Bob Dylan may be an icon of the American civil rights movement, but that hasn't stopped a Croatian community group in France from suing the folk singer over allegedly racist comments he made last year.
With songs like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Oxford Town," and "Hurricane," Dylan established himself as an eloquent chronicler of issues of race in America. The same probably can't be said about the internecine conflicts of the Balkans. In an interview with the French edition of Rolling Stone, Dylan waded into a conflict he would probably have been better advised to stay out of. "[The United States] is just too fucked up about [skin] color," Dylan said. "... If you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that ... Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."
That throwaway line about Serbs being able to sense Croat blood has landed the singer-songwriter in some hot water and has infuriated a group of Croats who aren't too happy about being lumped with slave masters, the Ku Klux Klan, and Nazis.
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Military chic is so hot right now. It was only a matter of time before the actual military caught on.
Last week, Elle informed its readers that military inspired style was making a comeback -- in the words of the magazine, "North Korea chic." Thanks to the good people at the Authentic Apparel Group, average Joes can now stay on trend with a new U.S. Army-licensed clothing line available exclusively on Zappos.com. It's the first time the U.S. Army has extended its brand to an original line of consumer clothing and, surprisingly, it doesn't disappoint. Neither does its spokes
personmodel: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who has signed on as the public face of the clothing line.
PRNewsFoto/Authentic Apparel Group
Elle magazine's creative director, Joe Zee, has been getting a lot of flack for characterizing a military-inspired runway trend as "North Korea Chic" in their August issue. The spread, which featured an assortment of olive drab menswear, a single gold stiletto, and a photo of a man in an approximation of a North Korean military uniform, read: "Some iteration of the military trend stomps the runways every few seasons. This time, it's edgier, even dangerous, with sharp buckles and clasps and take-no-prisoners tailoring."
The Washington Post and ThinkProgress (among many others) were quick to attack Zee for invoking North Korea so casually and exploiting the country's notoriety to sell luxury goods. North Korea does, after all, have a horrendous human rights record and a reputation for military brinkmanship. The criticisms are certainly valid, but they miss another important point: Elle, a fashion magazine, got North Korean fashion totally wrong -- and no one even noticed! (Admittedly, that could be due to the fact that there is no internet in North Korea.)
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Pope Francis has already become a favorite of progressives with his fairly open-minded statements on homosexuality and birth control. But that adoration may go into overdrive, now that the Pope has adopted a new role as an environmental crusader, too. On Monday, the Pope was photographed with environmental activists holding T-shirts with anti-fracking slogans.
The photographs were taken after a meeting in the Vatican on Monday in which the Pope spoke with a group of Argentine environmental activists to discuss fracking and water contamination. He reportedly told the group he is preparing an encyclical -- a letter addressing a part of Catholic doctrine -- about nature, humans, and environmental pollution.
In the pictures, one of the men standing with the Pope is movie director and Argentine politician Fernando 'Pino' Solanas, known for his activism against "environmental crimes" and his film "Dirty Gold" about mega-mining. In particular, Solanas is a vocal opponent of an August agreement between the Argentine government and Chevron to develop shale oil and gas, which he calls "the largest environmental disaster in the Amazon." Drilling for these resources often requires hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which is criticized by opponents for relying on toxic fluid and posing water contamination risks.
The Chevron deal is just one instance of American oil companies looking further and further afield to develop shale oil and gas as vast foreign reserves promise imitations of the United States' own shale oil revolution. Particularly in lower-income countries like Argentina, the promise of such a revolution is too lucrative to resist -- especially with so many betting on its potential. The United States Energy Information Administration has ranked Argentina fourth behind Russia, the United States, and China in terms of shale oil reserves. In terms of shale gas reserves, Argentina is ranked second only after China. But the government's embrace of Chevron has been met with fierce protests, some of which have prompted a brutal crackdown from police with tear gas and rubber bullets. Argentina's indigenous Mapuche Indian community has been a firebrand group behind the protests, claiming they weren't consulted on the deal as required by international treaties covering indigenous peoples.
According to one report of the meeting, His Holiness's concern was "clear" when hearing about the Chevron deal in Argentina and other environmental disputes in the region. On Tuesday, Sarah Palin said she was shocked by the pontiff's "liberal" statements. Wait 'til she hears about his new role as the face of Argentina's environmentalist movement.
The rapper Macklemore's body may have been at the MTV European Music Awards on Sunday. But in the wake of supertyphoon Haiyan, his heart was evidently in the Philippines... or, at least, in "the Philippians." In an unfortunately misspelled but surely well-intentioned tweet sent during the awards ceremony, the hip-hop artist informed his Twitter followers: "Over 10,000 people died as a result of the typhoon in the Philippians... If you want to help those affected go to http://nafconusa.org."
He quickly tweeted a correction, in which he implicated iPhone's autocorrect feature and his "6th grade teacher" for the spelling error. But that's beside the point. More interesting is his choice of aid organization: Not the Red Cross or UNICEF -- both of which are on the ground adminstering aid -- but NAFCON, a small alliance of grassroots Filipino groups in the U.S. that is also affiliated with a number of left-leaning, nationalist political groups in the Philippines.
While it's true that NAFCON is fervently raising funds to provide disaster relief assistance to affected communities in the Philippines, its work is occuring largely under the radar. So how did Macklemore, a rapper from Seattle, even hear about the group?
