France dictates its education structure, which in turn serves its centrally-planned overlord

The fact that the president of France has the right (and the time?) to dictate the country’s history curriculum seems rather absurd. The Economist concurs:

Perhaps the most striking thing about this row is not that French scientists will learn less history. It is that the central government still dictates to all schools exactly how much time to devote to each subject every week, down to the last minute. That is a legacy of Napoleon, who codified the curriculum—classics, history, rhetoric, logic, maths and physics—by an imperial decree in 1808. Just don’t expect all of next year’s school-leavers to know that.

But I’m sure the French don’t see it that way.  Take the French movie, The Class, which attempts to showcase the dynamism of a new generation of French classroom instructors.

The HuffPo critic says:

As a sociological document, the film testifies to how the French educational system — even today — is based on the idea that one does not “educate” students (i.e. “lead” them) but “forms” them, puts them in the moule. It is telling that the climax of Cantet’s film is a “disciplinary” problem. A boy is kicked out of school and forced to go back to Mali, because of an outburst in the classroom.

Indeed, The Class, despite its intentions to show dynamic pedagogy at work, reveals its the opposite: how “learning” in France consists of accumulating “facts”: basic mathematical and linguistic skills; points of geography and history; the properties of a triangle. A poem is discussed in terms of its meter, a country in terms of its rivers. The aim is not to inspire talents, but to accumulate enough facts to be a well-functioning citizen of the Republic.

And as testament to the depth of cultural divide between the French and the non-French.

“What a great film,” a French Belgian said. “It shows how hard it is to be a teacher today, to discipline these kids.”

A moment later, I spoke to an Anglo-Canadian journalist at the press coffee bar: “A great film,” he said. “Shows how oppressive the French school system still is. Everyone has to fit in, or they’re out. Look what they did to that boy from Mali!”

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Introverts in favour as corporate wind blowing away from the charismatic and the flashy

I’m pretty sure the corporate world did not discover the strength of introverted leaders just now, if you consider the myriads of virtues exhibited by those mystical introverts eloquently teased out in this Forbes article.

But it is possible that after the sometime dazzling but on a whole, hugely disappointing decade we’ve been handed by the last crop of business leaders, people are on the look out for a new model.

So are we ready for a new breed of corporate leadership? The thoughtful, silent, wise and stoic type?

I’m reminded of Jonathan Rauch’s excellent essay on introverts.

For one thing, extroverts are overrepresented in politics, a profession in which only the garrulous are really comfortable. Look at George W. Bush. Look at Bill Clinton. They seem to come fully to life only around other people. To think of the few introverts who did rise to the top in politics—Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon—is merely to drive home the point. With the possible exception of Ronald Reagan, whose fabled aloofness and privateness were probably signs of a deep introverted streak (many actors, I’ve read, are introverts, and many introverts, when socializing, feel like actors), introverts are not considered “naturals” in politics.

Extroverts are certainly over-represented in politics, it is hard to say whether the same is true for business, given a long list of success the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, among many more.

I would think the specific role one holds, i.e. founder, CEO, chief strategist, versus marketing director, PR consultant, or VP of sales, is more telling when matched with a certain personality trait, than the vague title of “business leader”.

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North Korea resolves to be less hostile in new year, the world’s accountants immediately dig up cost of reunification

Encouraged by Kim Jong-Il’s overtures during North Korea’s new year greetings that carried a reconciliatory tone, WSJ whips out some estimates of possible re-unification costs should the two sides of the peninsula puts down their arms and call it a day.

Whichever way you slice it, the Korean version of re-unification is going to make Germany’s still ongoing ordeal look like a stroll in the park.

Despite the $2 trillion West Germany has paid over two decades, Bonn had it relatively easy in the beginning. East Germany’s population was only one-quarter of West Germany’s, and in 1989 East German per capita income was one-third of the West’s. The two Germanies also had extensive trade ties.

North Korea’s per capita income is less than 5% of the South’s. Each year the dollar value of South Korea’s GDP expansion equals the entire North Korean economy. The North’s population is half the South’s and rising thanks to a high birth rate. North and South also barely trade with each other. …

At the low end, the Rand Corporation estimates $50 billion. But that assumes only a doubling of Northern incomes from current levels, which would leave incomes in the North at less than 10% of the South.

