However, to get the full value of the site you need to register by providing a working email address.

Registration lets you use the message boards, rate movies, take part in polls, create movie lists, catalogue your DVD collection, vote in polls and contribute information.

The voting system lets users give each movie a score from 1 to 10, which adds up to a quality rating. Is Beowulf a better movie than X-Men: The Last Stand? It's close. X-Men TLS has a rating of 7.1 based on 65,491 votes, whereas Beowulf is rated 7.0 based on 6,258 votes.

But you can also get more detailed breakdowns of the votes, which can be interesting. For example, Dirty Dancing (1987 version) scores 6.0, but it's rated 7.8 by females aged 18-29 and only 5.6 by males aged 30-44.

The best movie? The Godfather scores 9.1 on 245,531 votes, with The Shawshank Redemption - in which Col Needham played himself - on the same score. The worst is Who's Your Caddy? which scores 1.3 on 6,664 votes. You decide.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The stories behind the titles

Gary Dexter wrote the book "Why Not Catch 21? The Stories Behind the Titles"

There is an excerpt from The Independent:

The stories behind some of literature's best-known novels

Would 'Catch-22' still be a masterpiece if it was called 'Catch-18'? Why did T S Eliot change the name of 'He Do the Police in Different Voices' to 'The Waste Land'? Gary Dexter tells the stories behind some of literature's best-known novels

Published: 26 November 2007

Catch-22 (1961)

"Catch-22" has passed into the language as a description of the impossible bind. Joseph Heller complained that the phrase "a Catch-22 situation" was often used by people who did not seem to understand what it meant. Given the mental contortions of the catch, this is not surprising.

There are no catches 1 to 21, or 23 onwards, in the book. "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22." Like the final commandment left at the end of Animal Farm, "Catch-22" is an entire rule book distilled into one lunatic decree. Its very uniqueness meant that Heller had to think carefully before naming, or numbering it. And his choice was – Catch-18.

In the Second World War, Heller was a bombardier with the 12th Air Force, based on Corsica, and flew 60 missions over Italy and France. Yossarian in Catch-22 is a bombardier flying the same missions. In 1953, Heller began writing a book called Catch-18, the first chapter of which was published in the magazine New World Writing in 1955. When, three years later, he submitted the first large chunk of it to Simon & Schuster, it was quickly accepted for publication, and Heller worked on it steadily – all the time thinking of it as Catch-18 – until its completion in 1961. Shortly before publication, however, the blockbuster novelist Leon Uris produced a novel entitled Mila 18 (also about the Second World War). It was thought advisable that Heller, the first-time novelist, should be the one to blink.

Heller said in an interview with Playboy in 1975: "I was heartbroken. I thought 18 was the only number." A long process of numerical agonising began in which the author and his editor at Simon & Schuster, Robert Gottlieb, worked their way through the integers looking for the right, the unique formula. Catch-11 was one of the first suggestions, but was rejected because of the film Ocean's Eleven. Heller at one point settled firmly on Catch-14, but Gottlieb threw it out for being too nondescript. When 22 came up, Gottlieb felt it had the right ring: "I thought 22 was a funnier number than 14," he told the New York Times Review of Books in 1967. Heller took two weeks to persuade.

But the journey from 18 to 22, although tortuous, was worth making. The reason is this: 22 has a thematic significance that 18 and most of the other choices do not. In Catch-22, everything is doubled. Yossarian flies over the bridge at Ferrara twice, his food is poisoned twice, there is a chapter devoted to "The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice", the chaplain has the sensation of having experienced everything twice, Yossarian can name two things to be miserable about for every one to be thankful for, all Yossarian can say to the dying Snowden is, "There, there", all Snowden can say is: "I'm cold, I'm cold", Yossarian overhears a woman repeatedly begging "please don't, please don't", and Major Major is actually Major Major Major Major.

Doubling is thus a stylistic device suggestive of the qualified nature of reality. Nothing is singular, unblurred or unambiguous. The title, with its doubled digits (2 representing duality, itself doubled to make 22) conveys this in a way that Catch-18 could never have done.

It seems clear therefore that what happened when Simon & Schuster found out about Leon Uris's book was a piece of great good luck.

My Man Jeeves (1919)

My Man Jeeves (1919) was the first PG Wodehouse book with Jeeves in the title. There were 10 more, and several novels or story collections about Jeeves and Bertie but without Jeeves in the title (such as The Mating Season, 1949). Although My Man Jeeves was the first Jeeves title, Jeeves the gentleman's gentleman himself first made an appearance in the story "Extricating Young Gussie" in the Saturday Evening Post of 18 September 1915. He had two lines: "Mrs Gregson to see you, sir," and, "Very good, sir. Which suit will you wear?"

Wodehouse said in the introduction to the anthology The World of Jeeves (1967): "It was only some time later, when I was going into the strange affair of 'The Artistic Career of Corky', that the man's qualities dawned upon me. I still blush to think of the off-hand way I treated him at our first encounter." "The Artistic Career of Corky" was in fact a later title for the story "Leave It to Jeeves", which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of 5 February 1916.

One more tale deserves mention, one which has misled some into thinking it features Jeeves's debut. This is "Jeeves Takes Charge", a short story published, again in the Saturday Evening Post, on 18 November 1916, more than a year after "Extricating Young Gussie".

Jeeves, then, was born in 1915 or thereabouts – during the first battles of the First World War. Wodehouse was working in the New York theatre at the time, having been living in the USA on and off since about 1909. Before he left permanently for America, however, he went to a cricket match in Cheltenham. And this was where war, cricket and Jeeves met and coalesced.

Percy Jeeves was, by all accounts, a very useful player. Born in 1888, in Earls-heaton, Yorkshire, he played for Goole and then Hawes cricket clubs before signing up for the Warwickshire County side. An attacking right-hand bat, and right-arm medium-fast bowler, he played first-class cricket from 1912 to 1914. The season when he really began to distinguish himself was 1913, taking 106 wickets and scoring 785 runs. It was also the year in which Wodehouse, a keen cricket fan, saw him play at Cheltenham.

Several decades later, RV Ryder, the son of the Warwickshire club secretary who had originally signed Percy Jeeves, wrote to Wodehouse to ask for confirmation that the Jeeves of literature really was named after the Jeeves of cricket. Wodehouse replied: "You are quite right. It must have been in 1913 that I paid a visit to my parents in Cheltenham and went to see Warwickshire play Glos on the Cheltenham College ground. I suppose Jeeves' bowling must have impressed me, for I remembered him in 1916, when I was in New York and just starting the Jeeves and Bertie saga, and it was just the name I wanted. I have always thought till lately that he was playing for Gloucestershire that day (I remember admiring his action very much)."

Percy Jeeves went on to even greater distinction in the 1914 season, and was tipped by England captain Plum Warner as a future England player. On 4 August 1914, however, Britain declared war on Germany, and Jeeves signed up with the 15th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In July the following year he was in the thick of the fighting in the battle of the Somme. On the night of 22/23 July the order was given for a major assault, in which the 15th Battalion was a small component. The assault made no headway whatever.