Credit might go to another Washington-based artist with whom he's collaborated: Geo of the Blue Scholars (A.KA. Prometheus Brown A.K.A. George Quibuyen). He's a vocalist, long time Filipino-American activist, and frequent critic of U.S. foreign policy; in one song, he characterizes it as "imperial aggression." NAFCON wouldn't confirm the connection, but did say that members were grateful for the shout-out and had no hard feelings about the misspelling. Following Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, which killed about 800 people, NAFCON delivered 700 boxes of food and emergency supplies to some of the hardest hit communities in the country.
According to the most recent figures, the typhoon has killed 1,774 people since making landfall on Friday, and many expect casualties to reach as high as 10,000. Which means the Philippines will need the help... wherever it comes from.
Here's your "quirky Japan" story of the day: Apparently, it's very impolite for women there to eat hamburgers in public -- or so says one Japanese fast food chain that hopes to free women from the unbearable shame of opening their mouths too widely.
Freshness Burger claims that, for the longest time, its tastiest burger was only popular with men because Japanese women were too embarrassed to shove the sandwiches in their "small, modest mouths." So they came up with a novel idea: A hamburger wrapper that not only shields a woman's chewing mouth from public view, but also depicts a soothing image of the lower half of a woman's face. It's pretty much a mask that women can hide behind while they, for the first time, enjoy ""the wild pleasure of taking mouth sized bites."
The company says that the wrapper was a huge success:
Meanwhile, in the U.S., fast food chain Carl's Jr. has long taken the opposite approach: shoveling large portions of food in the wide open mouths of as many women as possible. Come to think of it, maybe it's America that's quirky, and possibly a little gross.
Twitter shares hit a high of $50 on Thursday in its first day of trading. It's a sizable opening-day pop, given that the initial public offering price was initially marked at somewhere near half of that. The opening generated a lot of buzz among investors, in large part because, despite having yet to turn a profit, the micromessaging site has a staggering global reach. There are more than 230 million tweeters worldwide, and more than three-quarters of them are outside the United States. But perhaps the surest sign of Twitter's worldwide popularity is the number of knockoffs -- sometimes subtle, sometimes outrageous -- that it has inspired across the globe. Below, we bring you some of the best that, unfortunately, never made it to their own public debut. Here are the top five foreign Twitter clone fails.
Futubra. There was considerable hype over "Russia's Twitter," Futubra, which was launched in early 2012 by Mail.ru, the multibillion-dollar Russian company behind several successful Russian social networking sites. In a farewell note published on its website, the developers explained that their improvements weren't enough for "sustained growth of the project" -- a mere 11 months after its initial launch. The failure of a Twitter copycat might have been somewhat of a surprise given the comparative success of the Russian-language VKontakte, a Facebook rip-off that has a consistently top position among Russian networking sites. In an interview with Roem in December 2012, Mail.ru chairman and CEO Dmitriy Grishin conceded that the experiment, while "interesting," "went differently than planned."
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Recession be damned: There are more billionaires today than there were during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 -- and they're twice as rich, says a new report released Wednesday.
The Billionaire Census, jointly compiled by Swiss financial company UBS and Singapore-based firm Wealth-X, is a comprehensive survey of the world's ultrarich -- essentially a thumbnail view of their interests, assets and social networks. The report's findings are equal parts predictable (billionaires love yachts!) and intriguing (women are richer). As of 2013, there are 2,170 billionaires enjoying a collective fortune of $6.5 trillion. Over the past five years, they've increased in number by 60 percent, their combined wealth has doubled and they're more liquid than ever.
Just over the past year, billionaire wealth has increased in every region of the world, as depicted by the map below, with the biggest gains in Asia. Europe was the only region to lose billionaires (29, to be exact), but it still boasts among the richest in the world. What's more: The global population is still growing -- expected to reach 3.900 by the year 2020.
Billionaires, it seems, are taking over our world (what little of it they don't already own, anyway).With that in mind, here are some of the report's highlights, framed as your most pressing questions about the richest people on Earth.
Who are these people?
The average billionaire is a 67-year-old man worth about $3 billion -- 18 percent of which is liquid (the recent financial crisis taught him a thing or two about carrying cash). He went to Harvard, or maybe to Penn State. His passions include art, aviation, real estate, traveling, and golf -- in that order. He's married, with two children and -- though he owns four $20 million homes -- he tends to spend most of his time in the city where his business is headquartered (probably New York).
Just 13 percent of billionaires are women, but they are an enviable minority -- richer than their male counterparts by about $200 million on average.
How did they get so rich?
An astounding 60 percent of billionaires are self-made. Twenty percent have inherited their wealth (most of whom live in Europe) while another 20 percent managed to leverage inheritances into even greater fortunes. The world's "mega-billionaires," each of whom are worth upwards of $50 billion, are self-made, according to the report: Bill Gates, Carlos Slim, Amancio Ortega and Warren Buffet. Interestingly, only 17 percent of women billionaires are self-made. China boasts the highest number of self-made billionaires, at 89 percent.
Where do they live?
New York, Hong Kong, Moscow, London and Mumbai, in that order. The world's super-rich tend to congregate in wealth "hot spots." The majority live in the United States, which boasts more billionaires (515) than any other country. China has the second largest population -- and the youngest cohort -- with 157 billionaires.
Do they swim in a vault of golden coins, in the manner of Scrooge McDuck?
The report doesn't say, but it does note that billionaires spend a lot of money on luxury goods, chiefly: yachts, private jets, and art, but also antiques, clothes, jewelry and collectible cars. They also give to charity, to the tune of $32 million each over the last three years. American billionaires tend to be the most giving, with education topping favorite causes. So don't hate them completely.
