Showing posts from June, 2014

When a United Nations Agency is Born with a Dual Personality

I've been asked by the editor of Impakter, a magazine for Millennials, to write about FAO, the United Nations agency for food and agriculture, historically the oldest and (for a long time) the biggest technical agency of the United Nations system.

I was a little surprised - it's true, I've worked for FAO 25 years and ended as Director for Europe and Central Asia after having covered a variety of functions, including project evaluation, climbing up through all the levels in the organization. I guess you could say I know more about FAO than most people, but still, I wondered whether anyone would be interested. FAO for most people is a mystery, a black box.

I was encouraged to do it, and here is the result, the first of 4 articles exploring FAO, its birth, how it developed and what it means today, the challenges it is facing. I was happy to hear that the article has met with great interest from Impakter readers, so I thought I'd share it with you. Please note that, as alwa…

How Italian Wine Has Achieved Top Quality

Forty years ago, top wines were all French - no more. Great wines have arisen everywhere around the world, from California to South Africa and Australia but in this global competition, Italy remains at the forefront of the pack. 

Here is how one famous wine-producing Italian family has done it, the interview is on Impakter, click here. 

Or see it here:

Fascinating video, and lots of beautiful pictures...

Why is Climate Fiction So Controversial?

Last week two of my articles about Climate Fiction were posted on two very different e-magazines, one on Publishing Perspectives, a major stop for writers and everyone in the publishing industry, and one on Impakter, a new, fast rising culture-and-life magazine aimed at Millennials.

The article on Publishing Perspective, "Why Climate Fiction Has Gone Viral", can be seen here and the one on Impakter, "Climate Fiction, Why it Matters" is here.  

Take a look at the comments. 

Notice something surprising? Yes, both articles gave rise to a large number of comments, but this is especially remarkable on Publishing Perspectives, a magazine where comments tend to be rare, maximum one or two per article and often none.

I am amazed at what happened. You talk about a new literary genre, and people get hot under the collar and hurl insults, including strong words like "you're a moron!"

What happened? 

What's wrong with Climate Fiction, why is it so controversial? A…

How to Use Instagram, the New Visual Twitter

Instagram, born yesterday - October 2010 - , is already a giant, over 200 million users busily sharing pictures in that weird square format typical of antiquated Polaroid photos. 

When Facebook bought it in April 2012, paying one billion dollars in stock and cash, it knew what it was doing! In 2013, Instagram grew at a fast-clip 23% while Facebook crawled at 3%.

Twitter has only recently woken up to the need of sharing pictures and video clips - hence its purchase of Vine - but it looks like it might have woken up too late...

And sharing pictures on Twitter is not anywhere as easy as it is on Instagram.The user experience is very different: with Instagram, the picture leads you in, not the tweet.

Indeed, Instagram looks like it's on its way to dislodge Twitter - essentially because it responds so much better to the visual needs of the younger generation, Millennials and under.

But even a Baby Boomer like myself is beginning to catch on, take a look at my Instagram account (upper …

What’s wrong with the UN Security Council

Here's another article about the UN I wrote for the magazine Impakter under my real name: (published on 9 June, 2014) - after all, after 25 years of service in the United Nations, I believe I know a thing or two about it!

Enjoy and let me know what you think!
What’s wrong with the UN Security CouncilTo an idle observer dropping in from Outer Space, the UN Security Council is the strongest organ of the United Nations.

Tasked with maintaining peace among nations, it has been given weapons of war. When it passes a resolution, it can send troops, the blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers or “blue berets”, and force peace on belligerents. Blue berets belong to member nations’ armies, but taken together, they constitute a hefty, permanent UN force.
At this point in time, over 110,000 military personnel are permanently deployed around the world in “hot spots”, currently in 15 “missions”.This level of intervention dates to the collapse of the Soviet Union (1988): the numbe…

Can an Artist Have a Second Life after Death?

When most of us die, we remain as a memory for our family and closest friends. For artists, it can be different...With a bit of luck and help from those who have loved us.