Jeeves's body was never found. It was only in September 1915 that High Wood was captured, after the loss of around 6,000 men. September 1915 was also, coincidentally, the month of the appearance of the first Jeeves story. Jeeves never got to play for his country, but did die for it.

The Great Gatsby (1925)

F Scott Fitzgerald agonised over the title of his third novel. Among the candidates he rejected, and then lighted on again, and then re-rejected, in a series of letters and telegrams to his editor Max Perkins, were Trimalchio, Trimalchio's Banquet, Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires, The High-Bouncing Lover, The Great Gatsby, Gold-Hatted Gatsby, Gatsby, On the Road to West Egg, Incident at West Egg, Trimalchio in West Egg and several others. Perkins steered him gently towards The Great Gatsby, despite Fitzgerald's doubts.

By the time The Great Gatsby was at the printers, Fitzgerald had changed his mind once again, asking Perkins for the book to be retitled Under the Red, White and Blue – a reference to the American Dream so horribly mutilated in the book – and continued to swing back and forth, later writing to Perkins: "I feel Trimalchio might have been best after all," but by then it was in the bookshops. The Great Gatsby it had to stay.

Why Gatsby? Gatsby, as a name, echoes the violence. One must recall that in the book Jay Gatsby is the hero's assumed name, not his real name. His real name is James Gatz. (His father, Henry Gatz, makes an appearance in the book's last few pages.) The significance of Gatsby and Gatz is in "gat" – the gun that ends Gatsby's life. Violent death lingers around Gatsby. As the book opens he is just back from the war in Europe, which he is reputed to have quite enjoyed. Gatsby, it has also been pointed out, sounds, if you say it out loud, rather like the French verb gaspiller, to waste.

If "Gatsby" is significant, so is "Great". In early drafts Fitzgerald had Gatsby refer to himself as "great": "Jay Gatsby!" he cried in a ringing voice, "There goes the great Jay Gatsby! That's what people are going to say – wait and see. I'm only thirty-two now."

But despite his legendary parties Gatsby is not "great". He is rootless, friendless, loveless, ultimately lifeless. Only three people come to his funeral. "Great" is irony. Gatsby is a rich nobody.

Perhaps there is another echo in the "great" of The Great Gatsby: that of "the Great American Novel". This was an artefact Fitzgerald was consciously trying to construct, after the pattern of Melville or James, and to which he paid homage in one of his final choices of title, Under the Red, White and Blue. Fitzgerald thought of The Great Gatsby as his greatest work; many of his readers have agreed.

The Great Gatsby, then, can be seen as Fitzgerald's attempt to represent his country in the medium of the novel. If this is so, then the title he finally chose is perfect, whatever his doubts. In the book, the dreams of greatness, wealth and success that form the nation's myth are brutally dispelled. In an atmosphere of high-class squalor Gatsby is meaninglessly shot down. In calling his book The Great Gatsby it seems that Fitzgerald was gunning for America.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

The early 1980s were not the most cheerful of times. Two heavily armed power blocs were keeping the world in a state of perpetual phoney war. There were authoritarian governments and repressive police forces. The Western world was looking forward to a date signalling the obliteration of all hope and human values. The countdown to 1984 was more "millennial" than the real millennium 16 years later.

Attempts were made from the moment of its publication to find significance in the date of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The best known explanation was the "year-reversal" theory; Orwell finished the book in December 1948, and "48" reversed is "84". But when Orwell began writing the book, in 1943, the action was set in 1980. As time wore on he advanced the date to 1982, and then to 1984. He may well have been aware of the year-reversal as he completed the manuscript, but fundamentally the date of 1984 was a product of the fact that he had taken such a long time to write the book.

The next best-known theory is the "Jack London" argument. In London's dystopia The Iron Heel (1908), a book Orwell admired greatly, the USA is run along fascist lines by a group of Oligarchs who control the population via the Mercenaries. In the story, the date of the completion of the "wonder-city" Asgard is – 1984. But 1984 is not a particularly prominent date in London's book. In fact it appears in a footnote.

An intriguing third argument concentrates on a poem by Orwell's first wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, which was published in a school magazine in 1934. It is called "End of the Century: 1984" and deals with a future society in which "scholars" are controlled by telepathy. Orwell could have been thinking of this in 1948 when he came to name the book, but it does not seem very likely: again, it would probably have appeared much earlier in the manuscripts.

Rarely can a date chosen with such little particularity have exercised such a frightful grip on the imagination. A collective sigh of relief was exhaled as 31 December 1984 slipped away and 1985 began (despite the fact that Anthony Burgess had written a rather indifferent book about it). The date that was, more than any other, symbolic of "the future" was now past.

Orwell had cast a shadow over us for four decades, staring out from old photographs and book jackets with his pencil moustache and his silly haircut. We had put up with his prediction of a new Dark Age, and now Nineteen Eighty-Four could be consigned to the memory hole.

Lolita (1955)

Lolita is one of those novels in which the protagonist-narrator is so coruscatingly brilliant that we are ready to forgive him almost anything. Twelve-year-olds? Well, she did seduce him. And she'd already had that boy at summer camp. For prose this dazzling, this ardent, this clever... tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner... But plagiarism?

In 1916 a German journalist, Heinz von Eschwege, writing under the name of Heinz von Lichberg, published a collection of stories, The Accursed Gioconda. One – only 12 pages long – was called "Lolita".

The story is short, silly and uninvolving. But the similarities with Nabokov's Lolita seem too many to discount. The main ones are these: both have a first person narrator who turns up at a boarding house; Lolita in both cases is the daughter of the house; she "seduces" him; sex and death (and death after birth) are presented as different aspects of the same violence, or as cause and effect; and finally, the title.

Of course, Nabokov would probably not have read those 12 pages in an obscure, untranslated book by a minor German writer, published when he (Nabokov) was 17 and still in Russia. Or would he? Nabokov left Russia with his family in 1919, and after three years studying at Cambridge, settled in Berlin in 1922. He remained there for 15 years, married there, had a son, wrote several novels, and made his reputation. These were 15 years in which Von Lichberg was a fellow Berliner, living in the same part of Berlin. The book was still in the shops, and Nabokov read German quite adequately. Von Lichberg became a quite prominent public figure.

It is common for authors to forget they have not invented phrases or situations which they then regurgitate in their own work. But to reproduce, unconsciously, something with this number of matches surely strains credulity.

Moby-Dick (1851)

Moby-Dick was a real whale. In the days when whales were not sages of the deep but floating oil repositories, sailors would give names to individual whales who were particularly dangerous or unkillable. One of the most famous was "Mocha Dick", named after the island of Mocha off the Chilean coast. An albino sperm whale (like Moby-Dick), Mocha Dick was said to have drowned over 30 men, sunk five ships and been harpooned 19 times, which probably accounted for his mood.

Herman Melville's chief source was an article by Jeremiah N Reynolds in the Knickerbocker Magazine of 1839 entitled "Mocha Dick Or, the White Whale of the Pacific". He also took from the article the ship's name the Penguin, changing it to the Pequod.

The change from Mocha to Moby is more difficult to explain. It may have had its origin in another project that was on Melville's desk at the time he was writing his whale story: this was "The Story of Toby" about a seafaring friend, Tobias Greene. It may be that "Toby" influenced the change from Mocha Dick to Moby-Dick.

