What do Texas and Turkey have in common? Aside from sharing the same first letter, probably not too much. But starting today, they will be able to add something else to the list: similar alcohol policies.
On Friday, after a marathon debate lasting well past midnight, Turkey's parliament adopted a proposal restricting the sale of alcohol in the country.
The move has been a source of tension in the week leading up to the vote. On Tuesday, members of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mocked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's suggestion that ayran -- a salty non-alcoholic yogurt drink -- is enough to satisfy the Turkish people by passing out the beverage while exchanging barbs with members of the ruling party. As Hurriyet, Turkey's leading English-language daily, reported, things quickly got heated:
However, tension soon rose during the session, despite the fact that it started with witty japes. The row between Tanal and Bilgiç grew following a break in the session, when the two had to be separated by other deputies after reportedly coming close to exchanging blows.
Critics have suggested that the legislation is an infringement on individual liberty and an attempt by Erdogan's party to impose an Islamic agenda on the country. "No one can be forced to drink or not to drink. This is a religious and ideological imposition," stated Musa Cam, of the CHP. "This is not a struggle against the ills of alcohol but an attempt to re-design the society according to [the ruling party's] beliefs and lifestyle." Turkish columnist Mehves Evin even went so far as to accuse the government of "alcohol McCarthyism."
And while Americans might bristle at the comparison, it's worth noting that Turkey's alcohol restrictions bear some similarities to restrictions in several U.S. states. Take Texas.
Turkey's law shrinks the window during which it is legal to purchase alcoholic beverages from retailers to the hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. In Texas, there's a slightly longer window: 7 a.m. to midnight on weekdays for stores selling beer and wine, and a shorter timeframe for liquor stores. On Sunday, limits are even greater, with no liquor stores open across the state. The state also boasts 19 dry counties where the sale of alcohol is forbidden.
True, the Turkish bill includes some other rules that are less comparable to laws in the United States -- including strict prohibitions on advertising alcohol and selling alcohol near mosques. But when it comes to one of the law's odder provisions -- banning the sale of alcohol in vending machines -- Texas did it first. In 1998, the Lone Star State's attorney general ordered the removal of vending machines that dispensed adult beverages.
Members of Erdogan's party have been quick to point out that the new law is simply in keeping with Western norms. "In Sweden, [the retail sale of alcohol] is forbidden after 7 p.m. on weekdays, 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 24 hours on Sundays," Lutfu Elvan, the head of Turkey's Planning and Budget Commission noted. "There are similar restrictions in all Scandinavian countries." As far as we can tell, he did not go on to mention Texas.
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John Kerry may have met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process on Thursday, but what's really gotten commentators worked up is the contents of the shwarma he consumed during an impromptu snack in Ramallah. Reputable sources such as the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times have reported that the secretary of state's sandwich was stuffed with turkey. But for many with ties to or interest in the region (including myself), the news made absolutely no sense. It would be one thing if Kerry had gobbled down chicken or lamb. But whoever heard of turkey shwarma?
Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran expressed this very sentiment in his response to the bewilderment of FP's own David Kenner:
@davidkenner there is no such thing as turkey shawarma. Like the peace process, it is probably an illusion.— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) May 24, 2013
Others were downright outraged at the very notion of turkey in shwarma:
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg floated one theory about the confusion:
Meanwhile The Angry Arab implored the world to get to the bottom of the nagging mystery:
Turkey Shawarma? Is that true? Can somebody verify it was turkey and not lamb or beef or chicken? nblo.gs/LwEbX— The Angry Arab (@AngryArabNews) May 24, 2013
FP was happy to oblige. In the interest of putting the speculation to rest once and for all -- so that we can all move on to more pressing matters -- we called Samer restaurant, where Kerry ate his shwarma, to find out just what was in the secretary's sandwich.
"Chicken," said Samer, the proprietor, who seemed rather amused about the whole situation.