At the high end, Credit Suisse estimated last year that unification would cost $1.5 trillion, but with North Korean incomes rising to only 60% of those in the South. I estimate that raising Northern incomes to 80% of Southern levels—which would likely be a political necessity—would cost anywhere from $2 trillion to $5 trillion, spread out over 30 years. That would work out to at least $40,000 per capita if distributed solely among South Koreans.

Or maybe we are all getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe we are focusing on the wrong part of the very long speech, which may well be a cautiously strategic move to ensure the stability of the regime, in face of currency collapse and the resulting food shortage.

Back in November, North Korean government’s decision drop two zeros in its currency, and the strong public upheaval had surprised the regime. For people that depend heavily on the black market for their daily food needs, this threatened their very survival.

So it’s interesting that the new year speech has a new stress on food and agricultural security.

“Bring about a decisive change in the people’s lives by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture this year, as we look to the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Party!”

The key phrase is “by accelerating once again light industry and agriculture;” “once again” just means a continuation of the policies which led to the 150- and 100-Day Battles of 2009.

In any case, as the title shows clearly, the core concern of the North Korean regime is food security. Although the regime has been worried about food for a long time, this is the first time it has appeared in the title of a New Year’s Statement.

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When in doubt, attach “-je”, “-ke”

English doesn’t have a whole lot of diminutives in use, at least not recognizable ones, except when it comes to nick names (Suzie/Suzanne, Tommy/Tom, Rosie/Rose, etc) and cutesie terms and baby-talk (undies, hottie, horsie, itsy-bitsy, etc).  It’s not entirely true, since a lot of adapted words do actually come from the diminutive form through other languages, and adopted into English as is.

In Dutch, however, diminutives are everyday, and everywhere.  Dutch in the Netherlands attach some form of “-je” to the back of almost every conceivable noun to signal endearment and diminishing status.  A dog, hond, becomes hondje, a house, huis, becomes huisje, an hour, uur, becomes uurtje, and foreigners’ favourite, a beer, bier, true to its name, becomes bierje.  Many expressions only come in the diminutive form: een kopje thee, a cup of tea; toetje, dessert; snoepje, candy; and meisje, girl. Some also attach the “-je” endings to first names, so you end up with little Marco, Hans, Sanne and Lise.

It really adds a child-like quality to the spoken language.

The Flemish Dutch, Vlaams Nederlands, use “-ke” instead as a diminutive and term of endearment.

It seems “-ke” was also widely used, as a term attached to last names in some parts of eastern Germany. I don’t think the two are related.

The suffix -ke/ka—as in Rilke, Kafka, Krupke, Mielke, Renke, Schoepke — hints at Slavic roots. Such names, often considered “German” today, stem from the eastern parts of Germany and former German territory spreading eastward from Berlin (itself a Slavic name) into today’s Poland and Russia, and northward into Pomerania (Pommern, and another dog breed: Pomeranian). The Slavic -ke suffix is similar to the Germanic -sen or -son, indicating patrilinear descent—from the father, son of. (Other languages used prefixes, as in the Fitz-, Mac-, or O’ found in Gaelic regions.) But in the case of the Slavic -ke, the father’s name is usually not his Christian or given name (Peter-son, Johann-sen) but an occupation, characteristic, or location associated with the father (krup = “hulking, uncouth” + ke = “son of” = Krupke = “son of the hulking one”).

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What our cellphone habits say about our cultures

The Economist surveys the world of cell phone usage, and talks about how culture and society influences our phone habits.

In Japan, a commute culture that (heavily) frowns upon talking in public led to the speedy adoption of SMS and data services. Actual mobile usage declined from 181 minutes a month in 2002, to 133 minutes a month in 2009. That’s a 41% decline in under 7 years.

Some studies suggest that talking on a mobile phone on a train is seen as worse than in a theatre. Instead, hushed passengers type away on their handsets or read mobile-phone novels (written Japanese allows more information to be displayed on a small screen than languages that use the Roman alphabet).

The relatively thrifty Germans, on the other hand, having been long persuaded by its carriers to “keep it short” due to decades of underinvestment in the East taxing networks in the West, spend a shockingly brief 89 minutes a month on their phones.

Americans and Puerto Ricans on the other hand, responding predictably to cheap rates and the all-you-can-talk buffet options, cannot seem to shut their traps, spend 788 and 1,875 minutes a month respectively on their cells.