Raymond Spillenger, a 1950s-60s artist belonging to the New York school of Abstract Expressionism, who died a few months ago (in November 2013 at the age of 89) has suddenly come back on the scene - propelled there by the New York Times in a fascinating article: see here.

But all that didn't happen by pure chance. Spillenger's two sons discovered his paintings stacked up in his East Village apartment; here is son Paul among the paintings:

As you can see, Spillenger's early work fitted in the mold of Abstract Expressionism - no surprise there, he worked in New York in the 1950s and most of his friends were abstract expressionists, including De Kooning; the latter however clearly overshadowed him and went on to become recognized as a major artist in the movement, leaving Spillenger (and who knows how many ot…

A Novel Rejected by Big Publishers Wins a Major Literary Prize

There's hope for recognition for all of us poor writers... The lesson is: never give up, keep trying!

That's what  Irish author Eimar McBride did, she never gave up and this week-end the news came in: she just won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, "A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing". 

That in itself would perhaps not be so remarkable, after all, it's a damn good title and universally considered to be "well-written, the work of a genius", if it weren't for the fact that Ms. McBride has spent nearly a decade trying to get published!

You read that right: almost 10 years trying...Yes, that's true determination for you! She was finally published in the UK by a small independent press and her book will come to the US in the fall, published by Coffee House Press. If you go on the website of her publisher, you discover it's an australian publisher and while her book is among the top ten, it is ranked...number five (but they qui…

Real/Unreal, No Limits to Artists' Imagination

I came across these amazing works of art/installations presented on Impaker - none of them photo-shopped. They're the real stuff.  For example:

A "meat painting" by Victoria Reynolds (steaks like you've never seen them):

A shaken piece of furniture by Ferruccio Laviani  (what "good vibrations" will do!)

A giraffe in a fabled palace, placed there by Karen Knorr (all across France):

And there's much more from where these came from, at Impakter,click here.

What's Wrong with Google's Semantic Search and Amazon's Bestseller Lists?

What's wrong with social media? A lot, and most of the time, we're not aware of it. We are so deep into our digital life that we don't notice what's going on. Yet, willy-nilly, our "likes" and "dislikes" are shaped by machines that "think" in a binary mode...

Here I'll focus on Google and Amazon's search systems but much the same can be said of how prominence is given to items on Facebook or Linked In. All major social media are driven by algorithms that rank items by number of hits.

I plead guilty: I'm simplifying a lot and I won't go into the technicalities, but please bear with me. I want to get to the principle at the heart of all those systems. And the principle is incredibly simple: the higher the number of "hits", the higher the ranking.

Now "hits" can be driven by many things, and Google has tried to give a different "weight" to different things.

What things? In Google's world it can be…

The United Nations: It's Not What You Think...

Sharing with you another article I wrote for Impakter, under my own name (Claude Forthomme) and if you wonder why I did, it's because I spent a lifetime working for the United Nations, starting at the lowest possble echelon and ending as Director for Europe. After 25 years of service, I do think I know something about it, and here is my first article (many more to follow):

Sorry to disappoint, but the UN is neither. Not a beast, not a dream utopia.

Too often in the news the UN is reported as if it acts autonomously, as if it is solely responsible for waging war, building peace, providing emergency aid or development. It is involved in doing all this but it does so only at the behest and command of member nations – never on its own.

A UN military mission cannot exist without full approval from the UN Security Council made up of representatives from member countries. The mission itself is made up of soldiers on loan from member countries. Every delegate sitting around the Counci…

Is Google Plus on its Way Out?

I just published one of my articles on a new cool magazine, Impakter. Here's the opening:

The geeks are convinced of it, Google is about to snuff out Google Plus. The younger generations, the Millenials in particular, consider Google+ a social media disaster. Something totally useless, even laughable. A month ago, Google Plus’ founding father, Vic Gundotra, resigned and rumors were that Google+ staff was being relocated, possibly to the Android platform.
Does that spell the end for Google+?
A lot of people in the blogosphere think so. Tech Crunch is convinced of it...

To read the rest, click here.