Excited to have stumbled upon this piece of intel, I pressed Samer to confirm that the shwarma was not in fact turkey. "Oh, yes. It was turkey," he amended. "Not chicken?" I asked. "No, turkey. We have lamb and we have turkey. He ate the turkey and really enjoyed it."
According to Samer, turkey shwarma is not uncommon in the West Bank -- though Palestinians often refer to it as chicken, which explains the confusion during our conversation. "There are people who use chicken and people who use turkey," he told me. "But people like turkey more."
John Kerry, it seems, agrees.
On Tuesday, Iran's Guardian Council confirmed the list of approved candidates for Iran's June 14 presidential elections -- and with it the suspicions of many that this will be a less-than-exciting election season. In whittling down 686 presidential hopefuls to just eight finalists, the Council arguably left off the two most interesting contenders: former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hand-picked successor Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
So who are the 1 percent of aspirants deemed fit to rule Iran? These eight may all be symbols of the status quo and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's considerable influence in the political realm. But between them they have some pretty colorful qualifications for the job.
Iran's current nuclear negotiator, Jalili is also considered the race's frontrunner -- not to mention Khamenei's choice for president. A former member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, he lost his right leg in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s.
In 2007, when Jalili was chosen as nuclear negotiator by Khamenei, many thought he was too inexperienced for the job. Since then, he has developed a reputation for being uncompromising. And if a recent interview with the Financial Times is any indication, it appears that trait will carry over into his presidency. "My understanding is that the more we rely on our religious and internal principles," he told FT, "the more we can resist [the demands of the international community]."
But you have to give Jalili credit for his optimistic lemons-into-lemonade attitude. "At least over the past few years when I have been carefully following the effects of sanctions, I see that they can be easily bypassed and turned into opportunities," he added. Jalili did not elaborate as to how.
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel
One of the country's self-styled conservative "principlists," Adel, along with Ali Akbar Velayati and Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf, positions himself in direct opposition to the reformists who attracted many Iranians during Iran's contentious presidential election in 2009. He's also a favorite of Khamenei's as both an advisor and a relative (his daughter is married to Khamenei's son).
A lesser known fact about the prominent politician: Adel penned an influential work of Islamic "feminist" thought, The Culture of Nakedness and the Nakedness of Culture, in the 1980s. According to Pamela Karimi, a professor of art history at UMass Dartmouth, he advocates "the concealment of women’s bodies as a way to protect the larger society from the manipulation of capitalism and imperialism." He strove to "catch up with modernity and yet indigenize it through Islam."
Ali Akbar Velayati
Iran's longest-serving foreign minister (from 1980 to 1996), he is currently Khamenei's senior advisor on international affairs. Velayati is credited with helping shape Iran's tough stance toward the West, but he might be more willing to engage than it seems. In 2009, as Velayati contemplated a bid for president, an aide reached out to U.S. diplomats expressing interest in cooperating with the West and asking that some sanctions be lifted in order to help raise funds for Velayati's campaign, according to leaked cables. A doctor by training, Velayati studied pediatrics at Johns Hopkins before the 1979 revolution.
Velayati has also been implicated in authorizing the Mykonos operation in 1992, during which three Iranian Kurdish political figures and a supporter were murdered while dining in a private room of the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.
A past presidential contender who came in third in 2009, Rezaei has said he's "in it to win it" this time around. In addition to being the former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Rezaei is also the secretary of Iran's Expediency Council, which advises Khameini. In 2009, he memorably stated that he would include women in his cabinet if elected.
Not-so-fun fact: Rezaei has the distinction of being on Interpol's wanted list for his alleged complicity in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 85 people, in the deadliest attack in the country's history. Rezaei, for his part, vigorously denies involvement in the incident (Velayati, above, is also a suspect in the attack).
Rowhani is the closest of the remaining candidates to a reformist. In April, Roberto Toscano -- a former Italian ambassador to Iran -- told Al-Monitor that "if the reformists do not run their own candidate or one who is insignificant, Rowhani could get a lot of votes." He went on to note Rowhani's "impeccable CV" -- if you're really interested you can see it here -- which includes over 100 publications.
