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Web Monitor

18:06 UK time, Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A celebration of the riches of the web.

Only seen together in Web Monitor: why Saddam Hussein is OK but Hitler is off limits, how cats could save democracy and Derren Brown's theory on why we punish ourselves.

Bernie Ecclestone
• Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has been getting into deep water about comments he made in the Times about Hitler's efficiency. Saying Hitler was "able to get things done" didn't bode well in Germany where the F1 is starting this weekend. The Today Programme reported the German Central Council of Jews have been asking for a boycott of the F1. Ecclestone apologised first in the Jewish Chronicle yesterday, and then again in The Times today, explaining what he meant:

"I'm an admirer of good leadership, of politicians who stand by their convictions and tell the voters the truth. I'm not an admirer of dictators, who rule by terror."

Stephen Pollard in the Jewish Chronicle is suggesting that Ecclestone's column in the Times was not even written by him, but instead, by one of Lord Mandelson's "minions".
This was denied by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times, who also leapt to Ecclestone's defence by saying:

"His comments sound bizarre because he brought Hitler into it. If he'd stopped at Saddam, he wouldn't have had nearly as much difficulty."

• Not all of us have journalists from the Times to defend us when we put our foot in our mouths. But why exactly do we commit these faux pas? Brandon Keim in Wired Magazine talked to Dan Wegner, an expert on what is scientifically known as "ironic process" - or saying exactly what you're concentrating so hard on not saying. It may be that Foot-in-Mouth Disease is caused by stress:

"... when we're really striving for something, when we're under extreme stress or high mental load, that's when we tend to get these ironic effects."

Foreign Policy Journal has identified a trend in dictatorship style - Authoritarianism 2.0. Not only has there been a mushrooming in state funded rolling news channels such as Russia Today and Iran's Press TV but, according to Foreign Policy Journal, authoritarian regimes have also found innovative and sophisticated ways of controlling Internet access deploying armies of commentators and provocateurs "to distract and disrupt legitimate Internet discussions."

Although Web Monitor is normally valiant in its protection of readers against the onslaught of kitten videos and cat content slowly but surely taking over the internet, this article did remind us of the Cute Cat Theory of Internet Censorship. Said theory, reported by the New York Times, was propounded by Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School:

"...when a government censors the Internet, it had better think twice: 'Cute cats are collateral damage when governments block sites' ...People who could not 'care less about presidential shenanigans are made aware that their government fears online speech so much that they're willing to censor the millions of banal videos' and thereby 'block a few political ones.'"

Tom Hanks• If you watched Tom Hanks in the blockbuster The Terminal and thought it would be cool to hang around an airport, then you, may be a Weberian when it comes to airports (that's Melvin the American city planner, not Max). If on the other hand you think airports are a little alienating, you would sit on anthropologist Marc Auge's side of the airport fence, or should we say, border. If you're not convinced that great thinkers have given a great deal of thought to airports, then read Frank Bures' article in World Hum. He is poetic about his love for airports as a destination in themselves:

"Borders will be torn down. Others will go up. Identities will disappear. Others will take their place. Languages will die. Others will arise. The non-places of today are the places of tomorrow."

• Her husband committed the largest financial fraud in history, so why does everyone hate Ruth Madoff? Sheelah Kolhatkar in the New Yorker Magazine thinks Ruth's problem is a particularly female one:

"The court of public opinion has not given Ruth the benefit of the doubt about whether she could have been unaware of her husband's activities, as she has maintained. But there was a time when it was considered normal for wives not to keep track of everything that their spouses were doing."

• Celebrity mind manipulator Derren Brown is spilling his secrets again in his blog.
He's using new research on game theory to explain why we punish ourselves. According to the study, if someone is splitting money with us, we would rather no-one gets any of it than we only get 20%.
Incidentally, Derren Brown is also adding to the huge amount of blogger comment about Sarah Palin mentioned in yesterday's Web Monitor.

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