Friday, April 23, 2010

The epithet of European style.

Remember when “European Style” was something that was admired for its taste, refinement, sophistication, perhaps even a bit risqué and playful?

vespa_gts_300_super_09Audry HepburnBeoSound 5b

Lately though, European-style has taken on a different meaning in the US.

I first noticed it in the media, references to ‘European-style health care’ during the debates on the reform bill.  Then I found it on book jackets in airports, referring to ‘European-style socialism’ in conservative rants against Obama.

Now it’s everywhere:

  • Obama White House would advocate a European-style tax to help finance their European-style government.
  • Detroit pushes Americans to adopt European-style automobiles.
  • Reform will be paid for by a European-style VAT, backed by universal mandates in which everyone must pay.
  • Adopting the European-style approach to innovation will lead to global economic collapse.

A lot of this adjectival use began with Fox News and conservative bloggers, who use it as a synonym for center-left social democracy.  But it’s clearly entered popular usage to mean that People must either give something up (trucks), pay more to get less (apartments), or submit to bureaucratic approval process (death panels).

And it just isn’t true in daily life in Europe; I shake my head each time I see it and wonder what people are thinking, where they get their facts..

There are many areas of European society and governance that Americans may justly contrast and critique styles, overuse of the precautionary principal, the extent  the social safety net, the relative gerontocracy of EU leadership, adoption rates for new medical technology.  

But reducing differences to epithets is no way to understand one another and learn best practices.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On the road again

Flights were leaving from Schiphol yesterday; I took the train north to catch my mid-afternoon flight and made it over without incident.  There were more police around the check-in areas and they had walled off the ticket counters, passengers had to go outside then back in through a single entrance.  Crowd control I suppose.  But things were on-time and low-key – we flew too far south to see the volcano but the air layers were the usual translucent blue rather than ash-grey.

I dropped into ABQ SunriseAlbuquerque at  sundown amidst towering purple and gold clouds from a weather system causing tornadoes in Texas.  The colors here are amazing; I’m going to enjoy taking it all in during my first visit here.  There was snow in the mountains last night and a bite in the air this morning, unexpected when I come this far south.  But at over 6000 feet I guess it’s not surprising.

Two days of meetings ahead and a side trip to Santa Fe before headed back to Europe.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On creating new content

The artists descended on Stenenwal this afternoon.  It was a bit Gormley-esque.

They lined the river, crowded the doorways, sprawled amidst pencils cases and paper pads along the cobblestones,  Every horizontal surface was covered as they drew boats, sized up buildings, sketched the bridges.  The style was varied, some used rulers and protractors, others slashed graceful arcs and lines. 

It was a delight.

A mini-debate erupted on my Facebook page the other night.  I finished a presentation at 2 am and mused “I wanted to be an entrepreneur because…”.  One suggested “to build something of value yourself, …or to get rich”; “missionary or mercenary”, echoed another.  “Because you like working long hours, presumably in solitary confinement?” suggested a third.

Food for thought.   I think it comes down to content: I’m doing what I like and I want creative control of what I do.

So, content was on my mind as I stepped across the creative souls on my doorstep.  Innovation, creativity, inspiration, genius: by it’s many names, content drives and enriches the social, artistic, technologic, and economic quarters of our lives.  It trades through specialized ecosystems in industry and the art world, where it gets valued, traded, packaged, and sold.  It is the raw material of progress.

It’s sad, then, that the creators, themselves, aren’t better compensated for their contributions.

Musicians and authors make a few percent of record and book sales; inventors earn a hundred dollars from their companies for each new patent application.

But creating content takes time (it’s why I was up until 2 am that night).  A friend proposed that I should do less work that requires creating new content because it takes so much time and effort.  Better to be a consultant, advisor, mentor: “Listen and comment, but don’t offer to write or develop anything afterwards,” he confided, careful not to take assignments from our conversation.

But if I’m not willing to give up the creative side, then I have to find alternative ways to monetize content, if not the creative process through teaching or writing.

It suggests that maybe I need to reconfigure the business to attach royalty streams to what I make, take stock in client businesses, rather than just taking commissions and contracts?

The artists along my street can sell their works, teach students, accept commission.  A small percentage will succeed.  How can we, how should we, encourage the content creators, and not just the people who trade on their content?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Above us only sky

DSC09285   What a different world it would be if that kind of travel suddenly became impossible, or even unreliable, once again.

