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Sunday, March 12, 2006

WE HAVE MOVED!

Owlspotting has migrated to a new server space. Starting with today, please point your browsers to owlspotting.com.

Also, for those subscribed to our blog, please update your subscription data to keep receiving updates. Go here to choose your favorite subscription mode.

The new location is waiting for you with a brand new post on the Washington Post's latest story about Romania. I know you want to know what I thought about it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Make the cherry official

My latest story in the Christian Science Monitor is about a group of kids in a special needs class that are fighting to make the cherry the official fruit of Washington, DC. The kids are guided in this effort by their teacher, Terry Bunton.

Making a fruit -- or any other symbol -- official is not an easy task, but it does offer a glimpse into the American legislative process.
Official symbols are an interesting phenomenon to read about.

Read the Monitor story here.

* Photo is by Andy Nelson of the Monitor staff.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The worth of a Romanian soccer player -- in meat

I can't believe I missed this piece of news in my usual activity of finding what foreign outlets have to say about Romania. But an item on my favorite geek show, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (the NPR news quiz) clued me in on the story of a Romanian soccer player traded for... meat!

Below is the Reuters item in its entirety. I really have no comment.

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian second division soccer club UT Arad sold a player in exchange for 15 kilograms of meat, local sport daily Pro Sport reported on Monday.

However, fourth division Regal Horia made a bad deal because defender Marius Cioara decided to end his footballing career and take off to Spain to find a job in agriculture or construction.

"We are upset because we lost twice - firstly because we lost a good player and secondly because we lost our team's food for a whole week," a Regal Horia official was quoted as saying by the daily in its electronic edition.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Let the rooster roost

A very good friend of mine wrote an awesome story for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. It's a story of an orphaned rooster who made a home outside the city hall of small town Punta Gorda (of hurricane season 2004 fame).

Although some of her editors din not consider this "animal story" worthy enough for the front page, I was reminded today about why it is appealing and why the judgment of some editors that there are more important things to put on the front page is so often wrong.

I was reading from "A history of news," where at one point Mitch Stephens discusses the sociological need for news, saying
we are "hungry for awareness." He talks about how people feel lost and isolated when deprived of news.

But it's not the content of the news that makes them feel lost. "The importance of the news transcends the importance of the items upon which it focuses. More than specific information on specific events, the great gift a system of news bestows on us is the confidence that we will learn about any particularly important or interesting event."

With all the news and platforms out there today, wouldn't it be smarter for a local shop to satisfy the need for awareness (and entertain at the same time) than bask in self-congratulatory definitions of newsworthiness?

Let the rooster roost as prominently as possible.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Romanians looking for...

I like to think that if you look close enough, you'll find almost anything on Craigslist, the online classifieds giant. Today, I decided to look the site around and find out what Romanians are up to in cities across the United State. Many of them are looking for things -- mostly jobs and soul mates.

If you can help them out, don't hesitate.
Romanians are good people and make funny noises.

>>> Ovidiu in NYC is looking for a company to sponsor him for the H1B work visa.

>>> This person is teaching Romanian -- a language of love, passion and medieval fortitude -- in Manhattan.

>>> Someone in Austin is looking for people to sponsor a benefit concert to raise money for their trip to Romania where they'll be volunteering at an orphanage.

>>> I have found a few eexamples warning buyers of fraud offers from Romania. Here is such a warning from Austin.

>>>
Adela in Chicago is looking for a nanny position.

>>> Some dude in Chicago is looking for a "pretty girl."

>>>
In Los Angeles, Simion is looking for a job as a photo assistant.

>>> In Portland, a customer was unsatisfied with the work of a tile slate professional named Julian, who is from Romania. (I assume it's Iulian).

>>> In San Francisco they are buying carts for handicapped dogs in Romania.

>>> Also in the Bay area, they are holding a golf tournament to raise money to equip vets on a mission to neuter Romanian dogs.


>>> And finally, here is Peter, who says he lives in Romania but is looking for a soulmate on the Boston craigslist. Help the man out.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell has a blog

Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker writer and author (he wrote "The Tippint Point" and "Blink") has started blogging. I guess this is great news for all of us who had questions to ask him after reading his pieces.

For those who don't know Gladwell: he writes about cultural phenomena through a very unique lense -- don't tell me you've ever given much thought to how small groups can impact change or how pitbulls laws can help us understand profiling.

Read Gladwell's blog here.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

amintiri din dbrom

"am vrut odata sa scriu o povestire care sa se numeasca 'omul care s-a insurat cu cainele lui'. era cu siguranta influenta lui marquez in acest titlu.

aveam doar tilul si imaginea unui om trecut de 45 de ani pe plaja de la 2 mai. doar el, cu un sac de dormit, o plasa in care isi tinea probabil singurul rand de haine de schimb si un piaptan. si un caine. mic. un caine de o vara. nu stiu de unde fugise omul, nu stiu de ce fugise, dar locul acela traia pentru ca el era acolo".


