... in europe

Europe Asia Express

04 Oct 2020 | 210 words | europe railways travel infrastructure maps

Lately there has been a lot of talk about reviving the Trans Europe Express (TEE) that had its heyday well before i was even born. If that means more investment into high-speed trans-european rail infrastructure it has my full support (even though it will be next to impossible to match the design sensitivity that came along with the TEE).

Speaking about railway nostalgia, I came across this illustration on flickr today, which illustrates the networks serverd by the TEE predecessor Simplon Orinet Express and its middle eastern equivalent the Taurus Express in the late 1930s:

Taurus Express and Simplon Orient Express via Bruce Sterling's flickr

If there is talk about reviving old railway networks then we should probably skip the TEE and go right here. If revieved, this network would cover more than enough of the world for me to never set foot into an airplane again and spend the rest of my life exploring these parts (as of writing i have visited or lived in 9/11 of the stops on the European side of this network and 7/13 on the Afrian/Asian side).

And since we are discussing reviving express trains here, i am also very much looking forward to the Chungking Express sequel that is apparently in the works.

Towards a Shared Digital Europe

Today, we are launching a project that i have worked on for the last 6 months: A Vision for a Shared Digital Europe. I started working on this while i was still at Kennisland (where the idea was born) and i have continued this work after my departure from KL with Centrum Cyfrowe and the Commons Network. This vision is an attempt to set the stage for a different way about digital policy making in Europe.

With our vision we are proposing a uniquely European way that refuses to the the digital space as a marketplace alone and that sets out to identify a number of principles that can guide policy makers in developing alternatives for the status quo that go beyond an essentially defensive approach that relies on curtailing and regulating practices and operators that are considered to be problematic. In publishing our vision we hope to kick-start a conversation about what kind of digital environment we want for Europe:

Today we are launching a new vision for digital policy making in Europe: Our Vision for a Shared Digital Europe lays the foundation for a new frame for digital policy making in the EU. We propose an overarching policy framework that brings together varied issues and policy arenas, including copyright reform, platform regulation, privacy, data-protection and data governance, antitrust, media regulation or innovation policy.

Digitalisation has led much of our interaction, communication and economic activity to take place through data or over online intermediaries. What kind of space should this digital sphere be? We believe that seeing this space as a market place only does not do it justice. This space is in effect our society – a society that is experiencing a digital transformation. Therefore we cannot accept the digital sphere as a place where only market dynamics rule. Society is more than an interaction between market players, and people are more than entrepreneurs or consumers.

As supporters of the European project, we believe that Europe needs to establish its own rules for the digital space, which embody our values: strong public institutions, democratic governance, sovereignty of communities and people, diversity of European cultures, equality and justice. A space that is common to all of us, but at the same time diverse and decentralised.

Over the past five months we have worked with a broad group stakeholders on developing a frame that can replace the existing Digital Single Market frame that dominates discussions about digital policy making in the EU. We propose a new, society-centric vision that is intended to guide policymakers and civil society organisations involved with digital policymaking in the direction of a more equitable and democratic digital environment, where basic liberties and rights are protected, where strong public institutions function in the public interest, and where people have a say in how their digital environment functions - a Shared Digital Europe.

The Shared Digital Europe must be based on four principles that aim to ensure that the balance between private and public interests is safeguarded. We believe that a Shared Digital Europe must enable self-determination, cultivate the commons, decentralise infrastructure and empower public institutions.

Combine these four elements with a truly European set of values and a new strategy presents itself. **A strategy that policy makers and civil society actors can use to counter the current lack of democratic oversight in the digital space, the deteriorating online debate, the monopolisation of the digital sphere, the enclosure of knowledge and the means of knowledge production and the increasing violation of human rights in the digital space. **

**Most importantly our Vision for a Shared Digital Europe provides policy makers with an opportunity to work towards a truly European idea about how society should function in the digital age. **

Are you working on digital policies and want to learn more or join our effort? Or do you want us to come by and share and discuss our vision with you? Don’t hesitate to reach out to hello@shared-digital.eu

Election Day (2017)

15 Mar 2017 | 435 words | elections politics europe netherlands

As i am writing this i am on a flight from Strasbourg back to Amsterdam. At the same time people back in the Netherlands are voting in one of the most contested elections of recent memory. There is a real (although increasingly unlikely) chance that the xenophobic, populist and anti European PVV of Geert Wilders will become the biggest party and that the rest of the political spectrum will splinter into 15 or more parties. The dutch elections are seen as a first test for the future of a united and democratic Europe, to be followed by the French presidential elections in a month where the Front National is currently leading the polls.