The full report is here.
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A Guardian article about Japanese young people no longer being interested in sex and relationships has generated a lot of blogosphere criticism over the past week and a half, primarily about Western media exoticizing "weird" Japanese culture. Those criticisms duly noted, there have also been some recent Japanese innovations that seem to not only support the premise of the article -- that technology is taking over the space once occupied by sex and dating -- but take it further. Several recent inventions in Japan seem not only likely to disrupt traditional relationships in the way that social media or text messaging has, but to physically replace companionship and affection. Today's report of the physiological benefits of using the Hugvie, a soft doll that simulates a human heartbeat so that the user can "cuddle" with the person on the other end of their phone, is one such case.
Below are some Japanese inventions, like the Hugvie, that may be the most solid proof that Japan is indeed throwing out the idea of relationships and becoming a dystopian future of human loneliness.
The Hugvie is a soft body-fitting pillow with a slot in the head for a smart phone. Users can cuddle with the pillow while talking on the phone, and the pillow's internal vibrators generate a simulated heartbeat of the caller based on the voice's tone and volume. In other words, the soft, "blobular" doll transforms a standard phone conversation into a "cuddling" experience with your phone companion. The gizmo was invented by an Osaka University professor who built off of an earlier remote-controlled doll.
A video from the product's launch last year shows users talking into the phone end and cradling their pillows, and new evidence suggests that the pillow might be as satisfying and soul-warming as the video portrays: a joint study from the University of Sussex and Osaka University that levels of the stress hormone cortisol were reduced in people after using the pillow.
Wine for Cats
Earlier this month, a Japanese company took the age-old stereotype of the lonely cat woman and made it a little less lonely with the invention of Nyan Nyan Nouveau, a non-alcoholic feline wine. Masahito Tsurimi, the chief executive of the company behind the wine, told the Wall Street Journal that it was invented in response to requests from cat-owners -- despite the fact that only one in 10 cats were willing to taste it.
Tsurimi said he saw a bright future in the "specialty pet-drink business" six years ago when he was worried about where future beverage sales would come from with a shrinking, aging Japanese population. It was probably just a nice bonus when he read about the country's sexual aversion and social awkwardness on top of that.
The Girlfriend Coat
In April of this year, RocketNews 24 reported that a group of engineering students at Tsukuba University created a coat that could hug its wearer and whisper phrases into its ear. Meant to simulate a girlfriend, motors in the coat operate the "arms" that squeeze the wearer when he puts it on. In a pair of headphones he slips on with the coat, he also hears one of a number of programmed phrases: "I'm sorry, were you waiting?" and "Guess who?"
The university students named it the Riajyuu Coat. According to gaming site Kotaku, riajyuu is a mash-up Japanese word that means someone who is pleased with his non-virtual life. Unlike some of the other replacements for human contact, this one appears to have just been a joke between friends, and the inventors have no real plans to release it commercially.
Video Game Relationships
Japan has cultivated a global reputation for their romantic simulation video games, and for good reason: while some of the games are just bizarre, like a game in which both the player and his mate are pigeons, others mimic relationships down to eerily small details. LovePlus+, for instance, a dating simulation game released in Japan in 2009, invites players to choose one girl that they prefer out of three types -- a "goodie-goodie," "sassy," or "big-sister" type -- and then earn "boyfriend power" points by going to the gym or doing homework to become smarter. The girl can get mad at their boyfriends, too: in a 2010 article, LovePlus+ gamer Shunsuke Kato told the Wall Street Journal he was on the outs with his LovePlus+ "girlfriend" for being busy at work and only playing the game for ten minutes a day.
The game has blurred the line between real and virtual to such an extent that a Japanese resort town once known for honeymooning, Atami, launched a promotional campaign in 2010 that relied on recreating the virtual trip to Atami from the game. At Atami's (real) Hotel Ohnoya, the staff was trained to check in single men as couples, and restaurants created Love Plus+-inspired menus for the gaming guests.
If there's some silver lining to be found in all of this, it's that a business opportunity will be there to pad the landing when humans do something self-destructive. As Japan has demonstrated, the risk of a plummeting birth rate and the social instability inherent in becoming a society where unmarried people exist in large numbers at least opens up the possibility for bizarre romance-gamer tourism, wine for cats, and pillows you can cuddle with. It appears that the patterns of coupling off and forming small units, once thought of as a naturally occurring constant, can only be outlasted by the other constant of economic self-interest. On second thought, maybe it's not such a silver lining after all.
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"The Geography of Horror," a Halloween-themed interactive map by the software company Esri, plots the locations of 200 horror movies, from Psycho (which evidently took place along California's interstate 10, somewhere between Blythe and Indio) to Nosferatu (set in a small German town along the Baltic Sea).
The full-frame presentation of the map allows users to filter the films by decade, making it possible to observe the spread of horror across the globe, over time. Before the 1960s, for example, most horror movies took place in Europe, the birthplace of Frankenstein, Dracula and other classic monsters. Over the decades, Asia gradually became a more popular setting for paranormal horror. The U.S., with its wealth of lonely highways and woodland cabins, has consistently dominated the slasher film genre.
The map draws from IMBD's list of the highest rated horror films, so it's a good resource for movie buffs in search of obscure but well-received films, particularly those set in unusual, exotic locales.
