Do not look to the government for a balanced fourth estate

In the free market of news, news tends to gravitate to bad news. There is nothing inherently evil about that. People just like bad news better than good news.

Every now and again, somebody will start a news outlet that focuses on good news, and every time these initiatives peter out quietly after the money runs out. People just aren’t as interested in good news.

This non-evil phenomenon has an evil side effect, in that people seem to feel less safe in a world dominated by bad news. I am old enough to remember a time when the world seemed to be smaller: national news in the papers and on TV was only limited to major bad things. Nowadays it seems that every time somebody stubs a toe, there are specialized shows to highlight the dangers one’s toes face in modern society.

So when it comes to news, the market fails us. There are several ways to combat market failure, one of them being government intervention. You might consider a public sense of safety to be a public good, so government intervention would be particularly apt here.

Unfortunately, governments are run by politicians, and a bad news environment is advantageous to politicians. They are after all selected on how well they can sell a perceived combating of the ills of society. Politics therefore tends to gravitate to a state of continuously feeding a general sense of dissatisfaction and of lack of safety. You can only sell vacuum cleaners if there is something to vacuum.

In other words, the market for news cannot be fixed by the party most suited for doing so, because fixing the market runs completely counter to that party’s interests. Also the news industry cannot fix itself.

Commenting open for every post

I moved this blog between systems at the end of 2005, and in the process commenting was switched off for old posts. Being unfamiliar with Wordpress at the time I decided to switch comments back on by hand, something that proved to be rather a cumbersome task. The task subsequently ended up on the back-burner, what with not being very important in the first place.

Well, we’re five full years on and guess what? I went back to the posts from those heady days of 2005 when I still had a job of sorts, when I lived in a different apartment, when a cat still roamed the halls of said apartment, when I had yet to discover the delights of Zoetermeer, and so on and so on, and switched commenting back on for them.

In the grand scheme of things this is not very important. In fact it is so unimportant that none of you cared to mention it to me. But this feels tidy.

The blog systems that made it as CMSes

Six years ago I blogged that open source CMSes tended to be too difficult to set up and use to be usable for small business and non-profits. I suggested that a number of blog systems and nukes could step forward and supplant them, and that is exactly what has happened.

In 2008, Joomla!, Wordpress and Drupal were the most popular open source CMSes, even though none of them started out as such. In 2009, these three still led the pack with a wide margin.

Wordpress and Drupal used to be blogging software, and Joomla! (formerly Mambo) was a so-called Nuke (a package for building web communities), but they quickly re-branded themselves:

  • Joomla! – dynamic portal engine and content management system
  • Wordpress – semantic personal publishing platform
  • Drupal – open source content management system

I have used all three to build professional websites with. Wordpress is well suited for small websites for small businesses, and I have built websites for huge organisations with Drupal. Indeed, for the past two years Drupal-sites have accounted for almost all of the websites I produced, the exceptions being one small Moodle project and a PHPfox website.

Installing Wordpress really takes me no more than 10 minutes or so. (In my experience, a single person business wants to spend at most a few hundred euros on a regular, fairly static website, so if I decide to go with Wordpress I can spend the remaining hours on making the site look good, which in turn helps the customer to establish their brand.)

In light of these developments it may not be too far fetched to conclude that ease of use, perceived or imaginary, can be very important for the adoption rate of an open source product. Ask the Firefox developers. It wasn’t the plug-ins or the built in search engine field or the tabs that made the difference, but the fact that the webbrowser seemed to work the way laypeople expected a webbrowser to work.

Indeed, I know plenty of people who never use tabs, who only seem to get confused by them, and plenty of others who search the web by entering a search phrase into the address bar (in the latter case a savvy web dude like myself included). The only Firefox feature I have consistently heard people name as the reason to use that browser is its perceived security. Firefox is, as the head rabbi of the world once put it, the one that “keeps out the schmutz“.

Dance the Varati

Duplov, November 23 – The Magat Party (“Justice”) of Jonasz Omlen is projected to win the general elections of Orbaijan by a landslide majority. With approximately 80 percent of the votes counted at noon today, Magat is predicted to occupy 54 of the 99 seats in the national assembly.

International observers have reported many small irregularities at the poll booths. As part of his platform Omlen had threatened to outlaw the popular Varati dance if his party would come to power.

When you read this you cannot help but think that this Omlen guy may be a shady character. It is not that simple.

I have lived in a small town removed a three hours drive from Duplov. The Varati is a staple there, and you cannot imagine it ever going away. As far as folk dances go it is simple enough. Paired men and paired women, and all the hand waving and toe tapping that constitute folk dances around the world.

It has one thing that sets it apart, and that is its fierce competitive aspect. You can win or lose a Varati, and winning a dance is considered an honour. People dance to become champions of the family, the dormitory, the neighbourhood or the region, and most Orbaijani enter that ever ongoing competition zealously.

It takes strength and agility to win a Varati, and since being a champion is so important, the partners don’t hesitate to help each other lose by knocking the other over, making them trip or simply even hitting them. Yes, the Varati is often more like a fight than a dance, even though every Orbaijani you talk to vehemently denies so and stresses its aesthetic and social qualities. It is the one dance in the world that wounds most participants, and it is not hard to see why Magat would want to see it outlawed.

But I think there is another reason.

One of the unwritten rules of the Varati, as a sport, is that the winner takes care of any injuries the loser may have gotten. It is brutal dance, and broken legs or any other disabling injuries are not an exception. It would thus only be fair that an activity that ostensibly is only there to while away the time not lead to disabilities.

The men often send over their wives or daughters to take care of the loser with healthy broths and massages, and honour prescribes that these women take their healing job serious. They often stay nights in a row at the loser’s house.

The last ten years or so, many Orbaijni have been dancing the Varati to lose.

Orbaijan’s traditional social fabric has begun to disintegrate, to be replaced by something as yet undetermined. The Varati is killing marriages and friendships. And I think that is the problem Omlen recognizes and tries to tackle.

Garbage collectors strike 2010

Properly hung parliament

Without an empire to boast about, over the past fifty years Britain seems to have devolved into an impressively large collection of pee and fart jokes against a rustic backdrop. Now don’t get me wrong, I like that sort of thing, but as soon as people start explaining why the UK’s parliament isn’t just well endowed in an ordinary way, but is properly hung, you will have to excuse me if I start to giggle.

(Man-giggle, mind you. Whatever that means. Because real men don’t care.)

The spoils of 2010

Yesterday Queen’s Day. Grunt.


  • Tangy & Laverdure, De verdwenen DC-8
  • De Blauwbloezen, De roos van Bantry

Books for the scanner:

  • Herman en Dorothea, Wolfgang von Goethe
  • De doorluchte vatenspoelster, Cervantes
  • Over toneel, Frans Mijnssen

Books for the Branko:

  • Momo, Michael Ende
  • Prodwitt’s Guide to Writing
  • Fotografie, Frans Naeff
  • Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
  • Paddeltje, de scheepsjongen van Michiel de Ruyter, Joh. H. Been
  • Carpe Jugulum, Terry Pratchett
  • Meneer Foppe in zijn blootje, Wim de Bie
  • Een tafel vol vlinders, Tim Krabbé
  • A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
  • Kramer Versus Kramer, Avery Corman
  • Maigret en het lijk aan de kerkdeur, Georges Simenon
  • Twee verhalen van Yury Kazakov