So much for the title of Moby-Dick, one might think. But there is an odd twist in the tale. Moby-Dick was not the title of the book at all. The title was The Whale when it was first published in London by Richard Bentley on 18 October 1851. Now rare, the English edition was substantially different textually from the American Harper edition, which followed later on 14 November 1851, and bore the familiar title Moby-Dick.

And, as if to give its imprimatur to the true, the pure American edition, an odd circumstance heralded its publication. On 5 November 1851, just nine days before its appearance, news reached New York that the whaler Ann Alexander, out of New Bedford, had been rammed and sunk by a whale. Despite stories of vicious and malignant whales, this was still a rare event, and the news spread rapidly throughout the globe.

Melville could barely hide his glee. On 7 November he wrote animatedly to his friend Evert Duyckinck: "Crash! comes Moby Dick himself, & reminds me of what I have been about for part of the last year or two. It is really & truly a surprising coincidence – to say the least. I make no doubt it IS Moby Dick himself, I wonder if my evil art has raised this monster."

Hamlet (c.1600)

The legend of Hamlet dates to at least 400 years before Shakespeare. The story made its first appearance in English in 1608. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in around 1600, which means that the tale would have been available to him only in French.

There was, however, another source, this time in English: a play, now lost, referred to in Shakespearean circles as the ur-Hamlet, often ascribed to Thomas Kyd, the author of The Spanish Tragedy. Two diaries also yield mention of the ur-Hamlet: the first is that of the theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe, in 1594; the second is that of the playwright Thomas Lodge. These, then, were Shakespeare's two known sources.

But an odd fact exists. Shakespeare had a son called Hamnet. "Hamnet" and "Hamlet" are so close that he must either have named his son after his play, or his play after his son. Hamnet was born in 1585, and Hamlet was written 15 years later in 1600, and so the obvious conclusion is that it must have been the latter. Hamnet died, aged 11, in 1596, four years before Shakespeare came to write Hamlet.

There are several theories about the influence of Hamnet on Hamlet. The first is that father and son were not close (Shakespeare spent all of Hamnet's life in London) and that the story of the Danish prince was just a random subject for a revenge tragedy. A second has Shakespeare turning to the Hamlet legend as a way to explore his grief over the death of his son.

A third theory, however, gives Shakespeare as the author – or co-author – of the ur-Hamlet. In this scheme, the choice of the Hamlet-legend as a subject for a play would have been made at the same time as Shakespeare named his son Hamnet. It would have been a christening present.

It is an intriguing possibility. If he did write his first Hamlet in 1585, in a spirit of celebration at the birth of Hamnet, and perhaps with a happy ending – both earlier versions have happy endings – it would probably not have occurred to him that in 15 years' time he would feel compelled to revisit the play with a new, darker understanding of the bond between a father and a son.

Around the World in Eighty Days (1872)

Around the World in Eighty Days, as a title, is simple, descriptive and enticing. It has generated a huge number of parodies, puns and spin-offs. Of course, it all began with Jules Verne, and his Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours. Or did it?

Verne himself claimed that the idea was sparked in 1871 when he read an article about a Thomas Cook round-the-world tour package. But there is one man whose career so closely parallels the fictional Phileas Fogg that it would be rash to ignore him: an eccentric American rail magnate called George Francis Train.

Born in 1829, Train began his career as a shipping merchant and opium trader. Moving to Britain, he introduced the country's first trams, which were taken up in every major city and spread throughout Europe. With the fortune he gained, he returned to America and ploughed all his money into financing and publicising the Union Pacific railroad.

By now his ambitions were turning to politics. He began campaigning in 1869 with the ultimate ambition of the US presidency. In the middle of his campaign, "Citizen Train" announced that he would make a trip around the world in 80 days or less. He started from New York in late July 1870, taking the Union Pacific Railroad to California, and on 1 August boarded the Great Republic for Yokohama. From there he sailed to Hong Kong, then Singapore, the Suez Canal and Marseilles.

In Marseilles, his trip struck the rocks. Delegates from the Commune burst into his hotel room and demanded that he speak in favour of the revolution. Train became embroiled in revolutionary politics. He delivered public harangues and led a march on the military fortifications in Marseilles, which surrendered. In Lyons, he was thrown into prison. After appealing to the international media for help, Train was released, but not before 13 days had been wasted. He arrived back in late December, missing his deadline by at least two months. The 1872 election was won by Ulysses S Grant.

And there the matter might have rested, except for Jules Verne. Verne needed a new idea. In late 1870 and early 1871 news of Train's exploits was arriving in France. Verne very probably saw – the coincidences are surely suggestive – the news about Train. He quickly finished the tale of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout and sold the idea as a serial to Le Temps, who published it in daily instalments from late 1872.

Verne never acknowledged Train as the inspiration. Train lived until 1904 and made three more round-the-world trips, beating his record each time, finally achieving 60 days. He once told an English journalist: "Remember Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days? He stole my thunder. I'm Phileas Fogg. But I have beaten Fogg out of sight."

The Waste Land (1922)

"The Waste Land" begins (of course):

April is the cruellest month,

breeding Lilacs out of the dead land,

mixing Memory and desire,

stirring Dull roots with spring rain.

Not so the first version:

First we had a couple of feelers down at Tom's place,

There was old Tom, boiled to the eyes, blind

(Don't you remember that time after a dance,

Top hats and all, we and Silk Hat Harry,

And old Tom took us behind, brought out a bottle of fizz...

The transformation occurred in January 1921. TS Eliot met Ezra Pound in Paris and showed him a draft of a long poem he had written. It was called "He Do the Police in Different Voices" and was the proto-"Waste Land". It took its title from a passage in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, in which "Sloppy" (a young man so named because he had been found in the street on a "sloppy" night) is praised by Betty for his reading.

Pound, given the job of editor, slashed through page after page, reducing the poem almost by half. He cut the embarrassing scenes above of a drunken spree in Boston with old Tom and Silk Hat Harry; he cut 27 lines on the further adventures of the typist and the young man carbuncular; a further 160 lines dealing with the doings of Fresca and Phlebas; and junked 84 lines of part IV, making it the shortest of the five parts. He made around 200 suggestions and emendations. By the time he had finished, the poem was radically different.

In Pound's version, the poem began with the prophetic voice of Tiresias ("April is the cruellest month...") and this voice went on to dominate the poem. Gone was the archness, the vaudevillian scenes of lowlife, the period-piece flavour. "He Do the Police in Different Voices", which had originally been chosen – apologetically? – to suggest a miscellany of voices, was now not quite so accurate. The poem had gained structure.

Casting around for a title, Eliot settled on "The Waste Land", and the poem was published as such in The Criterion in October 1922 (and later as a small book).

A Clockwork Orange (1962)

Anthony Burgess gave at least three possible origins for the title A Clockwork Orange, none convincing. The first was that he had overheard the phrase "as queer as a clockwork orange" in a London pub. He wrote in the introduction to the 1987 US edition: "The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing."