Rowhani's candidacy brings the nuclear issue to the forefront, as he was Iran's most cooperative -- if short-lived -- nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. But although he is close to Rafsanjani, don't expect too much of a departure from Khamenei. Rowhani has also been an advisor to the supreme leader since 1989 and has close ties to the political establishment.
Mohammad Reza Aref
Aref was Iran's vice president during President Mohammad Khatami's second term (2001 to 2005). Though he is a bit more on the reformist side than many of the other candidates, as a current member of the Expediency Council he remains an advisor to Khamenei.
Though you might not expect it from his long political career, Aref's educational background is actually in statistics. He received a Ph.D. from Stanford. If you're interested in seeing an example of the potential future president's academic work (or if you want to learn about a "mathematical model for a general single-source single-sing communication network"), check out his thesis here.
Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf
Qalibaf succeeded Ahmadinejad as mayor of Tehran in 2005, after losing to him in that year's presidential election. And what a mayor he has been. In 2008, he came in eighth place in the World Mayor Awards (a bienniel award aiming "to raise the profile of mayors worldwide and honour those who have served their communities well"). According to the organization, he beat out other global mayoral heavy weights "for his modernisation of the capital’s infrastructure and public services." The foundation also described him as "a keen student of other metro areas around the world, actively investing in monitoring innovation in traffic management and public transport." Is there a better recommendation for president than that?
On the flip side, Qalibaf recently took heat for acknowledging his role in vigorous government crackdowns on political protests in 1999, 2003, and 2009.
The Guardian Council's inclusion of this former minister of petroleum and parliamentarian has left many scratching their heads. Unlike his fellow nominees, Gharazi has been out of the political spotlight for over a decade and faded into relative obscurity.
One website, Iran's View, says it all with an article entitled "Everything About Mohammad Gharazi, Unknown Qualified Presidential Candidate." Word count: 240.
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much -- be it arming the Syrian rebels or brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace. But the shwarma -- shaved, spit-roasted meat wrapped in doughy pita and smothered in toppings -- has managed to win the hearts of American politicians from both sides of the aisle.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped into a West Bank restaurant to grab one of the tasty sandwiches as part of a trip to the Middle East. The AP reports:
Kerry chomped one of the meat sandwiches after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Asked what toppings he wanted, Kerry said, quote, "I want everything. I'm all in."
After the first bite, Kerry declared, "Fantastic."
For those who closely follow the intersection of shwarma and politics, Kerry's ecstatic reaction may have brought to mind an earlier instance of shwarma consumption by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). On a 2012 trip to Libya, McCain rapturously tweeted:
Not convinced of the shwarma's unique power to straddle America's political divide? Just look to its more contentious cousin: falafel.
During his March trip to the Middle East, you may recall, President Obama whipped up a minor controversy when it was announced that he would be dining on the fried chickpea dish with Israeli President Shimon Peres. One Palestinian chef, angry that the dish was being presented as typical Israeli cuisine, told reporters, "We, a group of Palestinian chefs, are prepared to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture by preparing the official dinner for presidents Obama and Abbas." He offered to make a dinner for the American and Palestinian leaders that would "reveal the fallacious claims of the occupation and its continuous attempts to rob our folklore, this time in the presence of the president of the biggest country in the world."
If only Obama had opted for shwarma.
America and Australia have their fair share of similarities -- both are former British colonies with English as a primary language, both occupy giant chunks of land, and both are characterized by their independent frontier spirits -- but is this reason enough to join them? Sadly, no.
The deadline for a White House petition to "Join American and Australia to form Ameristralia" is fast approaching. The petition, which has until Friday to garner 100,000 signatures, so far clocks in at an unimpressive 6,500.
The campaign to combine the two great nations was inspired by Redditors who in April realized that the United States dominates the social media site during its daytime while Australians actively use Reddit when America sleeps. Combined, they could achieve Reddit -- if not world -- domination. As Urban Dictionary puts it: "the union of the greatest country in the world and the deadliest island, Ameristralia rules all of the day and all of the night."