Anne Appelbaum, Washington Post

There is a flawless blue sky outside again today, not a cloud or a jet trail to be seen.  The suitcase lies in the living room, half unpacked, awaiting developments.  I’ve already checked out: It’s much more fun enjoying springtime along the Maas than trying to follow the media chaos that passes for hard information and travel updates.

The activity in the volcano decreases, then increases again.  The wind shifts; the high-pressure stays in place.  The Dutch run a couple of test flight, Eurocontrol says that the results are meaningless when applied to thousands of planes. Schiphol moves estimated times for reopening back an hour, past sunset, into tomorrow.

In my opinion, this is a good time to enjoy the enforced vacation, slip out to the countryside with a good book, and catch up with friends and secondary work.

My brother and his family were stranded in Rome on Saturday when their flight cancelled.  They were rebooked for Thursday, but he was concerned about his daughter’s school and athletics, his work and the growing costs.  So he haunted the airport and learned that Air Canada was laying on a few extra airplanes to try to take advantage of the temporary ash window.  They weren’t well publicized so nobody had time to drive to Rome to fill them, so there were actually seats available for the 4:30 flight out.

I conferenced everyone in on Skype and we mediated among my brother, the recalcitrant agent at the SwissAir counter, and the wonderful and patient Ralph from Tampa representing Air Canada.

I learned how Telex works between agents as they talked (sending a note to FCOTRLX targets a specific printer – 3 letters (FCO) for the airport, two (TR) representing the ticket desk, two more for the printer), and the arcane rules for moving passengers and compensating carriers. 

In the end (two hours as the available Skype credit ticked ever downward) they were issued paper tickets and departed for Toronto on-time.

DSC09288 I’ve had less luck (or, considering the weather, maybe more). I’m still booked for Thursday departure to the US for a conference, but both departure and return look problematic.  I’m wondering how far to push things lest I get stranded in New Mexico.  The Cancun conference winds up tomorrow: they’ve asked me to make my presentation by WebEx.  It’s not my favorite medium, no eye contact and poor sound quality, losing sync with the slides and unable to hear questions.

The ferries and trains are doing record business, but, since P&O ferries is owned by Dubai World and NorfolkLines by Maersk, there’s no way to invest in their improved prospects.  A friend of mine wonders whether the ash will disrupt radio and satellite (“Call me if your phone stops working, okay?”). Maybe there will be a return to passenger ships; the Royal Navy is already evacuating Brits from Spain and cross-Channel.

Anne Appelbaum wonders if we aren’t, in effect, rolling the clock back a century to when the world was a much bigger place.

  Already, the past several days have revealed that we rely on air travel for far more things than we usually imagine. Things such as supermarkets -- all that fresh fruit -- and florists. Things such as symphony performances, professional soccer matches and international relations. In fact, "European integration," as we have come to understand it, turns out to be utterly dependent on reliable air travel. Over the past two decades -- almost without anyone really noticing -- Europeans have begun, in at least this narrow sense, to live like Americans: They move abroad for work, live for a while in one country and then move to another, eventually going home or maybe not. They do business in countries where they don't know the language, vacation in the Mediterranean and in the Baltic, visit their mothers on the weekends.

Maybe we all win if there’s just a bit quieter, slower, smaller, local world.  It reminds me of the campaigns for Lesser Seattle.

Imagine…

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The volcano wins, but…

Air Traffic Europe 4-17-10

Europe’s flight status map tells the story.  Normally dense with planes, the weekend found the skies clear of clouds and planes except for the far south.  I give credit to the Dutch pilots, actually taking planes up to test the risk and to collect some hard data to drive the decisions of when to start flying again.  It’s exactly the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, my brother is stranded with his family in Rome for the next four days; they are going to relax and enjoy the city a bit longer. My flight to Cancun to speak at a conference was canceled at midday today.  I’ll mail in the talk, adjusted to be more of an illustrated white paper, but everything else was pretty well caught up in the rush to get out of town.. 

Which puts me in the unaccustomed position of having four free days ahead and beautiful weather to enjoy them.

DSC09298 Stitch

It was a beautiful day here, sunny and almost 20C, not a cloud (or contrail) in the sky.  I pointed the bike vaguely north and rode off into the Belgian countryside.  There was good conversation with other riders, a low-tech ferry crossing, and a beer and a laugh with friends at the end of the journey.

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‘wonderful day…’hard to believe that the volcano got the better of this deal.

DSC09301 Stitch