concept to publication

Category: globalism

Camel plaque, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice

The House of the Camel, Venice

Camel plaque, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice

Camel plaque, Palazzo Mastelli, Venice.

In the Canareggio sestiere of Venice, between the Jewish Ghetto and the Madonna dell’ Orto church, on the Calle dei Mori (the Street of the Moors), resides the Palazzo Mastelli. It is an venerable edifice, marked with a plaque depicting a camel laden with burdens. (Consequently, the palazzo is familiarly known as the House of the Camel.) The camel is an enduring symbol of the position of Venice as an entrepôt for trade between East and West.

The original meaning of the camel plaque seems to have been lost to legend, most of it xenophobic. According to legend, three brothers came to Venice from “Morea” (the Peloponnesian peninsula of Greece) in 1112. Or maybe, according to other accounts, they were from the Levant. Maybe they were Arabs. In any case, their names are always given as Rioba, Sandi, and Afani, and they were traders, wicked men who, one story has it, sought to sell cheap fabric to a Venetian lady at an exorbitant price. But the victim of the scam cursed the money, and the three men were turned into turbaned stone statues that stand near the palace in the Campo dei Mori.

Another variant of the story says that the unscrupulous merchant used his favorite phrase while peddling his cloth, “May my hand turn to stone if what I am saying is not true.” Unfortunately for him, his intended victim was an avatar of St. Mary Magdalene (or maybe she simply answered the woman’s prayer) and once again the brothers end up as stone figures.

Turbaned figure in exterior wall niche,Campo dei Mori, Venice.

Turbaned figure in exterior wall niche,Campo dei Mori, Venice.

On one of the statues, known as “Sior Rioba,” satirical poems and protests politicians and other powerful people were traditionally hung. In the nineteenth century Sior Rioba lost his nose, and in 2010 his head, although it was later found in the Calle della Racchetta and restored.

Legends endure, and Venetians and travel guides have enjoyed relating the story for centuries. (One version appears in Giuseppe Tassini’s Curiosità Veneziane, 1872.) But the bases of the statues are in fact parts from a Roman altar, and the statues were not constructed as a group but are a composite from various sources, put together in the fourteenth century.

The Palazzo Mastelli is a similar mélange, combining thirteenth-century Byzantine fragments with sixteenth-century construction, Roman fragments set in a column, and all of that topped with a Gothic balcony. All quite Venetian and, if you ask me, charming.

Palazzo Mastelli, the Fondamenta Madonna dell'Orto facade.

Palazzo Mastelli, the Fondamenta Madonna dell’Orto facade.


By C. Walter Hodges - Folger Shakespeare Library,-1599-1613--A-c?sort=Call_Number%2CAuthor%2CCD_Title, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Shakespeare’s Globe

Democritus and Heraclitus, by Johannes Moreelse (Dutch, ca. 1603–October 1634). Oil on canvas. Democritus and Heraclitus, the laughing philosopher and the weeping philosopher, were a popular subject for early modern painters, including Rembrandt, Rubens, Velasquez, and many others. The philosophers are usually shown, as here, viewing a globe.

Democritus and Heraclitus, by Johannes Moreelse (Dutch, ca. 1603–October 1634). Oil on canvas. Democritus and Heraclitus, the laughing philosopher and the weeping philosopher, were a popular subject for early modern painters, including Rembrandt, Rubens, Velasquez, and many others. The philosophers are usually shown, as here, viewing a globe.

The aged are inclined to live in the past. In 1576, when Thomas Platter was seventy-seven, he published a charming autobiography. It would be admired centuries later by Goethe. Platter was the son of Swiss peasants. In Europe, the explosion of printing begun in the fifteenth century made advanced education available beyond the traditional literary elite, and Platter had learned seven languages and ended as a schoolteacher in Basel. As a legacy of his success, both of his sons, Felix and Thomas, became physicians. In 1599 the brothers were well enough off to partake of the new fad of international tourism, and they traveled to London. In his travel diary the younger brother, Thomas, describes attending a play “very pleasingly performed” on September 21. The drama was a tragedy concerning the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. Felix is sometimes remembered for being one of the first to articulate a theory of germs. Thomas is remembered for having attended a play.

On the making of maps

persian ceramics map

After a long interval in which nothing happened, suddenly I’m back working on my little book about Persian ceramics (the trim size, 9.5 x 10 in., is small by museum publishing standards; it would have seemed large back in my text-based literary publishing days). This book required a map. I originally intended to send it out to a professional map maker, but because the budget is tight, I ended up doing it myself.

The curator wanted to show a lot of information, including modern country names (but not boundaries), rivers, seas, a mountain, a regional designation (I think this is analogous to something between “the Bay Area” and “the Midwest”), and a lot of cities/kiln sites. He also wanted some “light topography.”