Mulder and Scully never made it to South America during their decade-long search for extraterrestial life, but if they had, they would have certainly found an ally in Peru. Indeed, the Peruvian Air Force is reviving their own version of the X-files: an office called the Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena (DIFAA), which will exclusively investigate UFO sightings and other "anomalous aerial phenomena."
The DIFAA was originally created in 2001, first making the news when its chief investigator, Anthony Choy, began looking into the mysterious "Chulucanas Incident," a series of events in 2001 that captured the imaginations of Peruvians for years afterwards. Choy describes the case at length in the video below, but here's the short version: On October 13, 2001, in Chulucanas, hundreds of people observed eight spheres of red-orange light moving intelligently through the sky for over five hours. A couple of weeks later, someone caught video of a bright, tear-shapred object about 80 feet long hovering near the city. A few minutes later, several others saw mysterious lights landing in the woods. It was the DIFAA's first officially documented UFO case.
The office closed five years ago due to unspecified "administrative problems." Now, the Air Force is reinstating it, in response increased reports of UFO activity. The office will document and analyze sightings of unexplained flying objects with the help of Air Force personnel, sociologists, archaeologists and astronomers. Colonel Julio Vucetich, the head of the Air Force's aerospace division told the Guardian that new technology, like cellphones, Facebook and Twitter, have made it easier for the public to both share and accept UFO sightings.
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Unfaithful spouses in Singapore will have to get used to cheating the old fashioned way, as the world's most popular infidelity website has been banned by officials.
Ashleymadison.com, a matchmaking site that facilitates extramarital affairs in nearly 30 countries, made a big push into Asia this year, beginning with Japan and Hong Kong. The website would have launched in Singapore next year, had the government not intervened. Singapore's social affairs minister, Chan Chun Sing, argued that such a website would erode morality in the nation, which already outlaws online pornography and nudie magazines like Playboy. "Promoting infidelity undermines trust and commitment between a husband and wife, which are core to marriage," he said.
Singaporeans seem to share the sentiment. A social media campaign aimed at banning Ashleymadison.com has already accrued 25,000 supporters. Officials have vowed to block the site, under the country's Broadcasting Act.
It's a much chillier reception than the matchmaking site has received elsewhere in Asia.
When Ashleymadison.com launched in Japan, it logged 230,000 visits and 70,000 members within the first four days. Noel Biderman, who started the website in 2001, told the Wall Street Journal that he viewed Japan as a promising market because of the breadth of sexual services already available in the country. And because those services overwhelmingly target men, he added, the Japanese iteration of the site, with its pink color scheme, would specifically cater to women. The demand, it turns out, was high: During the first few days, new members were "signing up faster than customer care could screen them." Now, the site boasts 160,000 women members -- 60 percent of whom are married.
Hong Kong had the most successful launch rate to date, closing out the first month with 80,000 new members. In this iteration of the site, women can join for free while men pay about $45 to get started. Perhaps as a result, the rate of single men who have signed up is considerably higher than the worldwide average. The site's become so popular in Hong Kong that around 325,000 people in Mainland China have tried to log in, too.
CNN reports that the company plans to expand to 10 more Asian markets by June of next year, with Taiwan next on the list.
Biderman has often argued that the site isn't a threat to marriage, as Singapore's Chan Chun Sing argues, but is rather an outlet for the natural human impulse to cheat -- and that goes for both sexes. Giving people the freedom to act on these impulses, he's argued, could even help marriages. Indeed, the Japanese version of the website is marketed as a "marriage-saving site." That approach is largely aimed at women users -- though the suggestion that women are cheating in an effort to save their marriages, rather than cheating for the same reasons that men do, seems dubious, if not a bit sexist.
The company's focus on women may prove prescient, however. Divorce in Asia has been rising steadily in recent years, largely tied to greater educational and economic opportunities for women. Asian women are marrying later, and divorcing more readily. The notion that women are choosing to cheat in greater numbers is certainly credible, though the reasons for it may be simpler than AshleyMadison.com is willing to admit.
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The lure of K-pop and the easy availability of cosmetic surgery have nearly doubled the number of tourists to South Korea in the past few years. But soon discerning travelers may flock to the country's shores for a new reason: nude beaches.
Officials from the northeast province of Gangwon are hoping to open the nation's first nude beach by 2017, in an effort to draw tourists away from South Korea's more popular -- and notably warmer -- western beaches. At first blush, the combination of cold water and naked flesh seems problematic, but officials are confident that the novelty of the beach will trump its chill. ''As vacation cultures diversify, the interest in conventional beaches is decreasing," one official told the Korea Times. "This is part of our plans to create beaches with specific purpose, like a beach for families, a beach for couples, a beach for pets, and yes, a nude beach."
The idea is part of a broader effort to boost tourism in South Korea, which already has its fair share of novel attractions. Annual mud festivals (like the one pictured above) draw both internal and foreign tourists to South Korea's beaches. The number of foreign tourists coming to Seoul's Beauty Belt for cosmetic procedures has increased fivefold since 2009. Tourism surged to new heights in 2012, following the global success of PSY's K-pop single "Gangnam Style."
Officials keen on prolonging the trend are devising increasingly clever ways of attracting new visitors. Last week, the tourism board unveiled a new, "Gangnam Style" tourist police force styled by one of PSY's own designers. At the launch, a police drill team even performed the horse-riding dance from the "Gangnam Style" video.
