Did you ever consider…

Below is a collection of random thoughts. Some are my own, others come from various emails in circulation. Scroll down and peruse. And if you feel so inclined, add to the fray!

Have you ever considered why it is that we write Anno Domini (A.D.) in Latin for the “modern era” and when it comes to the “olden times“, we write the term Before Christ (B.C.) in plain old English.

Can you cry or sweat under water?

Shouldn’t the O in XO (kiss & hug) be related to the O that is love in tennis scoring?

Why do you have to ‘put your two cents in’… but it’s only a ‘penny for your thoughts’? Where’s that extra penny going to?

If money doesn’t grow on trees then why do banks have branches?
Chiffre Number 7 Seven

What did the number 7 ever do that it needed to be crossed (in mainland Europe)? If it’s because the number one has a pedastal, then what’s so great about number 1?

How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?

How is that if a murderer gets life, a mass murderer gets multiple life sentences, but a person who kills millions of people just gets house arrest (Pol Pot)?

Why are you IN a movie, but you’re ON TV?

Why is ‘bra’ singular and ‘panties’ plural?

Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat?

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog’s face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

BFM Radio RSS Live Streaming

BFM Radio in Car 
In my car, with its digital radio station interface, I noticed that BFM Radio 96.4 (above), a French business radio station, is now getting into the RSS live streaming act.   Toggling between different business indicators (the levels of the different stock market, FX exchange rates) and the radio’s own title, the radio dial almost takes on a life of its own.  I am not sure when this change was first put in place, but it’s awfully good.  I remember seeing in the US that some radio stations now stream the songs that are playing which is even better.  However, I still think that the improvement in BFM is very good.  I will be curious to see how and how quickly other radio stations react.
Below, the Euro to US Dollar rate at 1.38.
BFM Radio dans la Voiture

Or the level of the CAC40 (France’s equivalent of the Dow Jones) at 3257 on this particular morning.

What other good ideas are radio stations implementing?

RCA – the earliest precursor of Worldwide Wireless Web?

RCA logo

This morning, I was piling through some old notes from a lecture I attended with Professor Miklos Sarvary at INSEAD, and this led me to plunge into the story of RCA whose 70-year tale is very rich.  There is a great timeline available on NationMaster.  RCA is a company that is inextricably linked with the history of the radio, television and 20th century music.  On top of that, for a while (1960s), RCA was on the computer bandwagon as well… but that adventure did not work out.  That said, RCA was clearly a pioneer, whose R&D and products pushed us along to the wireless world in which we live today.

Internet ethnologists are probably not inclined to go back so far in time, but RCA clearly had the knack of developing and taking over the different media with an early-stated goal of providing worldwide wireless communication.  I was particularly struck by the advertisement that RCA ran back in its earliest days.  From 1920-1927, the Radio Corporation of America used the communication below, potentially a slight case of hubris:

RCA Radio Corporation of America Advertisement

What ought to strike you is the logo in the middle which has an uncanny message: Worldwide Wireless.

Worldwide Wireless WWW

For such a visionary company, started and ended by General Electric, RCA must have been an exciting place at which to work through till the 1960s.  When they branched out into irrelevant areas with the acquisition of Hertz (car rental), Coronet carpets and Banquet (foods), you knew that they had lost the [internet] plot.  A case of extensions that — at least viewed now — have little good justification.  Buying Random House was a more interesting fit, that said, given the media connection.  Anyway, I must thank Professor Sarvary for getting me interested in the RCA story, so clearly a necessary precursor to the worldwide web on which we all surf.

The future of Mainstream Media in today’s world of citizen journalism…

Why the decline of traditional Main Stream Media?

Down Arrow - The Downward Spiral of Mainstream MediaWhy the decline of Mainstream Media? This question has been argued and tossed around in many a media organization’s board room over the course of the last five years. Clearly, for news organizations in particular, time is running out to find a solution that will allow the economics to work.

From a supply perspective, the proliferation of choice and the democratization of media Masses of Dots -- the proliferation of media outletsplatforms have rendered the “space” extremely congested. There is a niche for everything and, unfortunately, one could argue that the objectivity of “serious” and researched news is becoming a niche as well. The ability for serious news organizations such as NPR, the BBC or CNN to maintain worldwide coverage, much less afford overseas news bureaus, is virtually a luxury of the past. Consequently, the number of in-depth investigations has been declining in quantity and in quality.