Then, in an essay, "Clockwork Marmalade", published in 1972, he claimed he had heard the phrase several times, usually in the mouths of aged cockneys. But no other record of the expression in use before 1962 has surfaced. Several commentators have doubted it ever existed. Why an orange, in particular? Why not a clockwork apple? The phrase does not seem to have much wit or accuracy when describing something queer, odd or strange.

The second explanation was that the title was a pun on the Malay word orang, meaning man. Burgess taught in Malaya from 1954 to 1959. He wrote in Joysprick, his study of Joyce: "I myself was, for nearly six years, in such close touch with the Malay language that it affected my English and still affects my thinking. When I wrote A Clockwork Orange, no European reader saw that the Malay word for 'man' – orang – was contained in the title..." This conjuring of a clockwork man, central to the book's ideas, is clever, but sounds like an afterthought. Burgess wrote elsewhere that the orang echo was a "secondary" meaning – probably shorthand for a happy accident.

This leads to the third possibility, which is, as he wrote in a prefatory note, that the title is a metaphor for an organic entity, full of juice and sweetness, being turned into an automaton. This idea is built into the book. The story of Alex is one in which two unpleasant alternatives for future societies are contrasted. The first is one in which malefactors are allowed to exercise free will to torture and murder, and are, if caught, punished; the second is one in which they have their freedom of choice cauterised, resulting in a safe society populated by automata.

Burgess intended to contrast two ways of looking at the world, the Augustinian and the Pelagian. The Augustinian is that man's freedom is guaranteed, but original sin makes suffering inevitable. The Pelagian (heretical) view is that mankind is perfectible and original sin can be overridden. Burgess leant heavily towards the Augustinian side. The phrase "a clockwork orange", as representative of the Pelagian nightmare, appears in the book itself, in fact as the title of a book.

There is one other possibility. Did Burgess mishear that phrase in the pub? Terry's began making Chocolate Oranges in 1931. "Chocolate" and "clockwork" aren't homophones, but they might sound alike in a noisy pub. Perhaps Burgess misheard. Perhaps he knew it but liked what he had misheard. Perhaps – I speculate – he did not want to admit to the drab origins of his title.

Decline of commercial radio?

From FT: an article about the possible decline of commercial radio in the UK

Radio eyes gold at end of digital spectrum
By Ben Fenton
Published: November 26 2007 02:00

Is there anything that commercial radio can do to arrest its decline?

That must be the question crackling around the airwaves this week as the industry tries to digest two momentous events: the departure of Ralph Bernard as chief executive of GCap, the UK’s biggest radio company, and the release of Ofcom’s latest report on the future of the medium.

It is not that commercial radio has died but it needs a revival: the share prices of GCap, UTV and SMG, the three largest players not already privately held or about to be so, were all heading towards a flatline.

An argument could be made that commercial radio is seeing the glimmers of a new dawn.

Mr Bernard represented the first rays of commercial radio back in the 1970s, when its freshness threatened to hamstring the behemoth BBC.

Today, when the might of the UK’s state-funded broadcaster actually plays a large part in crippling its commercial rivals, many industry observers believed that only when the sun set on Mr Bernard’s era could a new day begin.

The breakfast-time of that new era is supposed to be consolidation of disparate radio stations, a second wave following the mergers of 2003-04 that formed companies such as GCap.

Its morning will be taken up with the exploitation of digital possibilities, especially radio on the internet and mobile telephones.

In the minds of younger radio executives, this will be followed by a gloriously long lunch and a snooze into a golden drive-time.

To many, the ideal world ahead would begin with all major radio assets being in private hands, safe from market vicissitudes. Phil Riley, former chief executive of Chrysalis Radio and currently heading a bid by Vitruvian and VSS to buy the radio assets of the number two player, Emap, is one of them. “The decisions that need to be taken to make this industry strong enough to resist the BBC would be taken so much better by companies that were not thinking about what effect such-and-such a move would have on investors and the share price and more ‘What effect it will have on my business in three years’ time?’,” Mr Riley said.

He shares the view of several bankers interviewed by the Financial Times, who would all like to see two, or at most three, big private players sitting around a table and sharing out stations like a fixed game of poker.

Such an image would of course horrify competition authorities, but there have been signs that Ofcom, which reaffirmed its support for the industry in its document last week, would try to be flexible as possible.

The process of removing stations from the market is already under way: Emap, which has market share of 23 per cent, will go private either under Mr Riley's control or that of Global Radio; the latter already owns Chrysalis’s old stations that have 11 per cent; Guardian Media Group – 11 per cent – is privately held.

GCap represents 29 per cent of audience share, but its plunging share price could soon make it an attractive target for private equity – some bankers believe it would already have gone if not for the fact that Daily Mail & General Trust owns 15 per cent of the shares and has been Mr Bernard's strongest backer. UTV at 7 per cent of market share, SMG at 3.4 per cent and a large group of minnows make up the remainder.

However, analysts doubt whether consolidation is the spark to revive radio.

In a recent note, Grant Goddard of Enders Analysis said: “Shareholder value will not be unlocked by merely re-arranging the pieces on the Monopoly board.

“Regardless of the potential for consolidation, what the commercial radio industry still desperately requires is a forward-looking strategy for the digital age, based around investment in content and competitive tactics, rather than market power.”

Mr Goddard said there was no evidence that the first wave of consolidation, which produced Emap and GCap, had diversified content or provided more effective competition to the BBC, although it had sparked cost-cutting that would be hard to replicate in a second wave. Competing with the BBC is the key role of commercial radio from Ofcom’s perspective and it too, along with James Purnell, the culture secretary, has urged the sector to address itself to the digital future.

Some might think that the creation last week of a government working party to encourage the development of digital radio was the strongest sign yet to coffin-makers to reach for their tools.

The fact is that the digital future, as represented by DAB radio, is slower to arrive than in television. Analogue radios in cars, the tsunami of internet entertainment development, a 22 per cent take-up of DAB technology, compared with 85 per cent for digital television: these are factors suggesting that the gold at the end of the digital radio rainbow, like the prospect of a new dawn for the industry, threatens to be false.

Putin rewrites history

From The Economist: Putin wants to rewrite history like in the book 1984 written by George Orwell

The rewriting of history
Nov 8th 2007

The Kremlin uses its version of the past to forge a new ideology for the present

“RUSSIA'S past was admirable, its present is more than magnificent and as for its future—it is beyond anything that the boldest mind can imagine.” Thus Count Alexander Benckendorff in the 1830s, on how Russia's history should be viewed and written. This advice from the head of the country's first secret police is now being heeded in the Kremlin, where a new Russian history is being forged.

The decade after the collapse of communism was notable for the absence of any official ideology. Weary of grand designs, the Russian elite preferred pragmatism and enrichment. Asked about his national dream in 2004, President Vladimir Putin said that it was to make Russia competitive. But Russia's new oil-driven strength and its aspirations to be a world player have once more created a demand for something more victorious and uplifting. And as Mr Putin looks for ways to stay in power after his second presidential term expires next March, his ideological comrades are placing him in a gallery of Russia's great leaders, a quasi-tsar.