Seoul's tourism board also hired director Park Chan-wook, who is known for producing incredibly violent films like Vengeance and Old Boy, to create a promotional video for the city. Though Park says that video likely won't feature death or killing, he acknowledges that the final product will be "perfectly unpredictable."
Obviously, tourism officials in South Korea aren't afraid to get creative. But the nude beach remains a long shot. In 2004 and 2009, municipal leaders attempted to open nude or clothing-optional beaches in South Korea, but both proposals failed due to lack of public support. Gangwon officials acknowledge that South Koreans may be reluctant to embrace the idea, let alone the practice, so they're mulling over a plan to open the beach exclusively to foreign tourists. Foreigners, they reason, might be less shy about stripping down, and this could have a liberalizing effect on the local population.
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Responding to apparent pent-up demand for tacky bachelorette parties, the 38-year old Turkish entrepreneur Haluk Murat Demirel has opened the country's first halal (permissible in Islam) sex shop online. It's not the first such enterprise in the world -- successful predecessors can be found in such varied locales as Bahrain, the Netherlands, and Atlanta, Ga. -- but the existence of such a market still raises some interesting questions. For instance, what makes a sex shop halal? And what's behind their spread?
According to Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the trend is, if anything, reflective of the adaptive qualities of capitalism -- not any trend in the Muslim world, where items like herbal aphrodisiacs have been commonplace but under the radar for centuries.
"Muslim countries have all of these but they don't advertise them," he told Foreign Policy by phone. "It all goes back to the monetization of religion."
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You may not have heard of Gennady Onishchenko, but if his own accounts are to be believed, he's the Russian government official who single-handedly averts major public health crises posed by foreign countries' dangerously lax and unsophisticated food safety standards (including those in a certain country where the federal government has ground to a halt). To others, Onishchenko, Russia's chief sanitary inspector, is also Russia's chief manufacturer of elaborate food safety scares to wage geopolitically motivated trade wars with other countries, particularly former Soviet republics.
On Wednesday, Onishchenko, the director of Rospotrebnadzor, Russia's consumer-protection agency, announced a ban on 28 Georgian alcoholic products, a mere seven months after a 2006 ban on Georgian beverages was lifted. Earlier this week, he added Lithuanian dairy products to the long list of (mostly) ex-Soviet state-made products that ostensibly threaten Russian consumers. Further down on that list are Ukrainian chocolates, Moldovan wine, and -- yes -- meat from the United States. Notably, many of these bans came on the heels of warming trade relations between the banned countries and NATO or the European Union -- moves that aren't popular with the Kremlin, which is trying to strong-arm its neighbors into joining a Russian-led customs union.
Onishchenko feels strongly about the value of eating Russian food -- and only Russian food. At a press briefing earlier this year, he implored Russians to suppress their hankering for foreign foods in favor of "food patriotism."
"We put our faith in the high level of consciousness and food patriotism of our citizens, the ones who have long abandoned the use of such food in their diet," he said.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images
This is a guest post from Jan Cao, a U.S.-based writer and contributor to FP's Tea Leaf Nation
Xia Junfeng was once unknown, but his 2009 arrest for the murder of security officers -- who, he alleged, had savagely beaten him -- made him a symbolic figure in a national debate about human rights and reform in China. Yet many wonder whether this notoriety did more harm than good for Xia, who was executed on Sept. 25 for the murders.
A laid-off factory worker turned unlicensed street vendor, Xia was selling kebabs when he was approached and, he charged, beaten in broad daylight by two chengguan for selling street food without a license in Shenyang, one of China's largest cities. Chengguan are low-level civilian forces responsible for policing the quotidian aspects of urban life, including street vendors and construction sites. With their troubling reputation for bullying and abuse, chengguan are often portrayed in domestic and social media as petty villains.
Taken to an interrogation room, Xia stabbed two officers to death and injured another before fleeing. During his trial in May 2011, Xia and his lawyers argued that the officers' violence compelled him to act in self-defense. But the Shenyang Intermediate Court found him guilty of murder, and higher courts upheld his sentence on appeal.
Fueled by a pervasive mistrust of both chengguan and the Chinese legal system in general, netizens portrayed Xia as a hero who stood up to China's brutal urban enforcers. People compared Xia's case to another in which chengguan had beaten a street vendor to death, asking why a street vendor acting in self-defense against chengguan had to die while chengguan who killed a street vendor were only sentenced to 11 years in prison. Voices of discontent quickly went viral on the Internet.
But the national discussion about Xia's case took an unexpected turn in 2013, when some social media users began to criticize his lawyers, revealing deep and nuanced schisms in Chinese society.
Wednesday marked the 567th birthday of the Korean alphabet. And South Korea's prime minister, Chung Hong-won, chose a rather unconventional way to honor the occasion, known colloquially as Hangul Day: delivering a speech deploring young South Koreans' use of slang, foul language, improperly conjugated verbs, and other "verbal violence." He then called for a "national language purification" campaign to "remedy this bad culture."
Such campaigns are not new in South Korea, where civil society groups have long opposed the adoption of foreign words and characters. The invention of the Korean alphabet, in fact, was an early effort at establishing linguistic purity (at the time, classical Chinese was the lingua franca of Korea's educated and elite), but it failed to take off until the mid-20th century when South Korea's independence -- and the subsequent establishment of Korean as the national language -- necessitated the adoption of a distinct writing system accessible to a wide swath of citizens. Hangul, with its 24 easy-to-master characters, was perfect.