Comparing chatting habits of various inhabitants in capital cities around Europe, Londoners gather in public entrances and various other “improvised open-air wireless phone booth” because blocking people on the street while on the phone is considered uncouth. Parisians and Madrileniens “stroll”, in comparison, and feel freer to talk in the street.  The Spanish, in particular, almost never let a call go to voicemail.

Other cultural nuggets: Chinese let themselves be interrupted by phone so as not to miss business opportunities; Uzbeks don’t use it in public for fear of police tracking; Germans are aggressive in enforcing phone use rules in public; Indian women protect their handsets with colourful pouches to ensure resale values, whereas Japanese women do the same to add personalities to their handsets; Japanese, Middle Eastern and Latin American business people often have several phones, to signify their importance, to separate work from private life, some even to brownnose their bosses.

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How Armenians excel in chess, and Georgians in Eurovision

The tiny Armenia, with a population of 3M, has 27 chess grandmasters (out of 1,200 in the whole world), proving repeated exposures to an activity will create the cluster of “geniuses”, as posited by Tyler Cowen here.

As for Armenia’s monopoly in chess, much of it can be attributed to a nation-wise obsession with the sport, connecting the sport with nationalistic pride, materialized by an outpour of both prestige and financial rewards for winners, and the infrastructure to replenish the stock.

A sophisticated structure is in place to develop the next generation of Aronians. Down the road from the match venue is a classroom where the country’s best juniors are brought to train. There’s a boy who won the European under-10s, another who was under-12 world champion. In fact, all the children have won medals in national or international competitions. In the afternoon they watch the grandmaster games. In the morning, after physical exercise, there are four or five hours of chess coaching: three-minute blitz games, opening theory, endgame technique and sessions on tactics. To inspire them, the floor is made up of 64 black-and-white squares.

The path to success sounds unsurprisingly formulaic, also applied in earnest by the Georgians in its attempt to capture Junior Eurovision. The key?  A psyched up nation with high expectations, combined with systemic training and ample resources.

Last year, Georgia stormed to victory with three children singing in an imaginary bee language. Eager to defend its title, Georgia put this year’s act through four months of training and arrived in Kiev with an entourage of 21 people, including two vocal coaches, a stage producer, a choreographer and a psychologist.

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It’s a white, white world, after all

The world is bracing for a pretty white winter by the look of it, no doubt vexing the climatologist and throwing the curve off a little bit with the cold.

  • India is unaccustomed to, but dealing with and extreme cold across the north, where temperature’s dropped below zero.
  • In north east China and South Korea, particularly around the capital Beijing and port city of Tianjin, as well as Seoul, were blanketed in up to 30 centimetres of  snow, temperature has dropped to minus 32 degrees Celcius, and 90% of all flights were cancelled.
  • Eastern US is also expecting more snow in the coming day, between 4 to 8 inches around the Great Lakes, between 1 to 3 over the rest of the region.
  • All around Europe, from England and France, to Germany and Poland, from Norway down to Spain, stretching to the seasonally brutal Ukraine and Russia, it’s snow, snow, snow, and more snow.
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How British and Americans differ in their reactions of Chinese execution

In a classic example of how we internalize outside events through our own experiences, however incomplete, and how our opinions about “them” say more about us than anything else, consider this.

China executed Briton Akmal Shaikh December 29.  It’s a relatively straightforward case, the guilt of the executed was never in dispute.  Various human rights organizations, along with the British government protested, citing his mental state, and asked for clemency.

And netizens reacted.

The British audience, as seen in the Daily Mail’s comment thread that counted 1,650 in total, with little exception, fiercely supported the Chinese decision. It says quite a bit about how the British feel about their government and the current state of affairs.

– People are genuinely fed up with Britain’s lax laws, and lament a system that preserves due process and individual liberty at the expense of protecting the well-beings of the greater society.
– Many have firsthand experienced of a society traumatized by poverty, fearful of its youth, and unable to contain or control the combustion when drugs are added to the mix.  There’s little sympathy or public support for rehabilitation of drug dealers – a system plagued by re-offenders perhaps, and the term that captures the overwhelming majority of sentiment is “vehement hatred”.
– There’s a splash of racism here and there.
– Gordon Brown is not well-liked, to say the least.

Americans, on the other hand, faced with high incarceration rate and nagging security concerns both inside and outside of the homeland, guilt-ridden with almost-certain wrongful convictions and executions that have taken place throughout the years, and disillusioned by the ineffectiveness of its harsh penal system, are much more critical of the Chinese.