But while the petition is clearly a joke, an argument can be made for fusing the two countries. Fans of the union -- who call themselves 'Matriots' (Mate + Patriots) -- note: Ameristralia would bypass Russia in size at 17.32 million square km to Russia's 17.08. And yes, it would also finally bring the United States into the metric system. Furthermore, not only do the two countries' respective leaders get along famously, but having a whole territory in the South Pacific, not just a Marine base, could really be a boon to the U.S. pivot to Asia. As the initiative's Facebook page notes, both countries have "amazing armies" to be used "to uphold freedom and awesome." Who could argue with that mission statement?
Still not convinced? Redditors point out that Ameristralians would also dominate Olympic swimming, diving, and at long last give the United States a fighting chance at rugby.
So there you have it: a case for Ameristralia. If the petition somehow reaches 100,000 signatures by Friday, it will join other ridiculous requests -- like Texas seceding from the Union or the United States building a Death Star -- to require White House review.
You may not have heard of koro -- a mental syndrome in which a person has an overwhelming belief that his or her genitals are disappearing -- or zar-- a condition that generates dissociative episodes characterized by intense laughter and singing -- but that doesn't mean these are any less universal than, say, anorexia. At least that was the theme of a fascinating article by journalist Ethan Watters about "the Americanization of mental illness," published in the New York Times Magazine in 2010.
One of the primary points Watters makes is that the Western mental-health practitioners behind the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4) problematically placed "culture-bound" disorders -- like those mentioned above --in their own section at the back of psychiatry's most definitive diagnostic guide, implying that these syndromes are somehow affected by culture in a way that predominantly Western illnesses are not:
Western mental-health practitioners often prefer to believe that the 844 pages of the DSM-IV prior to the inclusion of culture-bound syndromes describe real disorders of the mind, illnesses with symptomatology and outcomes relatively unaffected by shifting cultural beliefs. And, it logically follows, if these disorders are unaffected by culture, then they are surely universal to humans everywhere. In this view, the DSM is a field guide to the world's psyche, and applying it around the world represents simply the brave march of scientific knowledge.
But Watters disagrees with that approach. "In the end," he concludes, "what cross-cultural psychiatrists and anthropologists have to tell us is that all mental illnesses, including depression, P.T.S.D. and even schizophrenia, can be every bit as influenced by cultural beliefs and expectations.... [M]ental illness is an illness of the mind and cannot be understood without understanding the ideas, habits and predispositions - the idiosyncratic cultural trappings - of the mind that is its host."
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), it seems, is heeding that advice. The organization is unveiling DSM-5, the long-anticipated (14 years, to be exact) new edition of its manual, over the weekend during its annual meeting in San Francisco. And based on preliminary information, the task force that wrote it appears to have been more sensitive to the nuances of patient care across countries.
"Rather than a simple list of culture-bound syndromes," reads one statement on the APA's methodology, "DSM-5 updates criteria to reflect cross-cultural variations in presentations, gives more detailed and structured information about cultural concepts of distress, and includes a clinical interview tool to facilitate comprehensive, person-centered assessments."
What exactly will this look like? Instead of relegating cultural expressions of mental disorders to the back of the book, the manual will incorporate these throughout the text. The example the APA provides is for social anxiety disorder. In the new manual, "fear of 'offending others'" will be included in order to reflect "the Japanese concept in which avoiding harm to others is emphasized rather than harm to oneself."
Another example: A preliminary version of the DSM-5, which the APA released for feedback last year, updated the criteria for dissociative identity disorders so that professionals won't need to diagnose practices like shamanism as a mental illness. In the new manual, practitioners are told that if the so-called "disturbance" is actually "a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice," then it does not technically constitute dissociative identity disorder.