“The attitude towards the past is the central element of any ideology,” Yury Afanasyev, a Russian liberal historian, has written in Novaya Gazeta. Indeed, in Russia arguments about history often stir greater passions than do debates about the present or future. What kind of country Russia becomes will depend in large part on what kind of history it chooses. And that is why the Kremlin has decided that it cannot afford to leave history teaching to the historians.

Earlier this year it organised a conference for history teachers at which Mr Putin plugged a new history manual to help sort out what he called “the muddle” in teachers' heads. “Russian history did contain some problematic pages,” Mr Putin told the teachers. “But so did other states' histories. We have fewer of them than other countries. And they were less terrible than in some other countries.” His message was that “we can't allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us.”

This is the thrust of the manual, entitled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers”. Were it not for the Kremlin's backing, it would probably be gathering dust on bookshelves. But Mr Putin's endorsement has made it one of the most discussed books of the year. New textbooks based on it will come into circulation next year. Russian schools are still free to choose which textbook to teach. But the version of history now proposed by the Kremlin suggests that freedom may not last.

The manual's choice of period is suggestive: from Stalin's victory in the “great patriotic war” to the victory of Mr Putin's regime. It celebrates all contributors to Russia's greatness, and denounces those responsible for the loss of empire, regardless of their politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is not seen as a watershed from which a new history begins, but as an unfortunate and tragic mistake that hindered Russia's progress. “The Soviet Union was not a democracy, but it was an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.”

The manual does not deny Stalin's repressions; nor is it silent about the suppression of protest movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It does something more dangerous, justifying Stalin's dictatorship as a necessary evil in response to a cold war started by America against the Soviet Union. “The domestic politics of the Soviet Union after the war fulfilled the tasks of mobilisation which the government set. In the circumstances of the cold war...democratisation was not an option for Stalin's government.” The concentration of power in Stalin's hands suited the country; indeed, the conditions of the time “demanded” it.

As Marietta Chudakova, an historian of Russian culture, puts it, for the manual's author totalitarianism “is a warm bath. He splashes in it and enjoys it. The book tries to convince the reader that there was no other way, and most importantly that there was no need for one. Everything was motivated and clear in that social structure.” The book backs its assessment of Stalin by citing recent opinion polls that give him an approval rating of 47%.

It is less kind to Mikhail Gorbachev. It was his policies, not the Soviet system, that “led to the slowest economic growth in the 20th century.” He is blamed for giving up central and eastern Europe. “Thus the Soviet Union lost its security belt, which a few years later would become a zone of foreign influence, with NATO bases an hour away from St Petersburg.”

Rabid anti-Westernism is the leitmotiv of the new ideology. In return for Russia ending the cold war (“we did not lose it”, the manual insists), America pursued an anti-Russian policy and fomented colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, turning them into springboards for possible future attacks. “We are talking about the failure of the course started by Peter the Great and pathetically continued by pro-Western democrats after 1988. We are talking about a new isolation of Russia.”

How should Russia respond? The manual's answer is a new mobilisation of resources and a consolidation of power in the hands of a strong leader (no prizes for guessing who). “If the national economy is dependent on foreign capital, on imports or the terms of the world market, such a country cannot defend its own interests,” it argues. And it justifies Mr Putin's attacks on the oligarchs and the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. “Don't put yourself above the state.”

The manual's final chapter, on “Sovereign Democracy”, reflects the views of one of the Kremlin's chief ideologues, Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration, who invented the phrase. Mr Surkov argues that Russia needs a political system to suit its national character and that it should disregard international norms of behaviour as “foreign pressure”. In a lecture to the Academy of Sciences, he suggested that such a system was predetermined by the national character and an instinctive longing for a strong hand. Centralisation, personification and idealisation of power drive Russia's political culture. A strong and wise leader is more important than institutions—in fact, he is in Russians' eyes the most important institution.

The problem with such an ideological construct, says Andrei Zorin, a professor of Russian culture at Britain's Oxford University, is that its sole purpose is to preserve the status quo and keep Mr Putin in power. “But a conservative ideology demands respect for institutions, while an ideology of a charismatic leader requires a grand vision. They have neither.”

Saturday, 24 November 2007

English language rules

Interesting article from FT:

Whose language?

By Michael Skapinker
Published: November 8 2007 19:55

Chung Dong-young, a former television anchorman and candidate to be president of South Korea, may be behind in the opinion polls but one of his campaign commitments is eye-catching. If elected, he promises a vast increase in English teaching so that young Koreans do not have to go abroad to learn the language. The country needed to “solve the problem of families separated for English learning”, the Korea Times reported him saying.

In China, Yu Minhong has turned New Oriental, the company he founded, into the country’s biggest provider of private education, with more than 1m students over the past financial year, the overwhelming majority learning English. In Chile, the government has said it wants its population to be bilingual in English and Spanish within a generation.

No one is certain how many people are learning English. Ten years ago, the British Council thought it was around 1bn. A report, English Next, published by the council last year, forecast that the number of English learners would probably peak at around 2bn in 10-15 years.

How many people already speak English? David Crystal, one of the world’s leading experts on the language and author of more than 100 books on the subject, estimates that 1.5bn people – around one-quarter of the world’s population – can communicate reasonably well in English.

Latin was once the shared language over a vast area, but that was only in Europe and North Africa. Never in recorded history has a language been as widely spoken as English is today. The reason millions are learning it is simple: it is the language of international business and therefore the key to prosperity. It is not just that Microsoft, Google and Vodafone conduct their business in English; it is the language in which Chinese speak to Brazilians and Germans to Indonesians.

David Graddol, the author of English Next, says it is tempting to view the story of English as a triumph for its native speakers in North America, the British Isles and Australasia – but that would be a mistake. Global English has entered a more complex phase, changing in ways that the older English-speaking countries cannot control and might not like.

Commentators on global English ask three principal questions. First, is English likely to be challenged by other fast-growing languages such as Mandarin, Spanish or Arabic? Second, as English spreads and is influenced by local languages, could it fragment, as Latin did into Italian and French – or might it survive but spawn new languages, as German did with Dutch and Swedish? Third, if English does retain a standard character that allows it to continue being understood everywhere, will the standard be that of the old English-speaking world or something new and different?

Mr Graddol says the idea of English being supplanted as the world language is not fanciful. About 50 years ago, English had more native speakers than any language except Mandarin. Today both Spanish and Hindi-Urdu have as many native speakers as English does. By the middle of this century, English could fall into fifth place behind Arabic in the numbers who speak it as a first language.

Some believe English will survive because it has a natural advantage: it is easy to learn. Apart from a pesky “s” at the end of the present tense third person singular (“she runs”), verbs remain unchanged no matter who you are talking about. (I run, you run, they run; we ran, he ran, they ran.) Definite and indefinite articles are unaffected by gender (the actor, the actress; a bull, a cow.) There is no need to remember whether a table is masculine or feminine.

There is, however, plenty that is difficult about English. Try explaining its phrasal verbs – the difference, for example, between “I stood up to him” and “I stood him up”. Mr Crystal dismisses the idea that English has become the world’s language because it is easy. In an essay published last year, he said Latin’s grammatical complexity did not hamper its spread. “A language becomes a world language for extrinsic reasons only, and these all relate to the power of the people who speak it,” he wrote. The British empire carried English to all those countries on which the sun never set; American economic and cultural clout en­sured English’s dominance after the British empire had faded.

