With all this talk of the NSA and its activities, espionage has stormed back onto the front pages. Perfect time to publish a spy novel set in China, the USA and Germany, one should think, and cometh the hour, cometh the man in the form of Olen Steinhauer. That surname suggests another Nordic star but [...]
Those who despair for the future of journalism point to BuzzFeed listicles such as “14 Cats Who Think They’re Sushi“. This is the bottom of the barrel, right? But before we rush to judgment, it should be noted that the same BuzzFeed recently launched a long-form journalism section, which features some excellent writing, such as Amanda Petrusich’s account of a python hunt in Florida. And it’s not just the new players who are making use of digital devices, especially tablets, to present in-depth reportage. The Sydney Morning Herald has started a new section, Immerse, that highlights long-form writing published over the last 181 years.
Regardless of the format, good storytelling will always find an audience. But the storytellers still need to know their trade and the importance of beginning, middle and end: “Hector Luis Camacho was born to be a boxer, which is another way of saying he suffered. But Macho was also born to entertain, to turn suffering into a cross between ‘Benny Hill’ and ‘Sábado Gigante’ on Univision.” That’s from “Hector Camacho’s Vida Macho” by Paul Solotaroff from the April issue of Men’s Journal. The writing is superb: “Early in the 1990s, as his courage eroded and his taste for cocaine deepened, Macho became less a serious fighter than a burlesque hoofer who boxed. His ringwear, always a little outré (side-slit trunks showing lots of leg, head scarves cribbed from Carmen Miranda), turned bawdy and strange and not the least bit unusual at, say, a gay-pride parade on Folsom Street.” The story is almost too tragic to be told, but the writing is compelling and the reader is rewarded with a beginning, middle and end that are not easily forgotten.
“Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” That’s what Henry Kissinger is supposed to have said a generation ago and the persistence and the popularity of the anecdote can be attributed to the fragmented state of the Brussels-led union. Yesterday, the old rogue celebrated his 90th birthday and among the congratulatory tweets was this one:
— EU External Action (@eu_eeas) May 27, 2013
If you’re wondering about the author, the Twitter account @eu_eeas provides the “Latest news from the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s Foreign & Security Policy Service led by Catherine Ashton.” Set up in 1 December 2010, with an initial budget of €9.5 million, this body, which is meant to act as the foreign ministry and diplomatic corps for the EU, offers the budding Kissingers of today, in desperate need of a number, a website with a choice of 23 different languages. To be fair, upon clicking through and after finding the Contact page, one is presented with +32 2 584 11 11. Some might regard this as a modest return, given the body’s huge 2012 budget of €489 million, a fat-cat salary of €286,580 for “High Representative” Baroness Ashton and a staff of 3,500.
Stepping off the gravy train for a moment, we find that 12-hour talks in Brussels concluded yesterday with European foreign ministers unable to reach the unanimous decision required to extend the current Syrian arms embargo. According to this news report, “analysts say Assad will be playing much closer attention to voices from Washington and Moscow, rather than the bickering Europeans.”
What’s that number again?
The very first version of the WordPress blogging software saw the light of day a decade ago today. Among the advances it offered back on 27 May 2003 were “Highly Intelligent Line Breaks”. The “brand new function” added “line breaks except where there is already a block level tag or another line break,” promised 19-year-old programmer Matt Mullenweg. Today, WordPress is the world’s most popular Content Management System. And, according to the “State of the Word,” it’s getting bigger every day.
Although it powers the likes of TechCrunch, Engadget and Business Insider, WordPress was not designed to make Matt Mullenweg rich — it’s free. Because of that, WordPress has enabled many bloggers and enterprises to publish dynamic content economically, effectively and efficiently and, this is important, to monetize it. To earn some money from his coding, Mullenweg founded Automattic in 2005 and the company was in the news last week when it announced a $50 million investment from hedge fund and private-equity investor Tiger Global.
The recent sale of Tumblr to Yahoo for $1.1 billion shows that blogging has become big business. The money is out there and it’s chasing the platforms with the right numbers. Next up? Keep an eye on Medium, the brainchild of Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone. Other contenders include Soup.io from Vienna, Overblog from Paris and Salon.io from Berlin.
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The great English poet Philip Larkin enjoys a reputation for lyricism and despondency. Some of his most profound works are filled with fatalism: “Being brave / Lets no one off the grave / Death is no different whined at than withstood,” he wrote in Aubade. Here, however, he’s in upbeat mood. The weather may be [...]
It’s been a full seven years since the Scottish siblings Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin, better known as Boards of Canada, last produced a recording. The drought is about to end, however, and “Tomorrow’s Harvest” will arrive on 10 June in Europe and 11 June in North America. BoC have only ever played publicly on a handful of occasions and they’ve never stormed the charts, but when it comes to low-key electronic music, they’re among the best in the business.
The German fashion designer, artist and photographer Karl Lagerfeld is a man of many talents, and he doesn’t shun controversy. Unfashionably, he defends the use of fur in fashion. In a BBC interview in 2009 he claimed that hunters “make a living having learnt nothing else than hunting, killing those beasts who would kill us [...]