And true to matters close to the American heart, the discussion swerves from criticizing Chinese protectionist policies, its abysmal human rights records, to the greater “war on terrorism”.   More so, Americans seem much more concerned with the idea of due process, the potential error of executing an innocent man, and seem to give much more credence to Shaikh’s defense of mental incapacitation – one that almost all British readers view with cynicism.

Some thoughts on Meltdown Iceland and Iceland in general

Reykjavik - Borgartún

Image by jaime.silva via Flickr

I finished Meltdown Iceland a while ago, and have been meaning to post some thoughts on the book.  Compared to the epic by Andrew Ross Sorkin, which I’m slowly munching through now, Roger Boyes’ story of the Icelandic collapse is a fast read at only 200+ pages.  The actual events surrounding the financial collapse in Iceland happened quickly, but the lead-up much longer. Outside of war time reports and travel journals, this is probably one of the closest examinations of this small island by an outsider in a pretty long time.

Boyes offers a number of explanations for Iceland’s collapse, and much of it to do with the incongruence between its attempt to modernize its economy, and its inability to modernize its political system first.  This was in stark contrast with Michael Lewis’ portrayal of Iceland last year, where he squared the failure on pride, arrogance and lack of diversity of the islanders.

Outsized ambition

Can the Icelandic be faulted for being ambitious?  Michael Lewis attacked the country on its most rampant expansion of the banking industry in the history of mankind, amassing debts amounting to 850% of its GDP.  And he asks point blank:

Why should Iceland suddenly be so seemingly essential to global finance? Or: Why do giant countries that invented modern banking suddenly need Icelandic banks to stand between their depositors and their borrowers—to decide who gets capital and who does not? And: If Icelanders have this incredible natural gift for finance, how did they keep it so well hidden for 1,100 years? At the very least, in a place where everyone knows everyone else, or his sister, you might have thought that the moment Stefan Alfsson walked into Landsbanki 10 people would have said, “Stefan, you’re a fisherman!” But they didn’t. To a shocking degree, they still don’t.

In a country that has whole-heartedly embraced privatization, from its fishing stocks to its banks, and one that has managed to go from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest in a matter of a decade, there’s no dream too large.  In a country where almost everyone knows, is related to, and can see the Prime Minister any time, ego and a fierce sense of individualism nurture the island’s sense of “specialness”.

Similarly to the way its political culture can be at once transparent and rampant with cronyism, it’s social structure, when it comes to gender, is equally contradictory.  The country may deserve a pat on the back for sitting on top of every international survey that measures gender equality and human development, but in a parallel dimension, it is a culture where the men are wholly disconnected from its women. In a history where taking outsized risks is memorialized and idealized, where arrogance passes as confidence, it is a history of men.  With no checks built in a culture to prevent itself from self-destructive behaviour, the country head-dived into something it didn’t understand.

Why don’t we get more foreign news?

Kosher McDonalds restaurant in Ashqelon, Israel

Image via Wikipedia

Alisa Miller’s entry in Seth Godin’s new eBook caught my attention (pg 34).  In the entry, and a TED presentation, she talks about the abysmal state of global news coverage by the US press corps. Anybody who’s ever been subjected to around-the-clock styled American news programs can nod at the following.

Too often, American commercial news is myopic and inwardly focused.

This leads to a severe lack of global news.  And increasingly, a shortage of “enterprise journalism” – journalistic depth built over time through original sources – that provides the context and enables thoughtful response.

Too often, the news sticks to crime, disasters, infotainment, and horse-race politics.  Many important topics such as education, race and ethnicity, science, environment, and women and children’s issues are often less than 5% of all news combined.

Much of widely-seen online news isn’t better – it’s often just re-circulates the same stories.

The result: much of our news can’t be called “knowledge media” – content that builds insight about our world.

Things happen all the time, everywhere.  What gets made news, and what doesn’t, more often or not depends on where the news take place, and whether the happenstance in question belonged to one of the above-mentioned items deemed headline-worthy.  When we think about it, it’s really not at all unlike an abundance of trees falling in a remote forest.  Trees fall all the time, but only those that fall at the right time, at the right place, witnessed by the right bystander that deem it important enough, will have their fate made known to the world.