So could China’s rise see Mandarin becoming the world’s language? It may happen. “Thinking back a thousand years, who would have predicted the demise of Latin?” Mr Crystal asks. But at the moment there is little sign of it, he says. The Chinese are rushing to learn English.

Mr Graddol agrees that we are unlikely to see English challenged in our lifetime. Once a lingua franca is established, it takes a long time to shift. Latin may be disappearing but it remained the language of science for generations and was used by the Roman Catholic church well into the 20th century.

As for English fragmenting, Mr Graddol argues it has already happened. “There are many Englishes that you and I wouldn’t understand,” he says. World Englishes, a recent book by Andy Kirkpatrick, professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, gives some examples. An Indian teenager’s journal contains this entry: “Two rival groups are out to have fun . . . you know generally indulge in dhamal [a type of dance] and pass time. So, what do they do? Pick on a bechaara bakra [poor goat] who has entered college.” Prof Kirkpatrick also provides this sample of Nigerian pidgin English: “Monkey de work, baboon dey chop” (Monkeys work, baboons eat).

It is unlikely, however, that this fragmentation will lead to the disappearance of English as a language understood around the world. It is common for speakers of English to switch from one or other variant to a use of language more appropriate for work, school or international communication. Mr Crystal says modern communication through television, film and the internet means the world is likely to hold on to an English that is widely understood.

The issue is: whose English will it be? Non-native speakers now outnumber native English-speakers by three to one. As hundreds of millions more learn the language, that imbalance will grow. Mr Graddol says the majority of encounters in English today take place between non-native speakers. Indeed, he adds, many business meetings held in English appear to run more smoothly when there are no native English-speakers present.

Native speakers are often poor at ensuring that they are understood in international discussions. They tend to think they need to avoid longer words, when comprehension problems are more often caused by their use of colloquial and metaphorical English.

Barbara Seidlhofer, professor of English and applied linguistics at the University of Vienna, says relief at the absence of native speakers is common. “When we talk to people (often professionals) about international communication, this observation is made very often indeed. We haven’t conducted a systematic study of this yet, so what I say is anecdotal for the moment, but there seems to be very widespread agreement about it,” she says. She quotes an Austrian banker as saying: “I always find it easier to do business [in English] with partners from Greece or Russia or Denmark. But when the Irish call, it gets complicated and taxing.”

On another occasion, at an international student conference in Amsterdam, conducted in English, the lone British representative was asked to be “less English” so that the others could understand her.

Prof Seidlhofer is also founding director of the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (Voice), which is recording and transcribing spoken English interactions between speakers of the language around the world. She says her team has noticed that non-native speakers are varying standard English grammar in several ways. Even the most competent sometimes leave the “s” off the third person singular. It is also common for non-native speakers to use “which” for humans and “who” for non- humans (“things who” and “people which”).

Prof Seidlhofer adds that many non-native speakers leave out definite and indefinite articles where they are required in standard English or put them in where standard English does not use them. Examples are “they have a respect for all” or “he is very good person”. Nouns that are not plural in native-speaker English are used as plurals by non-native speakers (“informations”, “knowledges”, “advices”). Other variations include “make a discussion”, “discuss about something” or “phone to somebody”.

Many native English speakers will have a ready riposte: these are not variations, they are mistakes. “Knowledges” and “phone to somebody” are plain wrong. Many non-native speakers who teach English around the world would agree. But language changes, and so do notions of grammatical correctness. Mr Crystal points out that plurals such as “informations” were once regarded as correct and were used by Samuel Johnson.

Those who insist on standard English grammar remain in a powerful position. Scientists and academics who want their work published in international journals have to adhere to the grammatical rules followed by the native English-speaking elites.

But spoken English is another matter. Why should non-native speakers bother with what native speakers regard as correct? Their main aim, after all, is to be understood by one another. As Mr Graddol says, in most cases there is no native speaker present.

Prof Seidlhofer says that the English spoken by non-native speakers “is a natural language, and natural languages are difficult to control by ‘legislation’.

“I think rather than a new international standard, what we are looking at is the emergence of a new ‘international attitude’, the recognition and awareness that in many international contexts interlocutors do not need to speak like native speakers, to compare themselves to them and thus always end up ‘less good’ – a new international assertiveness, so to speak.”

When native speakers work in an international organisation, some report their language changing. Mr Crystal has written: “On several occasions, I have encountered English-as-a-first-language politicians, diplomats and civil servants working in Brussels commenting on how they have felt their own English being pulled in the direction of these foreign-language patterns . . . These people are not ‘talking down’ to their colleagues or consciously adopting simpler expressions, for the English of their interlocutors may be as fluent as their own. It is a natural process of accommodation, which in due course could lead to new standardised forms.”

Perhaps written English will eventually make these accommodations too. Today, having an article published in the Harvard Business Review or the British Medical Journal represents a substantial professional accomplishment for a business academic from China or a medical researcher from Thailand. But it is possible to imagine a time when a pan-Asian journal, for example, becomes equally, or more, prestigious and imposes its own “Globish” grammatical standards on writers – its editors changing “the patient feels” to “the patient feel”.

Native English speakers may wince but are an ever-shrinking minority.

Best universities worldwide - Webometrics

The "Webometrics Ranking of World Universities" is an initiative of the Cybermetrics Lab, a research group belonging to the Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) the largest public research body in Spain.

You can see the whole list of Webometrics (top 4000) here

Here you can see the wikipedia page about college and university rankings

This is the top 20 (all americans):


best position for UK: 21 UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
best position for Canada: 28 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
best position for Finland: 44 UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI
best position for Norway: 46 UNIVERSITY OF OSLO
best position for Japan: 59 UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO
best position for Australia: 60 AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
best position for Sweden: 62 LINKOPING UNIVERSITY
best position for Germany: 64 UNIVERSITAT TRIER
best position for Austria: 67 UNIVERSITAT WIEN
best position for Netherlands: 77 UTRECHT UNIVERSITY
best position for Taiwan: 96 NATIONAL TAIWAN UNIVERSITY
best position for Denmark: 99 AARHUS UNIVERSITY
best position for Czech Republic: 111 CHARLES UNIVERSITY
best position for Italy: 114 UNIVERSITA' DI BOLOGNA
best position for China: 120 BEIJING UNIVERSITY

Friday, 23 November 2007

Look: they are watching you!

From Newsweek: a new film is coming out, "Look", and it does talk about our privacy

This is Look official site
This is Look page in Imdb

Smile! You’re on Hidden Camera

Shot entirely through the view of public surveillance cameras, a new film gives viewers a glimpse into just how public our private lives have become. What 'Look' reveals may shock you.

By Jessica Bennett | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Nov 20, 2007 | Updated: 3:44 p.m. ET Nov 20, 2007

With more than 30 million surveillance cameras in this country, the average American is caught on tape more than 200 times a day: on the street, at the ATM, in department stores, even in public restrooms. Yet the notion that we're being watched—at all times—has yet to resonate in the public perception. Most people don't know that hidden cameras are legal in dressing rooms and bathrooms in most states, nor that workplaces can get special permission to install them without ever having to reveal their whereabouts. In some places store employees can even make reels from security cameras and post them on YouTube.