After watching the world's most popular YouTube videos, I've reached one conclusion: Everyone loves Miley Cyrus. Well, almost everyone. The map above is a rough guide to the popularity of the singer's controversial music video "Wrecking Ball" around the world; the darker the country, the better the video has done there. Miley is apparently big in countries ranging from Malaysia to Tunisia to Ukraine. The Russians, it seems, are one of the few holdouts against her cross-border appeal.
This cultural insight comes courtesy of What We Watch, a new site produced by the MIT Center for Civic Media that has collected public data over the past six months from YouTube's Trends Dashboard -- and produced a nifty, interactive map that lets you explore how culture spreads through the lens of YouTube videos.
Donté Stallworth is currently a free agent who has been a wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots, the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Washington Redskins.
He also has some thoughts on Iran he'd like to share:
Nothing good comes away from a US/Israel war with Iran... Especially when you have TOP U.S. military brass saying it's, "not prudent."— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) October 1, 2013
And on drones:
We (the U.S.) are setting a dangerous precedent with regard to extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings by way of #drones.— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) September 26, 2013
And on Syria:
And if the war spreads beyond Syrian borders, you have Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel. #USinterestsAndAllies— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) September 7, 2013
And on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute:
What's going to be #China's response if Japan shoots down their surveillance drone over the East China Sea near or in Japanese territory?— Donte' Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) September 26, 2013
And on NSA spying:
He's buds with Jeremy Scahill:
And FP's Middle East Editor David Kenner:
And he sometimes tweets our stuff!
NFL via Getty Images
That the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia (a country with no commercial theaters) was directed by a woman (in a country where women still famously cannot drive) would have been enough to spark a media firestorm. That the film, Wadjda, which hit U.S. theaters last week, also happens to be good -- "a stunningly assured debut," wrote Slate; "sharply observed, deceptively gentle," wrote the New York Times -- has made it, and its photogenic director, Haifaa al-Mansour, irresistible.
Mansour's story about a young Saudi girl's quest to buy a bike -- so she can race her male friend Abdullah -- explores the lives and roles of women in one of the most conservative, traditional countries in the Middle East. It introduces us to the rhythms of daily household life in Saudi Arabia, a world that few outsiders ever see.
Mansour spoke to Foreign Policy this week about losing access to locations hours before a shoot, why it was so hard to recruit actors for her film, and the curious relationship between Saudi women and their drivers. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Last week, the Pakistani Academy Selection Committee announced that it was nominating the film Zinda Bhaag, a drama/comedy about three young Pakistani men who dream of living abroad, as Pakistan's first Oscar submission in five decades. It's a development some are heralding as a sign of the revival of Pakistani cinema -- and a particularly noteworthy one given the country's fondness for Indian entertainment and the movie's emphatic departure from the copycat Bollywood genre that has defined Pakistan's movies in recent years. So, is Pakistani cinema really poised to take on India's world-famous movie industry?
In the mid-20th century, "Lollywood," as Pakistan's Lahore-based film business is known, thrived under such legendary actors and directors as Waheed Murad and Nazir Ahmed Khan. But in the decades that followed, several factors combined to strangle movie production in the country. In 1979, Pakistan's president, Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, launched an Islamization agenda that included banning all films made in the preceding three years and promulgating the Motion Pictures Ordinance of 1979, which subjected films to a rigid censorship code. Zia-ul-Haq also banned Indian movies -- films often infused with nationalist, even anti-Pakistani, themes -- from the country, which simply encouraged a blossoming of VHS smuggling and DVD pirating that essentially rendered meaningless Gen. Pervez Musharraf's lifting of the ban in 2008. According to the U.S. government, Pakistan is now one of the worst violators of intellectual property rights in the world. As the nation's film infrastructure crumbled (the Pakistani Taliban has repeatedly targeted cinema houses), financing for movies dried up.
Now, however, there are indications that the quality and quantity of Pakistani films are improving. Zinda Bhaag, for instance, couldn't debut on time because there was too large a bottleneck of unreleased Pakistani films scheduled before it. Still, it's worth noting that the film had a mostly Indian crew and post-production was done in Mumbai. Lollywood, in other words, hasn't broken free of Bollywood's grip just yet. Here's a trailer of the movie, which comes out on Sept. 20:
RIZWAM TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Add this to the list of cultural minefields companies would do well to avoid: Henkel, a German consumer goods company, has pulled a toilet freshener from the Eastern European market three days after complaints from Ukraine first surfaced. The Bref Duo Stick, with its blue and yellow bands, apparently bears too strong a resemblance to the Ukrainian flag.
The decision follows a flood of angry feedback on Henkel's Facebook page, which included one graphic showing the German flag in a toilet bowl. (Henkel had not been marketing the product in Ukraine). The commercial below, which aired on Russian TV and has been preserved for posterity on YouTube, shows the flag-like freshener being applied to the inside of a toilet bowl.
"We are very sorry if people were offended by the design of our new product," Tore Birol, Henkel's general manager for laundry and home care products in Ukraine, told Reuters. "We stopped the production, distribution and television advertising (of the product)."
For those who are curious, the blue color on the Ukrainian flag symbolizes the sky, while yellow represents the country's wheat fields. As for the Bref Duo Stick, Birol told Reuters that the product's blue color was meant to "symbolize water and hygiene" while yellow was meant to represent its lemon scent. (It's worth noting that Ukrainians aren't entirely lacking in the toilet-humor department; a museum recently opened in the country highlighting the broken promises of President Viktor Yanukovych, and it features a golden toilet as one of the main exhibits.)