As indicated by Miller, Americans are becoming more, not less curious about what’s going on around the world, aove and beyond what the cable networks are able to deliver. It is evident, because British media outlets  that do a much better job with their foreign correspondents are eating into the audience pie. BBC and Guardian, not to mention the revered Economist, all command respect and eyeballs of those across the Atlantic.  But with cost-cuts and and ensuing shutting downs of foreign bureaus, especially for on-air networks in the US, we hardly get a glimpse of the outside world beside bombings and disasters.  That job has been relegated to public broadcast outlets such as PBS, NPR, and new private outfits the likes of Current and GlobalPost.

How did it come to this?

1. First and foremost, the race to top of the ratings league, and the focus on profitability have most likely doomed the industry to short-sightedness.  Should one fixate on ratings numbers and profit to the exclusion of any long-term vision, then the quality of stories will most likely keep falling to meet the lowest denominator. Until one day, 75% of your programming is spent chasing after Anna Nichole Smith, MJ, the balloon boy or Jon and Kate+8.  When that happens, you have essentially stooped so low as to talk to the entire American demographic as though they are stay-at-home moms.

Export cultural sensitivities, or keep them to ourselves?

{{nl|eigen foto, Looi}}

Image via Wikipedia

Last weekend was Sinterklaas in the Low Countries.  I can hardly explain why a thinner version of Santa Claus would want to takes off from sunny Spain to the cold and wet Netherlands by boat while dressed like the Pope, then once transferred on horseback, manages to deliver presents to adoring Dutch children and adults alike.  Long story short, Sinterklaas and all the gift-giving activities take place beginning of December, whereas Christmas is de-coupled from more shopping, and is celebrated without too much more fuss.

Sint does not come alone, but with helpers.  Not with elves, because that would just be too silly.  They are called Zwarte Pieten, or, black Piets.  Which in a country as white as the Netherlands, means scores of blonde children would cover their faces and hands in black paint.  It’s all good and well for the happy-go-lucky Dutchies, but make any racially aware outsiders perk up.  In a recent gathering with Dutch and non-Dutch alike, a Canadian compatriot asked tentatively (and I suspect fully aware of the answer but curious of the response nonetheless): “are Zwarte Piets black because they are, umm, African, or because they get dirty from climbing down chimneys?”

The answer is of course the latter.  But our Dutch friends’ cheery answers clearly reflect the lack of awareness, that, its history as one of the pre-eminent slave trading countries in Europe back in the days has largely escaped public consciousness, along with the ironies and cultural sub-contexts of “black helpers”.

A few years ago, the name of a popular chocolate-covered marshmallow teacake made headlines in the Netherlands.  In the US, they are marketed as Mallomars; in Canada, chocolate puffs. But over here on the Continent, they were sold under various names that translated to “negro kisses” in English (Negerkys in Danish, Negerkuss in German,  Negerzoenen in Dutch, and most hilarious of them all, Negerinnentetten, or negress tits, in good old Flemish).

The Germans and French were somehow hit on the head with political correctness circa 2006, and moved to force name changes on those products in quick succession. The Dutch Foundation of the Victims of Slavery picked up on the wind of change, and demanded similar re-branding campaigns by the original manufacturers. The industry resisted the change at first, citing potential drop in sales if consumers can no longer recognize a name that’s been around since the 1920s.

The business eventually relented, and the product is now sold under the name Zoenen, or, simply, Kisses.  An outpour of public outrage soon followed, dismayed by the change, and demonstrating a clear preference to preserve history at the expense of political correctness, or, progress, depending on how you look at it.  The general consensus seemed to be (turn on Google translation if you are curious at what the comments say): if 86 years of negro kisses haven’t offended anyone, why should it start now?  The obvious flaw in the argument? A willingness to overlook the myriad of cultural, social, and political shifts that separate the world of the 1920s, and the world of today.

Towards a cyborg future, and other questions

International Mother Language Day Monument, As...

Image via Wikipedia

I have trouble keeping up with my blog, not because there’s a lack of subjects I want to explore, but because of lack of resources – in both time and knowledge, to find a satisfactory ending to the questions at hand.  Here are some thoughts that never got finished and made it to the blog.  Maybe in 2010, I’ll be able to figure out a better way to articulate them in full.  I cannot be the first to ask such questions.  So, please share if you have opinions, theories, or answers to the below.