From the perspective of the consumer, over the course of the last 20-30 years, the sources of information have been corrupted either by overt financial concerns and objectives, or by the lowest common denominator style salesmanship (epitomized by the ‘entertainment’ of News of the World and other such rags). This 2001 article from LA Times offers a good recap [proof enough that the subject has been around].

So what are the main issues?

Certainly, the internet has played a role in unfurling the problem. The democratization of journalism is, to my mind, just a reaction to the lack of the right offer. Consumers, pressured for time, have largely rejected standard hour programming. In virtually Don't Trust Corporate Mediaevery household, the television is competing against the computer, much less the IPOD — although the radio seems to be holding its own. In the realm of news, consumers today are looking for customized information, in byte sizes. For many, the relationship of a consumer with his or her local news team is visceral. The consumer is looking for some form of connection – because the news is feeding the psyche, helping to rationalize events around him or herself. There is, in this relationship, an inherent wish to believe it is truthful — i.e. that the news is authentic. And I would argue that the problem of news organizations can be quickly related to the problem of established brands: how to stay authentic, flexible, customized and in touch with its [mass] consumer? As Noam Chomsky says in his article “What makes Mainstream Mainstream?“, media organizations have typically relegated the consumer to be passive. He writes, the consumers’ “…job is to be ‘spectators,’ not ‘participants.'” So, too, say many brands.

For news organizations, it strikes me that the main question is: What is news for?

Local Culture. Today, it seems that news has reduced itself in large part to a form of entertainment, completely hamstrung by viewer ratings. By extension, news is feeding water cooler talk: sports results, weather forecasts (hardly news) and local sensational events. News organizations are intrinsically local and their bias on news reports is strongly linked to the local point of view such that, with a worldwide satellite dish in your home, you can find two widely different sides to many of the international stories [when/if they are covered, that is].

Learning. If encouraging reading (and writing) were part of the objective of news and printed media, then why has the standard of Reading & Writingwriting plummeted (you can find English mistakes on the front page of any major reputable newspaper, including the Financial Times virtually daily).

Advancement. If, more nobly, the goal of news is the advancement of society, then it would seem that the mass majority of people are tuning out. The case is still made that, by having the coverage of certain genocidal regimes, enough international outcry will mobilize an international intervention. In this regard, from a western standpoint, “serious” news is more or less a portal of democracy.

Ted Turner said, in one of his typically brazen interviews, that such information and news is important. Unfortunately, he used weather as the perfect example (and not only is weather not news, it is highly speculative) since, with this information you can know whether to wear a raincoat, etc. Not exactly newsworthy news or 100% accurate.

Turner also cited in this video (which I will endeavour to post when I find it on YouTube), that news coverage helped to uncover Hitler. However, news neither uncovered Hitler, nor helped to sway or stop him. And, news coverage has not helped the continuing carnage and tyranny in many African countries. Propaganda, on the other hand, plays a whole other role in this type of context.

No doubt that Turner is a great philanthropist and was a business titan. Where Turner’s vision has taken on a whole new meaning today, he said back in this late 1970s interview, that “we all can learn from each other.” This notion of collaboration is highly interesting in today’s context of citizen journalism and web 2.0. Maybe we just have to learn from each other.

If, as some say, news is the first day of writing history… sports and weather have no place in that frame. The important notion for news organizations to grasp is that they need to provide meaning. News should be able to connect and interact with its audience. Of course, news needs to be pertinent and researched. But, above all, news should have sense. Sense to help progress our society. Sense, such that its viewers learn and grow. The BBC (and NPR) have this component in their genes — but typical
ly have been too stand-off to interface with its audience. So, the big news agencies are going to have to learn to lose some control, engage with their audience (i.e. work with citizen journalists) and in the meantime focus on providing a meaningful message. Over time, what will matter is not the quantity of people watching the BBC (although that is a critical part of the economic equation today), but on the quality of the people watching: the opinion leaders, the community heads, the bloggers and godfathers of viral messages… Clearly, the new media department at the BBC is making headway and, once the dust settles, hopefully, they and enough of the “serious” stations can find their place in providing meaningful, sensible and objective news for what is, now, a worldwide audience.