Much has been written about how this is due to fact that much of the populations feel ignored, left behind and threatened by immigrants and other outsiders. Looking out of the window of the plane this is somewhat hard to reconcile with the landscape passing 8000 meters below. The regions between Amsterdam and Strasbourg (Alsace, Luxembourg, Limburg, Brabant, South Holland) are some of the richest and happiest on earth. You can see that from above, the fields are lush and green, the tractors draw their GPS guided straight lines across the landscape, the roads and other infrastructure are well maintained, the dutch waterworks proudly face the expanses of the North Sea and the villages and small towns are orderly clusters of individuals houses, surrounded by patches of lawn and other greenery.

To anyone who has ever looked out of a plane window when flying approaching airports in South America, Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia this will look like paradise. There can be no doubt that Europe is one of the most fortunate places on earth and there can be no doubt that we have the resources not only to support those who have the privilege to be born here but also those who are looking to come here for a better future.

The political crisis that we are facing and that is driving much of the electorate into the arms of xenophobes and populists like Wilders and Le Pen is clearly not the result of resource scarcity. Instead it is a crisis of resource allocation. The fat, rich landscapes passing below us can easily support many more than just the lucky few that are already here. As Europeans this requires us to understand that we need better, fairer ways of sharing our collective wealth…

Meanwhile in the seat next to me: VVD MEP Hans van Balen reading the biography of his party leader and most likely election winner Mark Rutte.

Equipopulous Europe

14 Sep 2014 | 85 words | border europe european union maps

I am strangely fascinated by this map that depicts the European Union as 28 equipopulous member states (although i would rather imagine this as administrative territories rather than as states):

Equipopulous Europe by Alasdair Gunn

Twenty-eight equally sized European Union Member States, by Alasdair Gunn

Of course this is utterly unrealistic as (re)drawing borders has been one of the most destructive activities in the history of humanity. So the only way to improve on the current situation would be to do away with border altogether.

Europa Prima Pars Terrae in Forma Virginis

29 Dec 2013 | 49 words | europe maps

Europa Prima Pars Terrae in Forma Virginis (1582) by Heinrich Bünting

Found this in yesterdays newspaper, next to an article comparing the current state of the European Union to the state of the Habsburg Empire right before its collapse. Not sure about that comparison, but the map is amazing.

Hamiltonian cathedrals and the the Jeffersonian bazaar

04 Sep 2013 | 755 words | economy europe

Tumblr pointed me to a fascinating essay on the structure of our economic system. In ‘The American cloudVenkatesh Rao explores the economic system of the United States by applying the much hyped cloud metaphor to the production, flows and consumption of goods. While it is not without flaws (reading it one might be tempted to believe that the USA are a self sufficient economy without any connections to the rest of the world) the essay provides an interesting perspective on our times.

At the core of his essay is Rao’s analysis of the US as an assemblage of Hamiltonian cathedrals and a Jeffersonian bazaar1:

Over the course of two centuries, the Hamiltonian makeover turned the isolationist, small-farmer America of Jefferson’s dreams into the epicentre of the technology-driven, planet-hacking project that we call globalisation. The visible signs of the makeover — I call them Hamiltonian cathedrals — are unprepossessing. Viewed from planes or interstate highways, grain silos, power plants, mines, landfills and railroad yards cannot compete visually with big sky and vast prairie. Nevertheless, the Hamiltonian makeover emptied out and transformed the interior of America into a technology-dominated space that still deserves the name heartland. Except that now the heart is an artificial one.

The makeover has been so psychologically disruptive that during the past century, the bulk of America’s cultural resources have been devoted to obscuring the realities of the cloud with simpler, more emotionally satisfying illusions. These constitute a theatre of pre-industrial community life primarily inspired, ironically enough, by Jefferson’s small-town visions. This theatre, which forms the backdrop of consumer lifestyles, can be found today inside every Whole Foods, Starbucks and mall in America. I call it the Jeffersonian bazaar.