– What drives one country or region to excel in painting, and others to writing, and yet another to, say, architecture? What kind of geo-political, cultural, social, and economic tour de force were in place to allow for one area of arts to flourish over another?  For its size and population, Ireland has produced a disproportionate number of brilliant poets, playwrights and writers, known for their caustic wit and insight into human nature.  Is literary genius somehow correlated with economic misery?  That could explain how Russia also pumped out a whole generation of writers that produced account of sufferings and tragedies on an epic scale.  While for Germany, philosophers ruled in the 18th century, in response to the nation building tasks or merely a coincidence resulting from a cluster of highly intelligent and timely chatters within a single linguistic group at that time?  I would like to know what makes Scandinavians such greater designers, is there a history of industrial design in the region?

– There are books I read for the pure linguistic pleasures rather than the stories.  For books like, say, Lolita, what would translation into another language mean?  On the flip side, how much of the nuance, wordplay, and irony is lost when we read books translated from Russian, French, or German literature?  If our mother tongue do not belong to one of the more widely published languages in the world, and much of our readings is dependent on the success of translations, then how much gets lost in translation?

– Musing more on linguistics, are English-speakers increasingly living on the inside of a one-way looking glass, where rest of the world is able to access and understand our vantage points, but our inability to master or penetrate others’ cultures, en masse, will increasingly prevent us from communicating with the rest of the world on equal footing?

– Developed countries seem like they are run by politicians that climbed up the system through careers in law and local politics (US, UK), whereas many prominent developing countries (China, India) are run by technocrats.  Power at the top seem to dictated choices the next generation makes in universities.  What does this mean for the future?  Will there be a dichotomy where the west will increasingly focus on social progress, approaching global issues from the perspective of justice and political frameworks, where others will make decisions based on more quantitatively defined metrics?

It’s not always what it seems

not-what-it-seems My friends have stopped asking me about what it’s like to live in the Netherlands now. Those that have never set foot in the country have images of a land of hedonism, where prostitutes seduce their customers from behind glass windows in the Red Light District, coffee shops with herbal goodies and space cakes line the streets, where people are happy and gay with no fears of reprisal.

Those that have walked the cobbled streets of Amsterdam light up when they reminisce the pretty canals and friendly neighbourhoods. It’s clean, safe, compact, and anything goes.  The place has the kind of post-modern, post-religious, post-gender reputation that’s the wet dream of left-leaning liberals.

It’s not so, simple. Northern Europe can be very deceiving that way, because on the surface, they just seem like a blonder, more homogenous, more socialist, and more compact version of North America, with a bit more history.  Travelling to any of the capital cities of those countries, you will find that everyone speaks English, menus in restaurants are more or less the same trendy fusion stuff with a local twist, basic infrastructure and layout of cities uniformly confusing.

But don’t always believe the advertising.  Here’s what took me a couple of year to figure out.

Amsterdam is not the Netherlands. Obviously, a country is much more diverse than its capital.  Leaving Amsterdam and venturing into the rest of the country, you would rightly expect to hear less English, see less foreigners, and experience next to no flamboyant display pleasure-seeking activities.  In reality, most Dutch do not consider Amsterdam Dutch.  Instead, many are apologetic for the way the country is defined by the exaggerated reputation of one city and its liberal policies.  Which leads to the next point.

The Dutch are conservative. Not conservative like bible-thumping moralists that rant and preach.  But conservative in a post-religious society, where Calvinism holds much sway in what’s acceptable and what’s not .  The Dutch’s foray into legal prostitution has more to do with their attitude of “to each their own”, than a whole-hearted acceptance and embrace of the practice.  Besides, it’s hard to regulate, never mind tax an activity, unless you legalize it.  And the Dutch wants to tax everything.

No “packaged liberalism” practiced here. In North America, socio-political beliefs usually come in a package.  For example, if you are left of the centre thus can be labeled as a socially liberal, you are most likely pro-choice, pro same-sex marriage, for gender and racial equality, for sex education, for reforming immigration policies, etc.  If you are right of the centre and socially conservative, then you are most likely against abortion, against legalizing same-sex marriage, for policies that encourage women to be primary caretakers, and for abstinence education in school.

The sum of its parts is greater than the whole – making more out of our online presence

network When we think about our web presence and connectivity, many of us have a number of overlapping networks roughly sectioned-off – public versus private, personal versus professional, all-encompassing versus interest-based.

This is all too obvious for a large group of professionals that leverage LinkedIn to network, generate sales leads, recruit, and get hired for jobs.  LinkedIn effectively brought recruiting to the 21st century, by mirroring our offline behaviour with online equivalents.  Work experience?  Check.  Education?  Check.  References in the form of recommendations?  Check.

