International Archives

August 27, 2012

Next deadly campaign in Iraq: American food

Iraq fast food

The US military may have ended its war on Iraq, but US pizza is just getting started. In the most promising indicator that Iraqis are ready to end their chapter of violence and conflict, Baghdad residents have embraced the kind of high-calorie, artery-busting fatty fast food that Americans have shoved into their gaping pieholes for decades. As the leader of a local private equity firm opening new restaurants says, "Iraq is a virgin market."

The restaurants serving this food have created some delightful new names to market the previously unknown levels of gluttony that Iraqis can now enjoy while they slowly destroy their health. The AP reports:

Among the latest additions is a sit-down restaurant called Chili House. Its glossy menu touts Caesar salads and hot wing appetizers along with all-American entrees like three-way chili, Philly cheesesteaks and a nearly half-pound "Big Mouth Chizzila" burger.

"We're fed up with traditional food," said government employee Osama al-Ani as he munched on pizza at one of the packed new restaurants last week. "We want to try something different."

The traditional Arabic restaurants long popular here now find themselves competing against foreign-sounding rivals such as Mr. Potato, Pizza Boat, and Burger Friends.

And my favorite Baghdad restaurant, which demonstrates the durability and ingenuity of American branding: Florida Fried Chicken.

A doctor at a Baghdad hospital warns of the downside of the fast food craze, probably after watching the Americans occupying his country stuff their faces with crap for the last 10 years: "The opening of these American-style restaurants ... will make Iraqis, especially children, fatter."

Welcome to the first world, Iraq! Manufacturers of hypertension medication and elastic-waist pants share your enthusiasm for Western culture.

March 5, 2012

The Russian political machine

Putin crying at victory speech

Surprise! Putin won Russia's presidential election over the weekend with 64% of the vote, which would be impressive if you believed those results were credible in any way. As it is, Putin used government funds to pay for his campaign, business managers pressured their employees to vote for Putin and collected their ballots, there was "statistically improbable" high turnout in the North Caucasus area (all for Putin), and the new webcams that were installed to ensure proper voting were turned off when it came time to count the ballots.

My favorite bizarre example of Russian electoral reform is either a punny attempt at political humor, or a smugly literal interpretation of democratic concepts: the election commission installed glass ballot boxes to demonstrate the "transparency" of their process. Hilarious!

Another strange moment was Sunday night when Putin started weeping on stage while Medvedev was introducing him (above). It was an uncharacteristic display of emotion for Putin, who seems to be more comfortable in the "Action Man" role of Judo master, scuba archeologist, biker, or wildman hunter.

The on-stage tears could have been a perfect opportunity for Putin to show his humanity and relate to his supporters and opponents on a more emotional level. But no! He wasn't crying, "it was just the wind," Putin claimed. He continued, "I am totalitarian KGB robot. Robot not crying. Robot crush frying pan. And justice."

Other former KGB officers want nothing to do with Putin and his presumed next six years in office. One voter on Sunday was Sergei Tanikov, a retired lieutenant colonel in the KGB:

"Today nothing will be decided," Mr. Tanikov said outside a polling station in Moscow, where he planned to vote for [Putin opponent] Mr. Zyuganov. "I have never participated in a protest, but tomorrow I will go out because I can no longer tolerate this fascist regime."

The Times is keeping up with today's protest in Moscow, where opposition leader Alexey Navalny was among those arrested. He's been tweeting from police custody--gutsy!

January 5, 2012

Myanmar gets its own manufactured girl group

Me N Ma Girls and The Runaways

If one requirement of a country's membership in modern, industrial society is its construction of a pop group whose youthful members were recruited and assembled by a group of producers and financiers, then welcome to the club, Myanmar! Cherie Currie and Baby Spice will show you around.

The Times has a feature on synthetic pop girl-group Me N Ma Girls (get it?), made up of five young women who were identified through a series of ads looking for girls with "energy and magnetic attraction," according to their manager Nicole May, an Australian dancer and graphic designer.

They seem to be the country's very first girl group, and though they haven't had real financial success yet, they have big dreams:

"I want this band to be famous and globally recognized. I want this band to hit Hollywood!" said Su Pyae Mhu Eain, a band member who studied zoology, specifically fish and shrimp, for her bachelor's degree. Her stage name is Cha Cha.

Cha Cha isn't the only member of Me N Ma Girls with an education to fall back on in case Hollywood doesn't work out. All five members have gone to college, with degrees in chemistry, math, Russian, and computer science. They might have easier post-pop careers than The Runaways (above), who were recruited by manager Kim Fowley before they'd had a chance to graduate from high school (and were, incidentally, huge in Asia.)

You can listen to their songs on Soundcloud, which are blandly produced, but offer the chance to hear young women rapping in Burmese, something you don't hear everyday. Like a lot of pop groups from non-Anglophone countries, they also sing in English, including lines from one of their catchiest songs, "Festival": "Hey you! Are you happy? You want some?" Here's the video, featuring the girls ecstatically partying down at an outdoor festival and lounging around a swimming pool while wearing the kind of long, demure sundresses that I think you'd only see in a girl-group video produced within an oppressive military regime.