Structurally then, the American cloud is an assemblage of interconnected Hamiltonian cathedrals, artfully concealed behind a Jeffersonian bazaar. The spatial structure of this American edifice is surprisingly simple: a bicoastal surface that is mostly human-habitable bazaar, and a heartland that is mostly highly automated infrastructure cathedrals. In this world, the bazaars are the interiors of cities, forming a user-interface layer over the complex tangle of pipes, cables, dumpsters and loading docks that engineers call the last mile — the part that actually reaches the customer. The cities themselves are cathedrals crafted for human habitation out of steel and concrete. The bazaar is merely a thin fiction lining it. Between the two worlds there is a veil of manufactured normalcy — a studiously maintained aura of the small-town Jeffersonian ideal.

Assuming that this is analysis is (at least partially) true for the US it would be extremely interesting to map his idea of a bicoastal cloud surface onto Europe. Europe has a much more complicated geography than the US. We have no bicoastal population centres and the notion of heartland is difficult to establish in terms of geography. It might very well be the case that the geography of the European cloud is the inverse of what Rao describes: the human-habitable bazaar is found in the very centre while the feeder infrastructure can be found at the edges. More likely the european cloud would look like a accumulation of smaller clouds that take very different shapes, which is very illustrative of the growing pains that Europe is experiencing in trying to establish an single digital market.

Still it is clear that the separation between population centres and production and distribution centres that Rao highlights also exists over here. Rao ends his essay with a recommendation to the inhabitants of the Jeffersonian bazaar to venture out and explore the inside of the cloud:

To the Jeffersonian sensibility, Hamiltonian cathedrals are often little more than infrastructure porn. But to establish a direct, appreciative relationship with these technologies, unmediated by instrumental metaphors and currencies of interaction, you have to walk among them yourself. You have to experience train yards, landfills, radio-frequency ID-tagged seven-day cows and other such backstage oddities in the flesh.

This is something I can indeed recommend. My last, rather unexpected, experience with Hamiltonian cathedrals was a family vacation during which the vacation farm that we were staying on turned out to be a (indeed well obscured) industrial production facility for organic produce and diary complete with the above mentioned radio-frequency ID-tagged seven-day cows and semiautonomous, GPS guided robot tractors.


  1. The terminology is obviously borrowed from Eric S. Raymond’s influential essay ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar‘ that referred to two competing software development models. In Rao’s essay the the two models are not competing. Instead the bazaar can only exist by virtue of the cathedral. ↩︎

A Bridge Between Europe and Africa

18 Jul 2011 | 39 words | europe africa future

Brilliant BLDGBLOG post on the possibility of a bridge across the Strait of Gibraltar and it’s implications (i very much like the idea an underwater bridge):

1000 AFRO front

1000 AFRO backside

Bonus points for introducing a new currency.

Strange things are happening...

05 Nov 2010 | 581 words | copyright europe piracy policy

Not sure why this is happening, but it appears that commons sense is slowly starting to make a comeback in the discussion about copyright. Yesterday we had the British Prime Minster announce that his government is undertaking a review of the parts of the intellectual property laws in order to enable more flexible use of copyright protected works along the lines of the the US fair-use doctrine:

The second new announcement I can make today is to do with intellectual property.

The founders of Google have said they could never have started their company in Britain. The service they provide depends on taking a snapshot of all the content on the internet at any one time and they feel our copyright system is not as friendly to this sort of innovation as it is in the United States.

Over there, they have what are called ‘fair-use’ provisions, which some people believe gives companies more breathing space to create new products and services. So I can announce today that we are reviewing our IP laws, to see if we can make them fit for the internet age. I want to encourage the sort of creative innovation that exists in America.

This obviously is a huge win for Google (they have been preaching this for years to European and UK policy makers) and also needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt (the UK government basically ignored all the outcomes of the last review that called for less restrictive IP laws and even implemented changes that the review had advised against).

On the other hand the British MP does not seem to be the only high ranking official who seems to have changed his mind when it comes to copyright in the digital environment. Earlier Today Neelie Kroes, the EU’s commissioner in charge of the digital agenda gave a speech in Avignon in which she almost sounds like a copy-fightin-free-culture-activist:

Today our fragmented copyright system is ill-adapted to the real essence of art, which has no frontiers. Instead, that system has ended up giving a more prominent role to intermediaries than to artists. It irritates the public who often cannot access what artists want to offer and leaves a vacuum which is served by illegal content, depriving the artists of their well deserved remuneration. And copyright enforcement is often entangled in sensitive questions about privacy, data protection or even net neutrality.