Shown is a screenshot reduced in size, so it’s slightly crude. This is a work in progress, and I haven’t decided on the final color scheme yet.

I don’t kid myself that I can produce a map of the same quality as a professional (although this compares favorably to the maps I was given as aids to positioning elements). But I do have certain principles that I hope keeps my maps from sucking too badly:

  • Information must be legible
    It is remarkable how many maps break this seemingly obvious rule. This meant I had to keep my background map rather light and make the overlay text as dark and large as possible.
  • Map elements should be clearly distinguished by typography
    While country names are among the largest geographic elements, in this map they function just as modern reference points, and the main information is historical. I set the country names in small caps in a nonassertive color and the city names (really the main map information) in black in the typeface’s bold caption font.
  • All type should be horizontal
    This isn’t always possible, I guess, but I will go to great lengths to achieve it. The model maps I was given had type running this way and that, following the directions of rivers and mountains for example. I think this is migraine-inducing.
  • Map typefaces should be compatible with the book text
    Maps sometimes are produced seemingly without any reference to the context in which they will be placed. This map uses the same type family that I use in the text of the book (Garamond Premier Pro).

At some point in making a map like this you will be tempted to fudge some elements to make the map look better. Cities that are too close together, for example, present problems when you are pushing the size and weight of the type for legibility. As I mentioned, this is a work in progress,. But I have done my best to be fairly accurate in positioning the cities. is a helpful database of geographic coordinate information.

I suppose you could view maps on a sort of spectrum. At one end you have satelite photography, which captures geographic relationships with absolute fidelity but offers no filtering or organizing of information. At the other end you have something like Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 New York subway map, which presents information pertinent to the map user with scant regard for actual geography. For each map, the maker must determine what information the map is attempting to present and then find the appropriate point on that spectrum to achieve the desired result.


Google dangers and opportunities

google in 2084

A few months ago, scholars from the University of Graz in Austria released a 187-page pdf document, entitled Report on dangers and opportunities posed by large search engines, particularly Google. (The file is large, so I recommend downloading and opening it from your hard disk rather than trying to access it through a browser.) The authors’ goal is to examine the implications of “the monopolistic behaviour of Google.” They assert that “Google’s open aim is to know everything there is to know on Earth. It cannot be tolerated that a private company has that much power: it can extort, control, and dominate the world at will.”

While the writing is a bit clunky, the report is interesting not only for its content but as an expression of a concern that seems stronger in Europe than in the U.S. Following is the report’s overview of its contents:

1. To concentrate on Google as virtual monopoly, and Google’s reported support of Wikipedia. To find experimental evidence of this support or show that the reports are not more than rumours.
2. To address the copy-past syndrome with socio-cultural consequences associated with it.
3. To deal with plagiarism and IPR violations as two intertwined topics: how they affect various players (teachers and pupils in school; academia; corporations; governmental studies, etc.). To establish that not enough is done concerning these issues, partially due to just plain ignorance. We will propose some ways to alleviate the problem.
4. To discuss the usual tools to fight plagiarism and their shortcomings.
5. To propose ways to overcome most of above problems according to proposals by Maurer/Zaka. To examples [sic], but to make it clear that do this more seriously [sic] a pilot project is necessary beyond this particular study.
6. To briefly analyze various views of plagiarism as it is quite different in different fields (journalism, engineering, architecture, painting, …) and to present a concept that avoids plagiarism from the very beginning.
7. To point out the many other dangers of Google or Google-like undertakings: opportunistic ranking, analysis of data as window into commercial future.
8. To outline the need of new international laws.
9. To mention the feeble European attempts to fight Google, despite Google’s growing power.
10. To argue that there is no way to catch up with Google in a frontal attack.
11. To argue that fighting large search engines and plagiarism slice-by-slice by using dedicated servers combined by one hub could eventually decrease the importance of other global search engines.
12. To argue that global search engines are an area that cannot be left to the free market, but require some government control or at least non-profit institutions. We will mention other areas where similar if not as glaring phenomena are visible.
13. We will mention in passing the potential role of virtual worlds, such as the currently overhyped system “second life”.
14. To elaborate and try out a model for knowledge workers that does not require special search engines, with a description of a simple demonstrator.
15. To propose concrete actions and to describe an Austrian effort that could, with moderate support, minimize the role of Google for Austria.

Among the authors’ claims are that Google is “massively invading privacy,” that its SERPS (search results) are corrupted by its ad system (favoring advertizers) and that this is a necessary result of its for-profit structure, that the internet itself is becoming skewed to a slanted “Google-Wikipedia version of reality,” that by acquiring extensive privileged information Google is positioned to play stock markets with what amounts to insider information and massively affect world economic structures, that commercial considerations cause Google to condone plagiarism, and more.

While particular charges may be debated, the idea of so much of the world’s information being held by a single company should give anyone pause. Should search be government-controlled or regulated on a nonprofit basis as the authors’ suggest? Wouldn’t such information in the hands of government be at least as troubling as the present arrangement? Or is Google such a power now that it is already in effect a kind of virtual world government of sorts, operating at the bequest of its shareholders? Can massive knowledge be regulated without compounding its potential exploitation?


Image: Vision of Google in 2084, New York Times, 10 October 2005, reprinted in the report cited above.

Digital divide

right reading - visits by region

I was talking with someone the other day about website statistics packages. The image above comes from Google Analytics. As you can see, Right Reading has yet to develop a big presence in the markets of Belarus, Greenland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Oman, and much of Africa.

More significantly, what we are really seeing here is a representation of the global digital divide. Check out this image of the planet at night.

the planet earth at night - africa

According to the United Nations Information Communication Technology Report, “in Africa, ICT has barely taken a foothold. Computer illiteracy and the lack of access to ICT are widely recognized as an increasingly powerful obstacle to the economic, civic, and political development of Africa.” And Africa Recovery notes that in Africa “For most people even making a telephone call is still a remote possibility in an era when most of the world is now communicating almost instantly across cities, regions and the globe using wireless and satellite technologies to send high-speed electronic messages.”

In the words of Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal, “The digital gap brings with it a danger of isolating certain peoples, those in Africa in particular.”

More links:
Computers for Africa
Earth at Night


More posts on globalism

[catlist ID=45 numberposts=10]


Flag Colors

flag colors

The pies represent the colors of various flags, the sizes of the slices determined by percentage of flag area devoted to each color.

At the original site you can click on the pies to reveal which countries’s flags they represent.

Via Swiss Miss

A Short Guide to Iraq

In 1943 the U.S. War Department produced a book offering guidelines for our soldiers fighting in Iraq. It contained advice such as this:

The tall man in the flowing robe you are going to see soon, with the whiskers and the long hair, is a first-class fighting man, highly skilled in guerilla warfare. Few fighters in any country, in fact, excell him in that kind of situation. If he is your friend, he can be a staunch and valuable ally. If he should happen to be your enemy — look out!


There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen. You won’t help matters any by getting mixed up in them.

A pdf version has been posted here.


Bertelsmann continues to expand

Bertelsmann is continuing its quest to be the print version of Google and control all the world’s paper-based information (all of it that’s profitable, that is) by expanding into China. It see China potentially generating 10 percent of its global sales revenue.

Syria or Afghanistan?

afghanistan or syria?What country is this? CNN votes “Afghanistan.”

Hint: Try the Middle East and North Africa Map Game.


gdp map

I’ve mentioned the website Strange Maps before. Here it is back again, with a map showing U.S. states renamed for countries with approximately equivalent gross domestic products. My state is France, evidement.


news map

NewsMap lets you get the news from any country by clicking its location on a map. It’s basically a mashup of Google Maps and Yahoo News.

Kind of cool but you could get the same information without going through the map.

Via Book of Joe.

Bad Health Care, Deficient Welfare Keep Americans Short

short and tallThat’s the headline I’m reading here. Seems Europeans have been gaining on us, to the point where Americans are now shorter than the average Dutchman. From the article:

Researchers have established in recent years that wealthier families tend to provide better nutrition for their children and, as a result, they tend to grow taller. The drastic differences in the United States between rich and poor, the researchers pointed out, mean that the US average is pulled down by those who struggle to get by. Whereas in the US, some 15 percent of the population has no health insurance and those on welfare can barely get by, almost all citizens of northern and western European countries enjoy universal health care and a generous social net. The result is that even those children dependent on welfare in Europe have a sufficient living standard, the researchers concluded.

The downward trend started right around the time Reagan was president. It’s been pretty much all downhill from then.

Comparing the U.S. and France

With France mired in malaise, French voters have turned away from the center-right government of Jacques Chirac in favor of the center-right government of Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Guardian has provided a interesting statistical comparison of the U.S. and France:

US: 301m. France: 61m

Life expectancy
US: male 75.15 years, female 80.97 years.
France: male 77.35 years, female 84 years.

Working week
US: approx 46 hours. France: usually 35 hours

Population living below the poverty line (for two adults and one child)
US: 12%. France: 6.2%

Minimum wage
US: varies widely from state to state – no such thing in Alabama. France: €8.27 (about US $11.18 per yahoo currency)

Usual retirement age
US: 65-67. France: 60

Prison population
US: 2 million plus. France: 50,500 plus

Number of murders a year
US: 16,692. France: approx 1,000

Number of overweight citizens
US: a little more than two thirds. France: a little under one third

(via Translation Blog)

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