Monday, January 15, 2018


Today's re-launch of The Guardian in tabloid format reminds me that it was the newspaper's design that prompted me to buy it for the very first time. I was on holiday, naked and unashamed and far removed from my working environment in Berlin, at the Cap d'Agde naturist resort complex. At the tabac, the masthead of the broadsheet caught my eye, modern and bold and very different from those of most competing publications of the time. And The Guardian had run colour photographs on the front page since the beginning of the year 1995.

I quickly realised that the newspaper's journalism fitted my 'world view' and becoming a regular reader was an inevitability. My copy was always waiting for me at the kiosk in Cologne in the late nineties, then at the stand in the lobby of the Novotel in Abu Dhabi. By that time I could also access the online edition, but it was only when I returned to Germany that the digital version became my regular source of news and comment. 

Shall I be a buyer of the new tabloid? Probably not, given that I've become so used to inhabiting cyberspace in preference to the real world outside in Munich. But the re-design is, in my opinion, brilliant and will quite possibly attract new readers.


Saturday, January 13, 2018


Quo usque tandem abutere, Herr Drumpf, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? 
(Cicero, 63 BC, adapted)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018


Unshuffled in Theresa May's new cabinet, more's the pity.

Saturday, January 06, 2018


All the quibbling concerning the veracity of what Michael Wolff has reported is surely neither here nor there. Herr Drumpf has promised us in a very recent volley of tweets that he “would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!” Does such a preposterous claim from the man himself not suffice?


...they Tweet not, neither do they spin.

Thursday, January 04, 2018


In June 2015, Good Will-Hinckley, a charitable organisation for at-risk youths that runs two schools in the State of Maine, hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves to be their next president. Governor Paul LePage, however, threatened to withhold $500,000 of state funding for the school if they hired Eves, due to his voting record against charter schools in the state. LePage’s choice to do so was labelled as ‘blackmail’ as well as ‘political interference’. As governor, he has made controversial remarks regarding abortion, the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, the death penalty, voting rights, campaign financing, the government and the environment that has sparked widespread national criticism including calls for impeachment. The Good Will-Hinckley board of directors rescinded its offer to Eves to be the next president of the organisation.

Why do I single out this example of political chicanery from the year before the shadow of the dire Drumpf fell upon the whole of the United States? Because the offer made to Mark Eve was that proposed to my father in 1955, albeit at a salary rather less than the annual $120,000 offered to the Democratic House Speaker. Pa accepted the position, moved us as a family from Scotland to the banks of the Kennebec River and for a couple of years ran Good Will-Hinckley in the spirit of its founder. I noted in my memoir as follows: "Founded in 1889 by Rev. George Walter Hinckley, Good Will was seen as both a philanthropic and educational venture. It was dedicated to the provision not only of schooling but also a true home ‘dedicated to the needy and deserving youth of character and ability from either broken homes or homes of extreme destitution’ to quote a 1958 brochure. The Good Will Home Association; an altruistic experiment in a three thousand acre campus.” Averill High School, where I graduated in 1957, was part of this quasi-utopia in which at the time a dangerous clown like Paul LePage could never have been imagined.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018


To start 2018 with depressing news from the United Kingdom, the country where the railways were for so long a matter of national pride. We learn now that anyone using a train for his or her daily commute to a workplace around 30 miles away will spend about 14% of their earnings for their season ticket.

In Germany, the cost would be half as high. In France, just 2.4% of monthly salaries would be asked of passengers riding trains that in general will be more modern than those deployed on British routes.

Sic transit... (pun intended!)

Sunday, December 31, 2017


The promise of the internet was that it would gift us greater choice than we had ever had in the pre-digital era. But the web has enmeshed us in a systemic constraint of our options. According to our personal preferences, as construed from our online histories, we are increasingly targeted by algorithms that make recommendations on our behalf, ensuring that we inhabit in complicit complacent comfort our essentially self-determined echo chambers. Inside a figurative echo chamber, as Wiki baldly states, “official sources often go unquestioned and different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented. The echo chamber effect reinforces a person’s own present worldview, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is”. At worst this gives us inanities like Brexit and Herr Drumpf. But it is easy to be lazy, with streaming music platforms well aware of the kind of sounds we prefer, Amazon knowing what we’ll probably enjoy reading, Netflix not only confidently proposing our next binge viewing orgy but using the data they have collected from us, the audience, to decide what movies they should invest in and actually put into production.
It was this latter that prompted me to think a bit more about the ways our choices are more and more circumscribed. The manipulation is ever more efficient and quite blatant. For example, Netflix is constantly looking at ways to ensure its eighty-one million members find something they want to watch. One ruse is to present us as viewers with customised thumbnail images when we consult the homepage menu illustrating what is on offer. They claim that if nothing catches our eye within ninety seconds, we will lose interest and move on to other activities. And so the company adjusts the feed of promotional thumbnails depending on demographics, including nationality and gender, and on what they can deduct from our individual user profile.
With the new ‘content providers’ of the FANG fraternity (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) accelerating the billion dollar disruption of the entertainment industry, at least in its Hollywood iteration, we will soon have only the illusion of choice.

However, we need not be completely disenfranchised. In parallel with the dystopian developments I’ve mentioned, there is a contrarian trend that can be seen as positive. While the new media tycoons produce their big-budget blockbuster movies and series, there is a generation of independents content to work on a shoestring and take advantage of affordable technology allowing them to make films that are personal in the tradition of the cinema d’auteur. Such work may reach only a niche audience, people who find the echo chamber stultifying if not downright dangerous. I dare to hope that this is an audience which will in 2018 and over time grow to become a small but significant countervailing feature of the media landscape.