Music Within Film Review – based on true story of Richard Pimentel

Music WithinMusic Within – Film Review 4.0/5 stars

Directed by Steven Sawalich (second feature film after Sunday in the Park with George and Phil in 2000), Music Within is a film much less to do with music (as much as all the wonderful 1960s hits strike the nostalgic chord), but everything to do with the power within. With Ron Livingston (roles in Office Space, Band of Brothers) playing the lead protagonist, Richard Pimentel, he learns that having a natural talent [public speaking] is not enough to succeed in life. Pimentel takes the challenges and manages to add much pepper to his life via his perspective-altering experience in Vietnam.

While Pimentel, the man with a new meaning, manages to seduce the gorgeous and free loving Christine (Melissa George), the greater relationship developed in the film is with his pal, Art Honeymoon (Michael Sheen who played Tony Blair in The Deal), a man with Cerebral Palsy. Art is indeed a piece of art.

Full of purpose and based on a true story (Pimentel was instrumental in creating the Americans with Disability Act ADA, passed in 1990), the film lays open the dysfunction of families and couples. It also demonstrates the beauty of imperfection. And the film tackles the very real question: “What do you want [with your life]?” Pimentel rises to the challenge: “Get a Life!” (by Dr. Padrow [Hector Elizondo] at Harvard University. Here is a letter by Richard Pimentel regarding the film (via Milt Wright & Assoc.).

One of the more important pieces of [business] advice comes out of a Pimentel radio interview in the film: “Don’t lead with anger.” The lesson: do lead with passion [but don’t let the bad emotions in].

And, in one likely non-accidental reference, I was smiled at the statement: “If Bush wins, … Oh the cost of it.” Of course, they were referring to George Senior in a different context. But, the ADA was passed under George Bush Sr.

I think Roger Ebert’s review of the film is a worthwhile read as it contains many personal comments. Ebert rightfully points out (as Pimentel himself admits), the ADA was the work of many people, including Marca Bristo.

Personally, although the film has apparently only won a couple of small awards (see the top line), I give the film a great thumbs up. Great acting, great music and plenty of thought provoking moments.

Fall of Bataan April 9, 1942 Commemorated

Fall of Bataan April 9 1942Today marks the 66th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, where on April 9, 1942, General Edward King surrendered the peninsula of Bataan in the Philippines along with approximately 76,000 soldiers (of which 11,796 American men) to the Japanese (who had 54,000 men commanded by General Homma). This defeat represents the largest ever surrender of American Army to a foreign country (see the PBS report). [NB: The day before April 8, marks the anniversary of the end of the Battle of Appomattox, where in 1865, over 28,000 Confederate soldiers under General Robert E Lee were captured by General Ulysses Grant].

Bataan was a shocking defeat for the US, even if it took the Japanese longer to conquer than they had originally expected. In the days following the Fall of Bataan, the 76,000+ soldiers were forced to make the infamous Bataan Death March which entailed–for the war weary and sickly prisoners–to march for six days straight, over 60 miles north in blistering heat with virtually no food or water. This PBS report includes some first hand accounts of what happened during the horrific march.

With the Fall of Bataan, the “Voice of Freedom” radio broadcasting out of Malinta Tunnel, on Corregidor, made the following announcement:

Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy. The world will long remember the epic struggle that Filipino and American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness and along the rugged coast of Bataan. They have stood up uncomplaining under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for more than three months. Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help in the Philippines and in America, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear….

The adversary, in the pride of his power and triumph, will credit our troops with nothing less than the courage and fortitude that his own troops have shown in battle. Our men have fought a brave and bitterly contested struggle. All the world will testify to the most superhuman endurance with which they stood up until the last in the face of overwhelming odds. But the decision had to come. Men fighting under the banner of unshakable faith are made of something more that flesh, but they are not made of impervious steel. The flesh must yield at last, endurance melts away, and the end of the battle must come. Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand–a beacon to all the liberty-loving peoples of the world–cannot fall!

The Philippines now mark the anniversary of the Fall of Bataan (see here for a good writeup on last year’s 65th celebration). In its honour, there are a number of ceremonies and Monday was a national holiday (to allow for a three day weekend). If ever you go to the Philippines, I would encourage you to make the trek over to Corregidor and Bataan to visit the sites. While the tour of Corregidor is more structured (and probably more captivating), on Bataan, you can retrace the Death March route–there are posts along the side of the road to mark each mile.

Anyone else gone to visit these war sites and would like to comment?

A few books, written by survivors if you feel motivated to read on:
Ghost of Bataan by Abie Abraham; Back to Bataan by Alf Larson; My Hitch in Hell by Lester Tenney (best of the three cited).

Yo-Yo Ma on NPR’s “This I Believe”

And this I, too, believe…

As part of All Things Considered, NPR and Jay Allison have (re-)created a “This I believe” segment, based on a 1950s radio program of the same name that was hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. The purpose of the show is to ask individuals of a variety of backgrounds to write in a 500-word essay about things they believe in. Here is their own explanation about the raison d’etre of the show.

I would like to feature the “This I Believe” essay from Yo-Yo Ma, done on March 10, 2008:

Yo-Yo Ma highlights at the outset his tri-cultural background: born in Paris, parents from China and raised in America. I clearly feel some commonality in my tri-cultural upbringing: my English schooling, American parents and French wife (and company).

In his tri-cultural being, Yo-Yo Ma fuses the cultural depth and longevity of the Chinese, the deep artistic tradition of the French and the American commitment to opportunity and the future. Sharing 2 of the three same cultures, my spin is a bit different. I think of the critical thinking of the French, the resistance [and sense of humour] of the British and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans. And, to the extent that travel enables you to appreciate all the more what you have at home, I truly share with Yo-Yo Ma, the idea of attempting to take the best from each culture.

And at the centre of all multicultural meetings, music takes its place as a federating, if not uniting language. I think of the powerful story “Silent Night” (The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce, by Mr Stanley Weintraub – full text of the book here) where in a veritable lull in the storm, the Germans and Allied soldiers sang Christmas carols together and played a football match in no man’s land in 1914 (and in subsequent years as well). Find “Silent Night” on Amazon. As Yo-Yo Ma suggests, when strangers meet, music helps you to cross borders.

The very first quote is wonderful: “I believe in the infinite variety of human expression.” Clearly, this is the heart of diversity. And I finish by quoting Yo-Yo Ma’s last sentence: “As we struggle to find our individual voices, I believe we must look beyond the voice we’ve been assigned and find our place among the tones and timbre of human expression.” Lyrical stuff.
What do you believe in? What are the best of the cultures to which you belong?
Others who have blogged before on the Yo-Yo Ma essay:
The Opinion (right or wrong) of Lee Malatesta – A long and wide-ranging piece that covers democracy, philosohpy and the impact of music…
Combating Craziness – A Czech musician’s languor for good music…

Springboks’ De Villiers as Coach

Springboks LogoPeter de Villiers Springboks CoachAnother move for equality

Peter de Villiers has been named as the first black coach of the rugby union world champions South African Spingboks. Coming on the heels of the World Cup victory (in October 2007), this is quite a move. And, after just having posted about Norway’s historic move to increase the presence of women on corporate boards, this news from South Africa represents another very strong statement in creating an equitable world. I add a prior post about Cheeky Watson for some background context for RSA rugby.

A controversial decision

Currently the successful coach of the Springboks’ under-21, Peter de Villiers (right courtesy of Getty Images) takes over from Jake White, who led the Springboks to victory in the World Cup. Jack White, whose contract expired at the end of 2007, goes out with the highest distinction, although on an acrimonious ending (dispute with the SARU). That de Villiers led the under-21s to the IRB world title in 2005 is certainly a worthy achievement. He also produced a third place finish in 2004, a second-place finish to the hosts in France in 2006 and, last year, coached the Emerging Springbok side to the IRB Nations Cup title in Romania. All very good results. Nonetheless, the decision to select de Villiers trumped a vote of 77% by the South African Rugby Players’ Association (SARPA) in favor of the acclaimed Pretoria Bulls Super 14 coach, Heyneke Meyer, raised eyebrows. It is worth noting that of the two other candidates, there was also Chester Williams, a black Springboks’ winger who participated in the Boks’ 1995 RWC victory.

Rugby Reasons

Being upfront about the political nature of the appointment, South African Rugby Union (SARU) president Oregan Hoskins said in a press conference, “I want to be honest with South Africa and say that the appointment was not entirely made for rugby reasons.” As the UK Times says, de Villiers’ request to fans to look beyond the colour of his skin was undermined by Hoskins, when he said that race had been a determining factor. We’ll have to see how the governing organizations get behind him.

Certainly, given the lopsided presence of white players in the national rugby team, it is time that RSA rugby reflected and took advantage of the great pool of athletes from their entire population. De Villiers has created history by becoming the first black person in the role. I hope that he is able to produce good results — it is hard yet to imagine that RSA will replicate in 2011 its IRB World Cup. That said, de Villiers’ contract is only for two years! I will be curious to see if/how he includes Cheeky Watson’s son, Luke Watson, in the Springboks team.

In any event, I salute the decision and wish the Springboks success with this landmark decision.

Others blogging on the topic, although I notice a dearth of personal commentary outside of the RSA blogs:

KEO.CO.ZA – the official online partner to SA Rugby (and Cricket) – tons of threads including:
De Villiers wants Meyer in the mix
The Return of Quotas
Ou Grote (South African Rugby News)
Rugby Heaven (NZ rugby blog)
22 Drop-Out
Bruin Developement Forum

News articles on the appointment:
BBC report
ABC from Australia
UK Times on Line

Riverdance in Paris

Riverdance ParisWe went to see the very last performance of Riverdance at Palais des Congrès, Porte Maillot, along with the intimate 1,000 people… Although our seats were not fantastic, way out on the left hand side, the quality of the production was top notch and the handy binoculars brought the feet action up close.

This was the third time we had seen Riverdance, once in New York’s Radio City Hall, once in Montreal and now in Paris. Over its 12 years of existence (the journey began in Dublin in 1995), that is beginning to sound like Cirque de Soleil status (which I have seen 7 times in the same period). Not that I have seen much differentiation in the Riverdance shows I have seen, but the journey through different lands and emotions remains enthralling.

Riverdance Trading TapsThe highlight of the show is a piece called Trading Taps (left), a duel Spinning Skaterbetween two jazzy tap dancers and three Irish dancers. There is also an act where a woman crouches down and, balancing on one foot, is spun by a man standing behind her at absolutely the fastest I have ever seen a person spin… well beyond the spinning of an figure skater (right). for example, or the whirling dervish.

In any event, Riverdance, with its journey around the world–and the mix of dance with live music, singing and story-telling–is a recipe for a good family time. For those of you in other European cities on the Riverdance tour, enjoy. And don’t forget the binoculars if your seats are not up close.

US consumption of news – De Palma strikes at the heart

As an American living overseas, you sometimes get bombarded with the (often well merited) criticism of American provincialism. And, the general line of argument centres around what type of news Americans follow. A recent study by McKinsey encouraged possibly a different conclusion. The report suggests that when the Americans read news, they are brand promiscuous. On average, an American will use 12 different sources in a week for his/her news, going across 5 different platforms (tv [6], internet [3], magazines, newspapers and radio). And, considering the cross-frontier nature of internet news which accounts for 1/4 of the sources, one has to imagine that Americans are thus being fed more than a local-only news, with a wider range of opinions (unless the internet source is just the online version of the tv or newspaper). Of course, this same spectre is happening in other countries where, similarly, the typical tv newscast is somewhat biased or localized. Brand promiscuity with regard to the news provides hope for the democratization — or rather the liberalization — of news for many countries.

As testament to internet-generated news, the soon-to-be-released Brian de Palma film, “Redacted,” was nourished by the internet to get to the bottom of the [horror] story of the US war in Iraq, and features the story of an Iraqi girl raped and killed by US military soldiers. This article describes de Palma’s own dissatisfaction with the general news and how he used internet sources, including blogs, to find out about the truth. De Palma is quoted as saying, “It’s all out there on the Internet, you can find it if you look for it, but it’s not in the major media. The media is now really part of the corporate establishment.” Launched at the Venice Film Festival, Redacted has clearly caused a stir.

Came across Journalism 2.0 (good read and justly points out that the title of the study is misleading) and Dick Stroud on the same survey. Stroud concludes “don’t waste your precious marketing dollars on news related promotions to the young (ish).” Just going to have to qualify the news to the younger generation is my opinion.