It may suit some vested interests to avoid a debate, or to frame the debate on copyright in moralistic terms that merely demonize millions of citizens. But that is not a sustainable approach. We need this debate because we need action to promote a legal digital Single Market in Europe.

My position is that we must look beyond national and corporatist self-interest to establish a new approach to copyright. We want “une Europe des cultures” and for this we need a debate at European level.

you can read the full speech here (to be checked against delivery, but since she tweeted the essence here, here & here we can be relatively sure that she actually said this).

Again this needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, since both the UK government and the EU commission are continuing to push for more restrictive IP rules through the secretive and totally not-evidence-based ACTA process, but maybe we are witnessing something like a turning point here. Another hopeful sign is that even the Americans are doing surprising things these days…

Why the U.S is and will remain miles (sic!) ahead of europe.

If you want to understand this you simply have to listen to the below excerpt from a planet money interview with Mark Zandi the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and contrast that with the petit bourgeois, xenophobic attitude towards immigration that is prevailing in Europe:

and again, fundamentally we are fine. we can’t loose the sight of what makes our economy really tick though and that is: the most educated population, the best infrastructure and most importantly of all that we continue to attract the best and brightest from all over the planet, because as long as we can do that we are gonna be just fine.

A beach near the city of Syracuse

01 Nov 2009 | 437 words | africa border europe migration

In november 2007 i added the following entry to the ‘meanwhile at the borders…‘ page on noborder.org:

29.Oct.07: The bodies of 12 migrants were pulled from the water at a beach near the city of Syracuse on Sicilys eastern coast. Seven survivors were found on shore and two others were considered missing. (Update: by 6 november 4 additional bodies had been found bringing the total dead count to 16 (source: reuters AlertNet)

This month i spend a week of vacation on that same eastern east cost of Sicily and one day, while going for a swim (just north or Marzamemi, which is 45 minutes by car south of Syracuse), we ran into this sign:

the sign reads: ‘At this place in Contrada Cittadella on the tragic night between October 27th and 28th 2007, a rubber dinghy in which 37 Palestinian and Egyptian refugees who were being transferred from a larger ship by unscrupulous people traffickers had set off from a harbor in Egypt , capsized in a furious sea in its attempt to reach Europe claiming 16 victims. We remember the Egyptians: KHALED ABD ELHAMID MOHAMED ABD ELAZIZ (04.05.1985), TAREK ABD EL GHANY MOHAMED ATTIA ( 01.02.1983), IHAB MOHAMED TAHA ABD EL AZIZ ELESAWY (* 08.11.1978), MOHAMED TOLBA ABD ELMOTAI AB ABD ELRAHEM (* 19.09.1988), ESAM MOHAMED ABDEL SADEK (* 05.12.1977), MOHAMED EID RAMDAN (* 08.08.1989), AHMED RAMADAN NEMR RAGAB (* 08.04.1985), EID MOHAMAD SHABAN (* 01.06.1970), IBRAHIM AHMAD SHABAN (* 06.07.1972), ALI AHMED SHABAN (* 10.11.1987) ELSAYED SAAD ALI (* 03.01.1970), REDA ALI ELSAYED (* 05.12.1979) and four unknown Palestinians. We mourn them as well as the thousands of other human lives list since 1992 as a result of the closure of the European continent to those people forced to flee their country’.

Unfortunately the sign does not provide any clues with regard to who actually put it up (and thus who it is who is mourning these deaths) which would be interesting to know.

Shipping disasters involving undocumented migrants trying to reach Europe are relatively commons on this particular stretch of the Sicilian coast. The most deadly of these took place on christmas eve 1996 off the coast of Portopalo di Capo Passero which is situated 12 kilometers to the south of this particular spot. Interestingly there is no memorial for the almost 300 migrants who lost their life when the fishing boat that was supposed to bring them to shore collided with the cargo ship that had brought them from Greece (unless you are willing to count the Stella Maris statue off one of the small beaches as a tribute to those unfortunate souls).

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: