Graphique de la Rue

Many things come together to make Paris an amazing visual experience. One of them is its graphique – signage

I can’t get enough of it. And if you are the same, check out Graphique de la Fue, a book that celebrates this great craft. Véronique Vienne offers an interesting take on the historical context

Like so many other expressions of the celebrated French art de vivre, one must look for an ulterior motive: acquiring a competitive edge, exploring market opportunities, or developing lucrative innovations. I’d like to make a case that the beautiful letterforms that adorn even the most humble Paris facades were originally conceived as part of a campaign to glorify the French language. And glorify it is exactly what Louise Fili does with her latest offering, Graphique de la Rue, a book that documents the signs of Paris. She unwittingly promotes a political agenda whose origins can be traced back to the Renaissance when French kings, in an attempt to undermine the power of the Italian popes, tried to prove to the world that French was more sophisticated than Latin.


Two Perspectives on Terrorism

The recent crisis over refugees fleeing en mass from the middle east into Europe may or may not cause the western world to re-think its policies to fight terrorism. If it does, the reason will most likely be that the huge influx of refugees is straining European single market policies. In other words, it is becoming more evident that it is in Europe’s self-interest to figure out more effective ways to end the conflicts that are driving refugees to flee is such huge numbers. Sure there are humanitarian concerns. But self-interest will drive major policy shifts.

So how can we fight terrorism more effectively? I do not believe the answer is to hand over more civil liberties to government authorities to snoop around for suspicious terrorist related talk and money flow. Setting aside the obvious risks to ourselves by giving up these liberties, as Bruce Schneier has pointed out, this may be a losing strategy. In the long run, terrorists may be able to morph faster than we can develop new security systems to stop them.

We may find better ways to fight terrorism if we understand what enables it. Here are several perspectives.First, how do terrorist organizations finance their operations?

I suggest viewing this TED talk, as it offers a basis to understand one of the foundations for terrorist organizations to thrive. They need lots and lots of cash. This is not an earth shattering realization, though the video offers details that I was not aware of — especially about the size of the problem. So we are likely to see more restrictions of global money transfers in order to further restrict the ability of terrorist and criminal organizations to profit so hugely. Will this work? Probably not. Equally effective, in my view, would be to provide alternative legal ways for people in production zones to thrive without connecting to black markets in the first place. How about this for a really wild idea — some are talking about a guaranteed income for people (Al Wenger, for example).

We might consider paying people to live in crisis zones where they are now. I am talking about directly empowering them to have a financially secure lifestyle at home without engaging in crime. At least, this would give them something to fight for. Just a thought.

Second, how do terrorist and criminal organizations like drug cartels build loyalty among peoples they dominate? Contrary to what one reads in the media, ongoing loyalty requires not just a obedient mindset. it also requires a system of meeting public expectations. In other words, terrorist organizations do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, you might think of them as competing against governmental authorities to gain the loyalty of the people in a given area. And the scuttlebutt is that some terrorist organizations are better at providing social services (like trash collection) than government has been. Ooops!

This is not a new concern. It is a concern that sent me over to Estonia back in 1994 to assist in building a new and more responsive legal system to support Estonia’s transition from Soviet to western orientation. But the truth is that we do not have the institutional array that is needed to figure out how to manage this type of intervention over time. We are not very good at it. Time to get better?

This TED talk about the drug trade in Mexico demonstrates how logical non-state actors are in structuring relations with the people they dominate

From this I would suggest that our war on terror may be focusing too much on stopping terror as a tactic rather than focusing on incentives that drive people to organize themselves in ways that support ongoing terrorism.  Most people are not violent by nature. But in stressed situations, humans are relatively easily influenced to tolerate and even support violence if it appears that this delivers other benefits that are urgently needed.

I do not presume to offer genius solutions in this post. But I do propose that any strategy must confront the above realities of global criminal and terrorist organizations if it is to have any chance to end this scourge. And it means a deeper level of engagement in the processes at work in globalization, especially to mitigate  the dreadful effects of failed states and regional violence.

Dr. Johnson’s Cat and more!

London has always loved the eccentric.

Dr. Johnson was one of the more eccentric figure who made the city his home. Thankfully, one can get a feel for how the great man by visiting his home at 17 Gough Square.

In fact, Johnson lived in 18 different residences in London, but this is the only one that survives. He is most famous now for his trailblazing dictionary, though, in his day, he was as famous for his essays.

What was he like? The word garrulous comes to mind. His over sexed biographer, Boswell, records his discourses — mostly on ethical issues. Odd for a man with large appetites.

And he was in love with his cat,

‘I shall never forget the indulgence with which Johnson treated Hodge’, recalled James Boswell (a touch bitterly, as he was allergic to cats) – noting how he personally collected Hodge’s oysters, not trusting his servants to do so; a sad day it must have been when the grimalkin died, a loss commemorated by Dr Johnson’s neighbour Percival Stockdale in 1778 celebrating ‘his garb when first he drew his breath…his dress through life, his shroud in death’. He was, in the words of Johnson, ‘a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed’.

When I think of Johnson, I think of tremendous passions, controlled and directed with not a little difficulty. A most singular figure.

On your next trip to London, check out 17 Gough Square and then head over to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of a number of pubs in London to have been rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. There has been a pub at this location since 1538. While there are several older pubs which have survived because they were beyond the reach of the fire, or like The Tipperary on the opposite side of Fleet Street because they were made of stone, this pub continues to attract interest due to the curious lack of natural lighting inside which generates its own gloomy charm.

This pub has long had literary associations. Dickens apparently enjoyed the dark mood.


Pic of the Day: Morgan’s Library

It is not just for reading – and here are more great New York interiors.

Here is the story

In 1902 American financier Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) chose architect Charles Follen McKim (1847–1909) of the prominent firm McKim, Mead and White to design a library to house his growing collection of rare books and manuscripts. Adjacent to Morgan’s home, which stood on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street, McKim created a majestic structure in a classical style based upon villas of the Italian Renaissance. The exterior is constructed of Tennessee pink marble, the blocks set with such precision that virtually no mortar was used. A simple recessed portico is flanked by a pair of stone lionesses. Completed in 1906, Mr. Morgan’s Library—as it was called for many years—is the historic heart of today’s Morgan Library & Museum.