LinkedIn took offline professional networking online, thus creating a space where all the schmoozing can take place, plus it stores your Rolodex for all to see. It works extremely well on many levels – its popularity and profitability is a testament to that success.  But I wonder whether if it will be comfortable with its current demographic profile – middle-aged, manager-and-above wealthy clientele, or innovate along with its younger generation of users.

The biggest flaw I see with LinkedIn, is how closely it parallels our offline career trajectory and all the limitations that come with it.  A resume is backward looking, because it reflects choices we’ve made in the past, whether they be our educations or careers. And it can be incredibly constraining, because it doesn’t open one up with more opportunities, should they want a chance at a non-typical, cross-industry move.  At least not without a degree or piece of paper to signal that intention.

When I was in university, we had a bunch of career counselors that implored us to develop “transferrable skills” by telling us how people our age will have more likely than not, have between 5-10 different careers throughout our lives.  Not jobs, not industries, but careers.  That seems fantastical, even in today’s economy, where fluidity is at its peak.  Moving into an entirely different career path without connection, a huge break, or getting further educated in that field, is next to impossible.

For example, many companies return to the same university campus to recruit year after year, because they are after that ultimate “fit”.  And the school – through its molding and cultural immersion, will more likely than not spit out the type of candidate the firm is looking for.  Some even go as far as putting a premium on applicants belonging to a specific sports team or fraternity, all in that illusive search for fit.  Surely, the signaling effect of attending a certain institution, belonging to certain clubs, and playing a certain sports is strong.  But as recruiting matures in a post-campus environment, there are more signals that can be, and should be taken into account when it comes to assessing candidates.

Right now, LinkedIn does little to facilitate and gather signals of change, should one become curious in an area outside of his/her immediate career path.  That is a great shame, because so many of us are, in every age range and point on the career ladder.  And given an outlet, a channel, and a community, many of us would take the plunge and invest our time and energy into learning, participating, and even contributing to a knowledge base of our “curiosities”, that may or may not eventually blossom into a change.

Imagination please, when it comes to business plans

content-delivery-platform Why the content delivery business is a hard business, if subscription and advertising’s all you got.

For something truly disruptive to occur, the current system has to be broken beyond repair, and the incoming “disruption” has to be powerful enough (momentum driven by adoption), and sustainable enough (financially feasible, as far as business models are concerned), to overwhelm the status-quo.

A lot of individuals and businesses are fawning over the demise of “old media”, by attempting to deliver content in a way that’s fast, unique, exclusive, customizable, or pushed and pulled in whichever direction that users want.  Most are convinced that money can be made if only the formula is tweaked just so.  I’m not so convinced.  Remember this, “just because somebody destroys an existing business model, doesn’t imply it is itself, a good business model.”

Bearing in mind that all of the below already exist and are available for free, the next generation of content delivery platform will have to have all of the following wrapped in a free package, and more:

  • It will need a Friendfeed-esque system that floats the best of the best, aggregating someone’s social media profile along with their friends’, including Twitter, Digg, Delicious, RSS readers, and direct web surfacing.
  • Recommendations should be provided based on both one’s social network, customizable settings, and automated filtering.
  • The quantity and quality of the content should both be adjustable.  One should be allowed to set both thresholds according to their needs. After all, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the quantity, nor underwhelmed by the quality.
  • The content should be personalizable, but not so personalizable to the extent that it prevents you from discovering cool new things out there.

If and when this technological and design feat is accomplished, it’s time to worry about the business model. Consumers are hard to please: they are fickle, prickly, cheap, and worst of all, not all that loyal.  This is all but spelled out in the success, or for some, the lack of, that many social networks have encountered.

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  • MySpace and Facebook make money from advertising, and on-site sales of “gifts”.  Nobody pays to use those services.
  • Twitter has no revenue model just yet.  But it’s likely they will capitalize on premium subscriptions and partnerships with the likes of Google or Yahoo, by integrating the Twitter network with their respective systems. The recent deal with India’s mobile carrier is an indication that putting the service in front of as many users as possible is the primary goal at the moment. I’m a loyal user, and I would be prepared to pay.  I’m not sure about the other 75% inactive users though.
  • Evernote, Spotify, Last.fm, etc have revenue from premium subscriptions.
  • LinkedIn has revenue from premium subscribers, mostly those that rely on networking to make their living.  Majority of subscribers do not pay. But those that do keep the lights on, and some.