Friday, January 18, 2008

Web 2.0, seriously


The Library of Congress Wednesday launched a pilot project with photo-sharing site Flickr to publish 3,115 photos.

The library has a blog, too! See the Flickr project announcement here. That's what I call "taking web 2.0 serious".

Monday, January 07, 2008

The 2008 Election - An Answer to Mad Minerva

If you ask me, there are two democracies in the world truely deserving this label: America and Switzerland. Two completely different approaches of trying to get the people's will represented - but both superior to any other political system I know.

Are Swiss and Americans happy with their political system? No, they are not. If you have ever visited a Swiss blog headquarter of political punditry, you know what I'm refering to. Or take this NYT opener, for example:
Even by the low standards of presidential campaigns, the issue of immigration has been badly served in the 2008 race.
Low standards? Dear Sir/Madam, hiding behind the "Editorial" curtain, have you ever happen to follow an election campaign in any given European country? My suggestion: Do it! And recalibrate your expectations.

Or take the undisputed Queen of Conservative Middle-Of-The-Roadism: (any objections, Brian? ;-))
it seems vaguely unjust that a tiny state like Iowa has such a huge impact on the entire presidential election process of 2008. Less than 1 million Iowans will actually "vote" in the caucuses. I also doubt that Iowa is an accurate representation of any piece of America as a whole other than Iowa.
Read this and think again, MM (emphasis mine):
What an absurd way to choose a president, sneer many non-Americans, perhaps forgetting their own arrangements (the coronation of Gordon Brown as Labour leader and prime minister, without a single vote, springs to mind).
(Nota bene: the coronation of Gordon Brown wasn't only without a single vote, but through a single vote: Tony Blair's. In Germany, it wouldn't have been different.) Read the whole thing: In praise of the primaries, The Economist)

I'm absolutely thrilled by the American 2008 election campaign. Today, I got an email by the aforementioned Mad Minerva which starts as follows (link to her related blog post added):
I'm glad you're enjoying the start of the 2008 American political marathon! You say it's "thrilling." A British commentator has said so, too. Is the American race's atmosphere so different from European elections?
Girl, I don't want to sound mean, but ... are you serious?

The short answer is: YES.

The more elaborated answer? Well,... where to start? Coming to think of it, it's hard to find even similarities between the German way to elect a Bundeskanzler (let's restrain it to Germany) and the American way to choose a new POTUS.

Let's begin with a statement of one German correspondent in America, aired on German public radio Deutschlandfunk the other day (my emphasis, again):
The election campaign is lasting for twelve months now. The first hopefuls trudged through the snow of Iowa and New Hampshire in January 2007. Each candidate had to organize and finance his campaign by himself. No other nation expects such exertions of their top politicians.
(Full German original is here: Das Signal von Iowa. Von Klaus J├╝rgen Haller)

This statement gives some useful hints. An American would probably say: "Yeah, self-financed and self-organized. Are ya tellin' me there are other possibilities to run a campaign???"

Well, um, yes, there are. In Germany, the campaigns are financed and organized by the political parties. And where do those get the funding from? Guess what, from their members, from donations - and from the state. And where does the state get the money from to fund the parties' campaigns? Guess what - from the taxpayers. It's quite obvious that this influences the atmosphere of an election campaign, no?

Next, the scrutiny depth. In Germany, the candidates are chosen by the parties, that is to say by the party establishment. And in most cases, it comes down to a self-nomination by the party leaders. Now, self-nomination means: no quality check, no scrutiny.

And in America? Every newspaper, every TV station (as local as it might be), every other media outlet (not to mention bloggers!) is X-raying each candidate (plus his loved ones, and ex-loved ones, and business partners, and ex-business partners and so on) over and over again. It turns out that you, the candidate, pilfered someone's lunch snack when you were a third-grader? Gosh! That's "mayday-mayday!" for your staff! Your second cousin faked his tax declaration? OMG, CNN breaking news! Wolf Blitzer live, interviewing the second cousin's ex-wife!

Admittingly, the media hype, fuelled by mean bloggers, has taken this scrutiny issue a bit too far lately, but I still prefer the American way of collecting some information (including medical record and personal financial situation) about the candidates before voting for them to the German approach, where this is left mainly to the candidates' party and some MSM gatekeepers.

What else is it that makes the atmosphere of an American election campaign? The mere number of hopefuls - especially this time! In Germany, it usually boils down to two well-known candidates. (If there would be three, it would be considered a political earthquake.) Not to forget the campaign methods, like TV debates, NEW!--->youtube debates<---NEW!, door-to-door-campaigning, fundraising dinners, speeches before huge audiences, classroom chit-chats, internet chats ... you name it. In Germany, we have market place speeches (only one candidate, no debate), some TV debates with party officials (including the smaller parties), two important TV debates (if anything) and some internet embarrassments - and that's about it.

I'm feeling like I could go on for hours on that one. Perhaps, you already got my point.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Me, the Dallas Cowboy (1978)

At this err... last year's Christmas aftermath get-together, my sister was going like: "Mum, where are the photos of us kids when we were little?" And that's why I can now proof that my love affair with America has begun much earlier than I previously thought:

Me, as a Dallas Cowboy. This picture was taken in the spring of 1978, which makes me kinda Super Bowl winner, since the Dallas Cowboys had defeated the Denver Broncos 27-10 in January 1978. Those were the days ...