The Henkel Affair comes shortly after Jared Hasselhoff, the bass guitarist for the American band Bloodhound Gang, appeared to urinate on the Ukrainian flag during a concert in Kiev on July 30. (Hasselhoff later insulted Russia by sticking the Russian flag in his pants.)
Hasselhoff has since been banned from entering Ukraine for five years. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov went a step further on Twitter, writing, "These people must be banned from entering Ukraine forever." Now, it seems, the same fate has befallen the Bref Duo Stick.
American college life is often depicted as a four- (or five-, or six-) year suspension of reality, in which the normal rules of society cease to apply and the nation's youth indulge their baser instincts. Social media-inflected binge drinking, no-strings-attached sex, and all-night, amphetamine-fueled study benders are just a few of the troubling behaviors that have recently captured the imaginations of worried parents and New York Times writers. Ridiculous portrayals of college and fraternity life are a time-honored feature of the American media landscape, and most people know to take these caricatures with a grain of salt. But when you're a filmmaker working for a hostile nation's state television, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Enter PressTV. The state-owned Iranian broadcaster's English-language programming has previously been criticized for alleged Holocaust denial and conspiracy-theorizing. And while it claims to be merely "heeding the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world," the finished product often bears a strong resemblance to Iranian propaganda. Nevertheless, reporters must report, and so, following its stated vision of "embracing and building bridges of cultural understanding," PressTV dispatched an intrepid team of filmmakers to document the hedonism of America's youth. The result is the documentary Behind the Campus Walls.
The documentary begins with pleasant shots of San Francisco, where, deep within the rows of quaint townhouses, we meet Yaou. He is enrolled at an unnamed local university, and he's on a mission to break the law. He is, the narrator informs us, "neither a terrorist nor an escaped convict. But he is too young to drink in the United States." Our hero then leads the filmmakers, playing the part of latter-day Henry Mayhews, into the seedy underbelly of working-class San Francisco to witness the purchase of a fake ID:
AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT
Authorities in France have struck yet another "Anglo-Saxon" term from the country's lexicon and replaced it with a domestic equivalent. As of this week, the French no longer engage in "le binge drinking" -- the proper term in la langue française is now "beuverie express" (literally "fast drinking").
The French General Commission of Terminology and Neology made the announcement on Sunday, and France 24 translated their definition as a "massive consumption of alcohol, usually as part of a group, designed to cause intoxication in a minimum amount of time." The French newspaper Le Monde quantified this as having more than four to five drinks in less than two hours -- although the news outlet did not specify the type of alcohol or precise portion size. (The French are well-known for weeding out foreign words from their language, with the Commission recently swapping the word "hashtag" for "mot-dièse.")
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you've probably been exposed to the nearly wall-to-wall coverage of the impending birth of Kate and Will's Baby. And while the media frenzy is sure to provoke some earnest "why-should-we-care?" think pieces -- as well as some more pointed "Royal-Baby-as-symbol-of-nefarious-inherited-privilege" columns -- Royal Baby coverage, much like an outbreak of Spanish Influenza, is largely inescapable.
But, just because journalists have to cover William and Kate's as yet nameless, genderless progeny, that doesn't mean they have to like it. Exhibit A is BBC newsreader Simon McCoy, seen here taking an exasperated shot at his network's round-the-clock coverage:
McCoy's snark continued well into the day with this deadpan reading of e-mails to the BBC featuring gems like "what a load of sycophantic rubbish" and "God help us if this ends up a long labor" (sentiments with which he appears to sympathize), before admitting to the audience that, until the birth, "we're going to be speculating about this royal birth with no facts at hand."
McCoy obviously isn't the only one who feels that Royal-Baby-mania has gone over top. The Guardian website is currently offering readers of its website a "Republican" button that hides all mention of the various members of the House of Windsor. The Telegraph's Michael Deacon asks readers to sympathize for the poor cable news reporters asked to fill hours of dead air waiting for an announcement. The Independent, meanwhile, rounds up "Five Things We Didn't Need to Know About the Pregnancy" including the important news that the mother-to-be is "in a hurry to eat some curry." There's also this surreal photo gallery of the journalistic feeding frenzy, which, Reuters notes, "had taken all the disabled people's parking spaces."
Meanwhile, Russian-based broadcaster RT, which would never stoop to such fluff, is attempting to one up the Guardian in the "we-don't-care" sweepstakes by issuing a series of tweets such as this one:
Of course, one could also say that trolling the RoyalBaby hashtag to promote just how much you don't care is not exactly rising above the fray.
ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images
Anwar Congo wraps a piece of wire around a man's neck, explaining that you can kill someone this way "without spilling too much blood." A few moments later, Congo is dancing the cha-cha.
Opening in the United States on Friday, the documentary film The Act of Killing chronicles the 1965-1966 mass killings in Indonesia, when Congo and other anti-communist gangsters killed upwards of 500,000 alleged communists, Chinese-Indonesians, and intellectuals. The killings took place after a failed coup that led to the fall of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, and rise of the dictator Suharto (text at the beginning of the film mentions the "the direct aid of Western governments" in the atrocities, which included American support).
"The film asks us to look at a period of history that we have forgotten, and I think one of the big questions that it asks is: 'How could we have forgotten one of the biggest massacres of the 20th century?'" the American director Joshua Oppenheimer reflected in an interview with Foreign Policy.