That's where "Look," the acclaimed new film by writer-director Adam Rifkin, comes in—and it's likely to shock you. Shot entirely through the point of view of security cameras (and co-produced by Barry Schuler, the former head of AOL), the film is executed in the style of actual spy-cam footage strung together but is actually a fictional tale aimed at giving viewers a glimpse of just how public our private lives have become. Its characters run the gamut: a high-school English teacher who has an affair with an underage student, a gas station clerk with high hopes for a musical career, a department store manager who uses his warehouse as a secret sex refuge. Yet all are connected by surveillance footage that, in the end, holds the key to their survival—or demise. The film took home the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Cine Vegas Film Festival and will debut in New York and Los Angeles in December. Schuler spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Describe the social context that inspired you to make this film.
Barry Schuler: The last 10 years have brought a sort of perfect storm for what we're seeing today: wide adoption of the Internet, technological advancements that make accessing the Internet easy and a sense of paranoia that's been created by the aftermath of 9/11. We're being captured on camera nearly 200 times a day in the United States, and those images are being digitized and archived forever, with highly advanced face-recognition technology. This technology is racing forward without any attention, and nobody's stopping to ask questions about its propriety.

What should we be asking?
Is it OK to have surveillance in bathrooms and dressing rooms? And if it is, shouldn't there be some kind of disclosure that it's happening? What is slander and liability in this new world? Say I'm Vanessa Anne Hudgens. I'm a kid; I'm a celebrity. I take a fairly innocent picture in today's world, send it to my boyfriend, and the next thing I know my naked photo is being sent across the Web at light speed. Now not only am I embarrassed but my career is in jeopardy. Is that OK? Is it really fair game when someone does something they think is in privacy for it to be spattered across the media?

But how do you separate what's privacy and what's security?
It's hard to figure out what's right and what's wrong in many of these cases. But it's so easy now to set up these networks of cameras, and you can keep the data forever and ever and can find specific frames of specific people all with the click of a mouse. And that's when we need to be asking about the statute of limitations on a clickstream. How long should operators be able to keep that stuff? What laws should be required to access this stuff for anything but something criminal? If we allow cameras in New York City as a method of regulating a commuter tax, what else can that information be used for? If I happen to be cheating on my wife and get snapped in a picture with another woman, is that data going to be available to my wife if she tries to divorce me?

You did a lot of research for this film. What's the most shocking thing you learned?
In most states in this country you can walk into a department store and be recorded on video while you're undressing. Many of the monitors of those recordings are kids. Kids get goofy. They're using joysticks to follow around the hottest girls, zooming in on privates.

Wow. What sorts of things were caught on tape while you were heading AOL?
Mostly just people acting like people when they don't believe they're being observed. Some would have sex during the day in places they clearly weren't supposed to be having sex. There were people doing drugs. But this stuff is pretty common at large organizations everywhere.

If surveillance is such a breach of privacy, why does the broad public support it?
People see the lens, and I think it creates a sense of security. But I don't believe there's any real understanding of the power of this technology: how it can be archived and searched, and how loose the rules are for who gets to access it.

Give me an example of how that information could be used.
We're moving into a presidential election. I hope none of the candidates have been visiting porn sites, because the fact of the matter is that some kid somewhere at Google or one of those companies could be paid off by an operative and go digging for dirt. I wouldn't be surprised if over the course of the next year we see something like that.

Do people need to be more careful what they do online?
I think young people are seduced by the citizen media notion of the Internet: that everyone can have their minutes of fame. But they're also putting themselves out there—forever.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Ofcom: the future of digital tv and radio

Ofcom yesterday released the study "The future of digital terrestrial television" and today "The future of radio: the next phase"

You can download "The future of dtt" here: 128 pages

You can download "The future of radio: the next phase" here: 125 pages plus another 125 pages of responses to the
 previous consultation

The Future of Digital Terrestrial Television


This is a time of intense innovation and change in UK television. Digital technologies are bringing choice and variety to viewers as never before. Digital platforms, like cable, satellite and broadband, are developing rapidly. They are making new types of content available and new ways of experiencing it, from High Definition to video-on-demand.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is one very important part of this new television landscape. Digital switchover will mean that DTT services are available throughout the UK – allowing DTT to become the way in which we ensure that the whole country has access to Public Service Broadcasting, free-to-air.

Under the Communications Act, Parliament gave Ofcom important responsibilities for the regulation of DTT. These are wider and deeper than our responsibilities for other television platforms, reflecting the role that DTT has in making PSB content available to all.

We think it is very important that the regulation of DTT allows it to stay at the forefront of broadcasting - adopting new technologies, so it can offer new services, and make the very best use of valuable spectrum. This document sets out our thoughts on how the DTT platform could evolve over the next few years.

In brief, it describes a tremendous opportunity - to begin upgrading DTT by embracing the latest technologies. These have the potential to bring huge increases in capacity to the platform, enabling it to offer richer and more varied services, including High Definition.

Our proposals describe how this huge prize can be achieved without needing more spectrum, while protecting existing viewers’ access to the existing PSB services.

I encourage all those who support the development of the DTT platform – broadcasters, multiplex operators and consumer groups – to work with us to turn this prize into reality.

Ed Richards, Chief Executive
The Future of Radio: the next phase


Over the last three years radio has occupied two parallel universes.

One universe consists of the experience of millions of listeners for whom things have seldom been better. In terms of choice, listeners not only have more than 300 FM and AM commercial radio stations, a diverse suite of services from the BBC and a range of new community services. Many can also access at least 25 radio services through digital terrestrial television and satellite users can choose from over 90 stations. Through DAB, listeners in the majority of UK cities have access to over 35 digital stations. You can pause and rewind live radio programmes; you can discover more information about radio programmes through text and data services. UK broadband subscribers, now over 50% of the population, also have access to thousands of stations across the world. The BBC’s i-Player and the RadioCentrePlayer position radio at the centre of on-demand developments in the media sector. And the quality of programming is strong too, as radio continues to fulfil important public purposes, illustrated by radio’s importance to communities caught up in floods across the UK this summer.

So from the listener’s perspective, the picture is bright in terms of choice, range, quality of programming and innovation, right across the UK.

But there is another universe. This is the one occupied by those directly involved in running commercial radio stations, where financial pressures have been making it harder to provide those things that the audience expects.

Commercial radio revenues have been declining for several years. While there are some signs of recovery in recent months, the decline in revenues may partly be structural as advertisers move to new media. Competition from the wide choice of stations on digital platforms and from the calls other media place on listeners’ time is fragmenting audiences. These two factors together could mean that the business models of many local commercial radio stations, particularly the smaller ones, cease to be viable.

At the same time, the partial migration of radio to digital has increased transmission costs, generating a debate about whether, like television, we should set a date for radio to abandon analogue broadcasting.

These are serious issues and that is why, in April this year, Ofcom published a consultation entitled The Future of Radio. We recognised the need to try to pull the disparate strands of the radio debate together into an over-arching narrative; but we also recognised the risk of over-simplifying a set of issues which do not easily lend themselves to crisp, over-arching solutions.