Au trecut trei ani de cand am scris aceste randuri care nu ies in evidenta datorita continutului ci datorita contextului. Randurile de mai sus sunt luate dintr-un jurnal pe care l-am tinut timp de un an de zile pe dbrom (din basmele romanilor). Iar astazi, fara vreun motiv anume, vreau sa-mi amintesc de dbrom [2000-2005], o creatie salbatica, greu de definit, greu de intretinut si greu de promovat intr-o vreme in care Internetul romanesc se misca greu.

10 lucururi pe care vreau sa mi le amintesc din perioada dbrom:

1. Decembrie 2001: dbrom apare la ".ro", emisiunea despre toate cele Internet a Pro TV-ului.

2. Campania "Romani, ganditi" (impreuna cu mintrubbing, sictir.org si urban experience) pentru care am pus afise (vezi mai jos) in Bucuresti. Regret si astazi ca nu am reusit sa cumparam un panou publicitar undeva pe la Unirea.

3. Editia 1 si 2 a premiilor "Videoclip dbrom", care au desemnat castigatori la categorii precum "inundatii", "cea mai tare sapca", sau "am cantat, m-am dezbracat".


4. Reportajul dbrom de la protestul CNSAS. dbrom era online la cateva ore dupa finalul protestului, dovada ca Internetul poate sa bata la fund presa traditionala daca doreste.

5. Cele patru comemorari ale zilei de nastere a lui Ceausescu (in 2002, 2003, 2004 si 2005).

6. Cele doua updateuri tematice "Cartea" (1 si 2).

7. Faptul ca un site care a murit ca o publicatie online de satira socio-politica a pornit de la un site menit sa glorifice un pilot (prost) de Formula 1.
Multumim Gaston Mazzacane.

8. Tricourile cu dbrom si noptile in care le-am carat si afumat in Fire -- loc in care au fost si retrase o parte dintre ele.

9. Proiectul "Ce e prost in Romania?"

10. Toate si oricare din cele peste 1000 de texte publicate in cei cinci ani de existenta -- de la "jocurile anti-sociale" pana la review-urile de film sau carte.

>> Pentru mai multe despre viata (si moartea) dbrom, citeste articolul urmator.

Tu ce iti amintesti din perioada dbrom?


Friday, February 24, 2006

Romania leads Olympics -- in last place finishes

I was doing my normal morning rounds of the media blogs and came across a Media Shift reference to a blog that tracks last place finishes in the Torino Olympics. Funny, I said, until I started reading this blog more closely. It turns out that next to documenting the pains of athletes coming in last, the blog also ranks countries according to the number of last place finishes.

Who is currently leading that ranking with a couple Olympic days left? You got it, Romania (see graphic below).

With 33 athletes at these games, Romania has so far managed to place last five times. We are followed closely as you can see below by Ukraine, China, South Korea and Japan -- all of which have more athletes at the games.


This is almost as good a story as Steaua and Rapid bulldozing opponents in the UEFA Cup or American autistic basketball player Jason McElwain scoring six consecutive three pointers in less than four minutes.


Update (Feb. 27): Now that the Olympics are over, the final tallies are in. Romania added one more last place finish and kept the top spot with six. China and Japan also had six last place finishes, but they had many more athletes.

Monday, February 20, 2006

My six months with the Washington Post

We've been going out a little more than six month and it's time I looked back on our relationship. I still don't know if IT is a SHE or a HE, but it's not important in the long run -- that is if we're going to be in it for the long run.

In August The Washington Post started dropping daily on my eight floor doorstep promptly after 5:00 AM. It's helped me build a routine of getting out of bed, opening the door, picking up the paper then carry it into the bathroom, dehydrate and scan headlines at the same time. Then, coffee in hand I drop on the couch and start reading.

The Post is smaller in size than the New York Times and it's front page is easier to navigate. I was never subscribed to the Times, but I used to pick up a free copy everyday while I in college. Although I enjoyed it tremendously, the relationship was never as close and I believe that's because I never paid for it. The Washington Post drops on my doorstep because I pay for it. That builds a different kind of relationship between us.

Jay Rosen, the prominent media, has argued the Washington Post is currently better than the Times. I have echoed that sentiment on few occasions, while on others I wondered whether subscribing to the Washington Times would be that much different.

Below are some memories -- the random, the bad, and the awesome -- of my six months with the Post, in no particular order.

The random:
- I don't have opinions about the classifieds section or the car page except to say they make for great onion cutting boards and cooking oil-absorbers.

- The WashPost delivery person needs to work on the "THUMP" sound. Even the Saturday edition , which includes all the Sunday freebies, drops lightly. I can barely figure out it arrived. When the Sunday New York Times, to which we also subscribe, drops on the door step, it has authority and makes more noise than Chris Wallace.