Not everyone in France is thrilled with the new postage stamp featuring a youthful Marianne, one of the symbols of la République Française, that François Hollande unveiled at the Élysée Palace on Bastille Day -- as part of a tradition in which each new French president chooses an image of Marianne to appear on stamps.
The controversy erupted after one of the artists behind the stamp revealed over Twitter that high-profile Ukrainian FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko -- whose controversial feminist group often stages topless protests -- was one of the inspirations for the postage design, along with French women such as actress Marion Cotillard and French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira.
"For me, Marianne, who is represented bare-breasted, would probably have been a Femen in 1789 (the French revolution) because she fought for the Republic's values -- liberty, equality and fraternity," artist Olivier Ciappa told AFP. (This isn't the first time Ciappa's art has drawn fire in France; his exhibit showing photos of same-sex couples was vandalized in June, and he received death threats.)
France's right-wing Christian Democratic Party isn't appreciating the comparison and has called for a boycott of the stamp, while Ciappa penned a rebuttal for Le Huffington Post noting that French students overwhelmingly voted for his design in a national competition before it was approved by Hollande.
But perhaps the most pointed response came from Shevchenko herself, who tweeted, "FEMEN is on French stamp.Now all homophobes,extremists,fascists will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter." (Shevchenko was recently granted asylum in France after facing threats in Ukraine over a protest where she sawed down a crucifix in solidarity with the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.)
By Tuesday, the stamps will be available at post offices across France. But it doesn't seem like anyone will be holding their tongues until then.
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images & http://www.elysee.fr/
By 1999, South Korea was already well on its way to joining the world's most advanced economies. Companies like Samsung and Hyundai were fast becoming household names and, at a little less than $10,000, the country's GDP per capita -- having taken a hit during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 -- was not far off from those of poorer Western European countries such as Malta and Greece. Overall life expectancy in South Korea was soaring.
But the country's aviation safety record was abysmal. Its national carrier, Korean Air, had a reputation as one of the worst in the business -- so bad that U.S. Department of Defense personnel were banned from taking its flights. The airline ranked among the worst in fatalities in the 1990s, with 311 over the course of the decade compared to American's 171 and United's 147. Three of Korean Air's partner airlines -- Delta, Air France, and Air Canada - refused to continue booking their passengers on its flights.
One would expect a country's aviation safety record to improve as it develops economically, since richer countries should be more committed to and capable of enforcing health and safety regulations. But according to a 2010 study, in newly rich countries like South Korea, safety in the skies does not always improve in step with GDP. (It's worth noting that Korean aviation safety has improved significantly from the bad old days; until this weekend's crash in San Francisco, South Korea's Asiana Airlines had a top-ranked, seven-star rating for safety on the website airlineratings.com, according to the Wall Street Journal).
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The president, it seems, committed a minor gaffe during this week's G-8 meetings in Northern Ireland. According to the Financial Times, the stumble came during a discussion of tax avoidance issues, when Barack Obama thrice interrupted the British chancellor of the exchequer in order to say he agreed with "Jeffrey."
The chancellor's name is George Osborne.
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Jackie Robinson Foundation
Reports about the National Security Agency's PRISM program -- through which U.S. intelligence officials have access to the private communications of technology users -- have sparked fierce outrage in Europe, where leaders have long butted heads with U.S. security officials over where to strike the balance between safety and civil liberties.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to raise questions about the program with President Barack Obama when she meets with him next week, while other European leaders have said the news is disturbing enough to threaten pending EU-U.S. trade talks next month. Meanwhile, back in the country where the spying is actually taking place, a recent Washington Post-Pew Center poll shows that a majority of Americans "prioritize probes over privacy" -- or, put another way, that 56 percent felt the NSA's tracking of phone records was "acceptable."
Is there a yawning transatlantic divide when it comes to attitudes toward privacy? Consider some examples:
It's often argued that Europeans value privacy more than Americans do. And when it comes to giving companies access to personal data, Europeans -- or at least their lawmakers -- do seem more concerned than Americans.
But in a 2004 article for the Yale Law Journal, Yale Professor James Whitman points out that there are areas of privacy that Americans tend to be more concerned about than Europeans.
"For example, continental governments assert the authority to decide what names parents will be permitted to give their children," he writes. "This is an application of state power that Americans will view with complete astonishment, as a manifest violation of proper norms of the protection of privacy and personhood.... Nor does it end there: In Germany, everybody must be formally registered with the police at all times. In both Germany and France, inspectors have the power to arrive at your door to investigate whether you have an unlicensed television."
What explains the contradiction? The two cultures view privacy in fundamentally different terms, Whitman says. He characterizes the European view of privacy as a right to dignity -- the right to control the public face you present to the world (thus, an unflattering Google autocomplete is ruled to be invasive). Americans, on the other hand, view privacy in terms of liberty -- the right to keep the state out of our lives -- hence the visceral distrust of national identity cards.
Europeans have a greater tolerance for intrusions by the state, Whitman argues -- a point that runs counter to arguments often made by Europeans themselves: that the Old World's premium on privacy stems from painful parts of its history, such as when Nazis and members of the Stasi used personal data to control the public.
But based on Whitman's characterization, one would expect the PRISM program -- in representing the state's overreach into our personal lives -- to trigger more outrage among Americans than it has so far.
On the other hand, under the NSA program it is -- in theory, at least -- non-Americans who are being watched most closely. It seems the notion of being spied on -- using data from companies Europe has long regarded with suspicion -- is enough to raise the hackles of even those willing to let government have a say in naming their babies.
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