On Saturday, 3 November 2001, the Al-Jazeera network, without demur, broadcast a rallying cry to the Muslim world that had just been issued by Osama bin Laden. “This war is fundamentally religious,” he declared. “The people of the East are Muslims. They sympathized with Muslims against the people of the West, who are the crusaders.” As the leader of al-Qaeda rambled on, alert listeners were struck by the attention he devoted to the easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Southeast Asia. Quote:
“Let us examine the stand of the West and the United Nations in the developments in Indonesia when they moved to divide the largest country in the Islamic world in terms of population.
This criminal, Kofi Annan, was speaking publicly and putting pressure on the Indonesian government, telling it: You have 24 hours to divide and separate East Timor from Indonesia.
Otherwise, we will be forced to send in military forces to separate it by force.
The crusader Australian forces were on Indonesian shores, and in fact they landed to separate East Timor, which is part of the Islamic world.”
East Timor, which is Portuguese-speaking and overwhelmingly Catholic, is no more part of the Islamic world than is Ireland, but bin Laden saw its independence as a challenge to his notion of a global Muslim state under a revived caliphate so his disciples responded on 12 October 2002 by killing 202 people (including 88 Australians) in a bombing on the island of Bali. On 19 August 2003, al-Qaeda killed UN diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello, along with 20 other members of his staff, in a hotel bombing in Baghdad. His crime? He had negotiated the independence of East Timor.
The perverted moral of the story was that if you dared challenge bin Laden’s umma, the price was indiscriminate slaughter on a grand scale.
In his 3 November 2001 tour d’horizon, the psychopathic leader of al-Qaeda mentioned a country that is now very much at the centre of the investigation into the barbarity displayed yesterday in London by Michael Adebolajo. Referring to the West’s plan to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, he said, “Mass demonstrations have spread from the farthest point in the eastern part of the Islamic world to the farthest point in the western part of the Islamic world, and from Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan to the Arab world and Nigeria and Mauritania.”
And there it is: Nigeria. One of those who hacked Drummer Lee Rigby to death on a London street yesterday is Michael Adebolajo, a British citizen of Nigerian descent who became infatuated with Islamic extremism as a schoolboy. “This war is fundamentally religious,” said Osama bin Laden in 2001. The monster would be proud of his blood-stained, cleaver-wielding enthusiastic fundamentalist.
“Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.” That’s a short story titled Idea for a Short Documentary Film by the short-story writer Lydia Davis. It appeared in the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, which was published in 2009. The American author, who has just won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction, is also an accomplished translator and her English version of Proust’s Swann’s Way was very well received. Indeed, she once said it was Proust’s famously long sentences that inspired her succinct writing style.
Negative Emotions is typical of the Davis approach to (short) story telling.
The Man Booker International Prize is presented every two years to a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in English. Previous winners include US novelist Philip Roth in 2011, the late Nigerian poet and novelist Chinua Achebe in 2007 and the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare in 2005.
The prodigiously talented and deeply unpleasant Richard Wagner will be celebrated today, the 200th anniversary of his birth, around the musical world and especially in his native Germany, with a torrent of tributes. Along with his legendary operas, Wagner wrote a hate-filled treatise called Das Judenthum in der Musik in which he held that Jewish speech had the character of an “intolerably jumbled blabber” incapable of expressing true passion. This, he claimed, prevented Jews from creating song or music.
“The Ride of the Valkyries” marks the beginning of Act III of Die Walküre, the second of the four Wagner operas that comprise his epic Der Ring des Nibelungen. The theme was used memorably in Apocalypse Now, where the US 1/9 Air Cavalry regiment plays the music on helicopter-mounted loudspeakers during its assault on a Vietnamese village.
This is turning into a significant week for Yahoo. And it’s only Tuesday. First up was Marissa’s acquisition of Tumblr in a $1.1 billion cash deal, and now comes a new-look Flickr with a free terabyte of free space. How big is a terabyte? Well, you could take a photo every hour for 40 years and you still wouldn’t fill a terabyte with your snaps.
In keeping with our Instagram times, the Flickr emphasis is now on images — full-resolution. Words are few and far between and the homepage is clean and visual. The other big meme of the day is social and the new-look Flickr allows users to push photos out to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest.
“The exit, one of the biggest New York has seen shows that with content becoming important, New York is finding its footing on the startup stage.” That’s Om Malik writing about “What Tumblr’s sale means for New York startup ecosystem.” Later, he adds: “It would be one of the biggest exits for a New York-based startup. Sure there have been other exits — Google paid $3.1 billion for DoubleClick, but that was a company that belonged to a different Internet era.” Those not used to seeing “exit” used in this context need to brush up on their venture capitalist (VC) vocabulary because the “exit strategy” is how a VC intends to get out of an investment, profitably. The exit is a way of “cashing out” an investment via an initial public offering (IPO) or being bought out by a bigger player, such as Yahoo. It’s also referred to as a “harvest strategy” or a “liquidity event”.
One of the early investors in Tumblr was Union Square Ventures of which Fred Wilson is a managing partner. Along with being a famous VC, Fred is a famous Bob Dylan fan and those in the know knew that a deal was almost done when he posted “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” by Dylan on his Tumblr blog yesterday. And it didn’t.
So why is Fred Wilson cashing out and David Karp cashing in so handsomely? “The world is atwitter about Tumblr’s big exit to Yahoo!” says John Battelle, who claims it’s all about advertising, especially “native” advertising and the “activity stream”.