- It's been very hard to "baptize" this paper. We call the Times, "The Slimes," but we haven't found anything good for the Post. The Host? The Washington Most? The WC (instead of WP)? Ideas?

The bad:
- The Post sometimes displays the political cynicism that is a staple of big media organizations. Some political initiatives seem to be buried in the paper and dismissed without any analysis and at times political figures on both the left and the right look more like caricatures than real people.

- The same goes for master narratives, which are essential for politicos in the nation's capital. Once Bush's ratings begin falling that'll be the story go run with. Once Gore is labeled a liar, it'll be the reference point in any story from then on.

- It's always disappointing to see such a big paper retreat into the comfort of "he said, she said" reporting without providing the crutch a reader could use to understand the truth about these facts. One of my favorite two examples (both of which I regard as metaphors for larger omissions) is a December news story that lead with President Bush's estimate of the number of civilians killed in Iraq. Is the president really the best source for that information? The other is a debate over whether demonstrations have ever been held in the Capitol pool. The Post fails to offer the facts when confronted with a debate -- one side says no protests were ever held there and another says that is not true.

- Related to the above -- in a recent chat with readers, John Harris, the national political editor, said: "It is a very common criticism that journalistic conventions about objectivity and fairness require us to put truth and falsehood on an equal plane. (...) We should state the facts and truth as plainly as we can report it, not take refuge behind "he said/she said." Is it raining, or not? But it is also true that we in the press are not a High Court of Truth." It could be that Harris is right and the press is not a High Court of Truth. But a paper like the Washington Post certainly has more resources to devote to getting the truth, even if that doesn't happen on the first story. I read that comment as dismissive of the idea that the press could get to the truth. Maybe that's just the purist in me.

- The Post sometimes doesn't offer the context of a particular report -- like it did when Ira Glass spoke.

- I continue to believe the Post mishandled the Bob Woodward story (his involvement in the Valerie Plame case). I was especially saddened by Downie's reaction in which I read that Woodward's primary responsibility is to the editors. I always believed a journalist's primary responsibility is to his or her readers.

- The Sunday magazine. It's bad. And next to the Times' Sunday magazine, it's really really bad. I told this to a Post staffer once and he sheepishly agreed. Again, with the talent of their staff and the resources of the paper, can't they produce something more exciting? I have read less than five magazine cover stories in six months. That's about one out of every six. It's more like one out of two with the Times.

- I have saved an issue of Wednesday's Food section that had many many cookie recipes.Of course we haven't gotten around to trying any of them. Why were there no actual cookies to go with the section? That would have satisfied my cravings.

The awesome:
- I'll start with the paper's website, which has been doing some great things since bringing in competent programmers with a journalistic mind like Adrian Holovaty. Check out the Campaign 2006 section or the photo and video galleries, not to mention all its blogs and live chats with editors and reporters. I also believe the Post was right when it shut its blog after it was peppered with crap. Jim Brady had a great explanation of that incident. Oh, and have you seen the votes database?

- Dana Milbank and his Washington sketches. Enough said.

- It's on top of most happenings around the world. After an hour with the Washington Post every morning I feel I am prepared enough to walk to work and discuss the issues of the day -- even if that's an analysis of how the Redskins can suck and kick ass at the same time.

- The Post has some incredible series that are great not only because of their content, but because they give you a serendipitous feeling when you pick up the paper. You were not expecting this story and, as you read it, you can't help feeling happy that the paper provided it. The best example -- and the one I saved -- was David Finkel piece on exporting democracy to Yemen.

- More than once the paper printed a story that made my day. There was the Style section piece on white tees, Anne Hull's post-Katrina story on the Domino the sugar factory or the delicious story about immigrants and dishwashers -- read my comments on the matter here.

- It breaks big stories such as the secret prisons revelation by Dana Priest and is great at raising the bar on stories other papers break (ahem, The Times NSA spying program piece).

- It's always on my doorstep, punctual and clean.

- Howard Kurtz is a very good media critic and remains awesome despite Wikipedia's claim that he has a tiny penis.

- It writes about or mentions my home country enough for me not to complain (1, 2).

- It gives me idea for stories, such as this one.

For all the bad, there is twice as much awesome. The awesomeness is hard to quantify, but it's enough to say I love picking up the paper every morning. For every story I cringe at there will be two I am pleased with and maybe one that I will reference for the next couple of days.

There is always room to make it better and the Post probably doesn't need me to make a list. For now I'm a devoted reader and like to critique it as a reader more than a journalist.

The conclusion, if there needs to be one, is that we've had a great run together for these past six months. I have no plan to break up with my paper yet.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

We as Simpsons

Here we are as Simpsons. You can make make yourself into a Simpson, too. Go here.