Ofcom’s basic stance, however, is very clear. Our job is to interpret and apply the detailed statutory framework which Parliament has created for radio, much of it only four years old, and to advise Government where we see a case for adjustment. It is, of course, up to Government and Parliament whether and when to change this legal framework again.

The current framework is designed to ensure that commercial radio in the UK serves diverse tastes and interests; that it meets the needs of local audiences and that it is protected by ownership rules from the kind of excessive concentration which would jeopardise the plurality of voice which audiences value highly. In the 2003 Communications Act, Ofcom was also given the responsibility to expand the scope of radio. We have done this by licensing a network of community radio stations across the UK – 149 so far. We have also licensed a second national DAB radio multiplex, which was awarded to 4 Digital Group, led by Channel 4 in July this year, and further local DAB multiplexes.

For this statutory framework to be successful, however, commercial radio also needs to thrive as a business. So, in thinking about the application of the legal framework, and its possible modification, Ofcom must balance the goals set by Parliament, and the passions of listeners, against the changing commercial circumstances of the industry. When we propose change, it must be change which makes sense from a commercial perspective, as well as from the listener’s perspective.

Achieving this balance requires Ofcom to make judgments about the likely further development of digital radio. In The Future of Radio consultation document we argued that while it is not yet time to consider establishing a date for a switch-off of analogue radio, we need to think about providing the flexibility for such an outcome. This remains a subject of the utmost importance, but it is also one which requires the direct involvement of Government, as well as Ofcom, broadcasters, manufacturers, consumers and other stakeholders. So we are delighted that James Purnell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has recently announced the formation of a new Digital Radio Working Group, to carry forward this discussion. Ofcom will play a leading role in the group’s work, which we expect to be the focus for further work on the conditions which would need to be achieved before digital platforms could become the predominant means of delivering radio.

There are, however, some specific issues which need not await resolution of the big digital question, and it is on these that this document focuses. Some of these changes are substantial, others more detailed. All go in the direction of reducing regulation – some will say too fast, others not fast enough. But it is our view that this is the pace justified by the evidence, and by our overriding responsibility to listeners. The digital debate has been brought forward and is about to begin - now is not the time to tear up the analogue rulebook.

The immediate issues we tackle here fall under four headings: commercial radio content regulation; commercial radio ownership rules, other radio spectrum issues and rules specifically applying to community radio.

The tensions between the parallel world perceptions of UK radio mean that there will continue to be a vigorous debate about the issues addressed in this document. Ofcom is confident that radio will remain a highly valued part of the UK communications spectrum and we remain committed to playing our part in shaping this important industry’s future.

Ed Richards, Chief Executive David Currie, Chairman

In Germany: Vodafone 1 Apple 0

From New York Times:

IPhone Must Be Offered Without Contract Restrictions, German Court Rules
Published: November 21, 2007

PARIS, Nov. 20 — Last month, French law forced Apple to promise that consumers could buy a version of its iPhone in this country without having to be locked into a long-term contract with Orange, the only mobile phone operator offering the new device.

Now, the same issue is tripping up Apple’s plans to sell the music-playing cellphone in Germany, the largest European telephone market. Last week, the Vodafone Group won the first round of a legal case against T-Mobile over its exclusive deal to sell the iPhone there.

A German court ruled that T-Mobile must offer the iPhone to everyone, even without the 24-month contract that it had required for buyers of the phone, which went on sale in Germany for 399 euros ($591) on Nov. 9. T-Mobile is appealing the ruling.

Vodafone of Britain had tried to secure its own pan-European exclusive deal with Apple for the iPhone. A spokesman, Simon Gordon, said the company was not trying to block the sale of the device but rather trying to level the playing field in Germany. Vodafone operates Vodafone Germany, the No. 2 German carrier. T-Mobile, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, is the industry leader there, with 34 million customers.

Various European countries have laws that protect consumers from being forced to buy something else as a condition of buying a product. Britain does not have the same kind of restrictions, allowing O2, a mobile network operator owned by Telefónica of Spain, to sell the iPhone there with an 18-month exclusive contract.

Although Apple has announced sales plans for only the three largest European markets, restrictions on whether carriers can tie or subsidize phones also exist in several other Continental countries, including Belgium, Italy and Finland.

T-Mobile’s position is that tying a mobile phone to a contract with one provider is rare but not new in Germany, while Vodafone argues that all mobile phones sold there should be available for use with any provider. T-Mobile insisted that iPhone sales would continue uninterrupted, but warned that it reserved the right to seek damages from Vodafone.

The iPhone is scheduled to go on sale next week in France. The exclusive French carrier, Orange, a subsidiary of France Télécom, has not disclosed any details of the purchase, like the minimum length of the contract for locked models, or the cost of the unlocked model. An Orange spokeswoman, Béatrice Mandine, did not return phone calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

The iPhone competes directly with models from Nokia and Sony Ericsson, which have the widest offerings in phones that combine digital music players and cellphones, according to an analysis released this month by the consulting firm M:Metrics. The consultancy also said that the demand for premium phones and features was stronger in Europe than in the United States.

A year ago, a French court ruled against Sony’s requirement that songs sold in its online music store be played only on Sony devices. Apple faces a similar court challenge in France over its iTunes songs, which are tied to the iPod. The iPod’s music- and video-playing features are built into the iPhone.

DAB slowing down in UK

John Plunkett writes in The Guardian:

Digital radio rocked?

Is digital radio in danger of losing its momentum?
November 20, 2007 1:30 PM

It has not been a good few days for digital radio. Virgin Radio is closing one of its digital stations, Virgin Radio Groove, and is not even going to bother launching Virgin Radio Viva, planned for the new Channel 4 DAB radio platform, while UBC Media has written off its 49% investment in digital speech station Oneword. What next?

Channel 4 put a brave face on the loss of Viva, saying it had signed "nearly all its long-term carriage agreements" and had secured agreements with nine podcast partners.

But it will inevitably be disappointed to lose the Virgin station - aimed at 15 to 29-year-old women - coming a month after Charles Allen's Global Radio pulled out of its joint venture with Sky to launch Sky News Radio, also due to launch on the Channel 4 platform.

Digital radio hasn't lost its appeal among listeners - 28.4% of the population listened via DAB radio, digital TV and the web in the third quarter of this year, according to the latest Rajar figures, and there are DAB sets in around 6 million homes.

But the big radio groups have begun to rationalise their investment in digital, looking at what works, what doesn't, and cutting their cloth accordingly.

For the private equity groups who are owning a bigger and bigger chunk of the radio industry, it is about getting a return now, not five years down the line, and digital does not necessarily fit that mindset.

That poses a danger for the momentum behind digital radio, and as one source pointed out, it does not help that the Digital Radio Development Bureau, or DRDB, is currently without a chief executive following the exit of Ian Dickens.

Sources say there is no shortage of potential partners queuing up to fill the berth left by Virgin Radio Viva. National Grid Wireless, for example, which had designs to run the new DAB multiplex itself, had a number of partners who were not part of the Channel 4 bid.

Ofcom is due to publish the results of its long-anticipated Future of Radio consultation on Thursday. But how much of the future of radio will be on DAB?
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