Changes such as these are definitely a start. But all the medical anthropologists out there need not worry. With ambiguous words like "broadly accepted" and "normal" peppered in the DSM-5, there's certainly still room for criticism.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
Google's autocomplete algorithm doesn't just enable users to save precious seconds of typing by predictavely filling in the rest of the search. It's also, apparently, the subject of contentious legal cases the world over. The latest example: On Wednesday, a German federal court ruled that libelous autocompletes are a violation of privacy.
As the BBC reports, the case was brought by a businessman (fittingly, he remains unnamed) who was frustrated by the fact that Google.de autocompleted searches of him with "scientology" and "fraud." This week's ruling -- which overturned two previous decisions in favor of Google -- called on the search giant to make changes to its autocomplete function when made aware of an "unlawful violation."
And this is far from an isolated case. The BBC goes on to report:
The ruling could also have a bearing on another case involving auto-complete. Bettina Wulff, wife of former German president Christian Wulff, sued Google because auto-complete suggested words linking her to escort services. Mrs Wulff denies ever working as a prostitute and has fought several legal cases over the accusation. The case against Google is due to be heard soon in a Hamburg court.
The technology blog Techdirt, which snarkily claims to have a "suing-algorithms-for-fun-and-profit! dept" brought us another story last year of an Australian surgeon named Guy Hingston who sued Google for defaming him by implying that he's not doing so well financially. The search:
But as TechDirt pointed out, Hingston may be shooting himself in the foot. His case, in attracting media attention, has made it all the more likely that "bankrupt" will appear next to his name in a search.
In 2012, ZDNet wrote about a Hong Kong tycoon who sued Google for similar reasons. As ZDNet noted, "Whether Yeung's name is input into Google Search in English or Chinese, a drop-down option for the search term plus 'triad' [the name for China's organized crime organizations] appears -- a connotation which is unlikely to make the tycoon happy."
And individuals aren't the only parties bringing autocomplete-related lawsuits. In 2012, an anti-discrimination group in France, SOS Racisme, sued Google for discriminatory autocompletes -- in this particular instance, linking "Jew" or "Jewish" with searches for people who aren't Jewish like Rupert Murdoch. Go figure.
With so many loose associations on Google, does it really make sense to hold the company accountable for each one? After all, you could argue that everything from women to countless countries to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have been defamed by autocomplete. Google, for its part, claims little responsibility. Their defense: the algorithm works by filling in blanks based on the frequency of our searches. In other words, we're all kind of slandering each other.
Screenshot [h/t Telegraph Online]
Cement, cigarettes, and sugar are just a few of the goods transported through the many underground tunnels connecting Egypt and the blockaded Gaza Strip, which have often been described as a "vital lifeline." Now, thanks to an entrepreneurial Gaza-based delivery service, we can add a new -- if not entirely vital -- product to the list: Kentucky Fried Chicken.
That's right, although there is no KFC in Gaza (the first one in the West Bank city of Ramallah opened just last year), Gazans can now get their beloved Colonel Sanders fix from Egypt. As China's Xinhua news agency reports:
The fried chicken make their way from one of the many underground smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.
Mohammed Al-Madani, an accountant at Al-Yamama company, said they started their new business by chance. "We ordered and arranged to bring some meals for us and they arrive after four hours," he said.
Then they posted a picture for the fast food on their company's website, and soon got more orders from the people in Gaza, he introduced....
"It's delicious even as it's not hot," said Aboud Fares, a 22- year-old student, as he bit a mouthful of a chicken breast. His sister, who traveled several times to Egypt, was enjoying the KFC apple pie.
While Al-Madani aknowledges that Al-Yamama doesn't face many obstacles in getting the fast food combos from Egypt to Gaza, he says occasional delays are inevitable. "Sometimes Hamas checks the meal boxes and sometimes the taxi that picks up the orders from Sinai is late," he told Xinhua.
The company gets the word out by posting on its Facebook page each time it is making a run. And just in case you're interested, the next delivery of "Kentucky," as Al-Yamama affectionately calls it, is tomorrow. So hurry up and place your order (the deadline is Thursday at 6 pm, Gaza time).
Image via Al-Yamama Facebook Page
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