November 8, 2011

Ai Weiwei and Chinese philanthropy

Ai Weiwei

There's been a great story developing for the past few days about everyone's favorite dissident Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who was detained for three months earlier this year for "tax evasion", and now isn't allowed to leave Beijing.

Now 20,000 of his supporters in China have been sending him money. A lot of money: over $900,000 so far. The cover story is that people want to help Ai pay his $2.4 million tax bill, but since everyone knows the reason the Chinese government is watching him has nothing to do with taxes, and since he claims he has plenty of money and doesn't need the donations, it's really a big spontaneous diss to the government.

The state of philanthropy in China is weird. The country has plenty of rich people, and increasingly a lot of charitable rich people, but there's historically been a lot of suspicion about giving money to nonprofit organizations that are essentially controlled by the government, and could be shut down if they take a critical stance. Or setting up a foundation that might be private in name, but is ultimately controlled by the government. And I'm pretty sure there aren't tax benefits for donating money in China.

Which is why I love that so many people are going straight to Ai Weiwei's house and literally wrapping money around pieces of fruit, or folding it into paper airplanes, and throwing it into his yard. They're also wiring him cash. One donor said he sent money because it's "a rare opportunity to support what I believe. I will keep my receipt of the postal order forever, because it is my first real vote."

Here's a bit about the government response to the public outpouring of support for him:

In a commentary Monday, the state-run Global Times cited unnamed experts as saying Ai could be suspected of "illegal fundraising." It also said the movement did not represent the larger Chinese population. "It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China's total population."

"Illegal fundraising"?! Regular Chinese people are throwing their money at this man's house. Ai hasn't decided if he'll pay his tax bill or not, because it would imply his arrest was justified.

But regardless of whether he sucks it up and pays the bill or not, people are using their money and philanthropy to make themselves heard. Ai says, "The government hates this the most."

February 1, 2011

Those adorable Egyptians!

Egyptian protester

Now that the military has sided with the protesters and the whole world is watching with excitement as a quarter of a million Egyptians demand the overthrow of their government, it looks like it's all over for Mubarak. He'll be out in the next day or two, don't you think?

In our own country, it seems like we're sharing in the Egyptian enthusiasm. There's a bunch of photos today on the newswires featuring lots of happy, smiling, adorable Egyptian protesters (like my poster girl of the revolution, above) including several small patriotic children fighting for Democracy with their parents, or waving flags atop the tanks.

Egyptian protester kid,

Egyptian girls on a tank

Egyptian protesters, girl and her dad

All this cuteness suggests something I've been thinking about for a few days. Maybe I'm being wildly optimistic, but the recent protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen might help mainstream American sentiments about the Muslim world get a little bit better. In many ways, the protests embody ideals we think of as our own: freedom, democracy, wanting a better life. If Americans look at what's happening in Egypt and see people fighting so passionately for things we believe in, too, maybe we'll stop feeling like Muslims are the enemy.

Well. One can dream.

Of course, if these protests are going to change American minds, we might not want to look too closely at some of their more unsavory aspects. Like this:

Two dummies representing Mubarak dangled from traffic lights. On their chests was written: 'We want to put the murderous president on trial.' Their faces were scrawled with the Star of David, an allusion to many protesters' feeling that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, still seen by most Egyptians as their country's archenemy more than 30 years after the two nations signed a peace treaty.

The other problem: though all kinds of Egyptians agree that Mubarak has got to go, there's zero agreement on what should happen next. The US government just signaled we want Mubarak out, too, so pretty soon we're going to have to figure out who to throw our support behind, i.e. send billions of dollars to.

August 6, 2010

Who's not supporting Wyclef for President

Wyclef Jean performing at Haiti benefit

Wyclef Jean says he didn't so much decide to run for president of Haiti, but that a groundswell of his fellow Haitians are demanding that he become their new leader. "People say, 'Are you running for president?' I say no, I am naturally being drafted by my country to serve my country," he told the Daily News.

Let's look at the response to his presidential draft:

Pras, ex-Fugee and Wyclef's estranged cousin, says he's supporting Michel Martelly instead of Wyclef because "he is the most competent candidate for the job." Martelly is also a Haitian musician who performs under the name "Sweet Micky". From Sweet Micky's Wikipedia page: "Outlandish and outspoken, Martelly has been known to drink publicly while performing in wigs, costumes, diapers, and Scottish kilts, and occasionally remove his own attire while performing." He's also friends with current president Rene Preval. Here's his MySpace page.

If Sweet Micky is the most competent candidate, it's going to be an entertaining few years for people who don't have to live in Haiti.

Also not a Wyclef supporter: Sean Penn. Last night on CNN he called Wyclef a "non-presence" in Haiti since the earthquake and says that for the next president, "I want to see someone who is really willing to sacrifice for their country and not just someone who I personally saw with a vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that -- in context, I felt a very obscene demonstration."

Sean Penn's views on Haitian politics are actually more relevant that you might think: he's spent most of his time since the earthquake managing relief services for 50,000 people at a camp he co-founded, the J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

The Daily News interviewed some Haitians living in Brooklyn for their thoughts on Clef. A shipping company manager in Flatbush says, "Wyclef is a musician. He's not fit for the job."

But the Times found at least one Haitian who's enthusiastic about his candidacy:

Sitting on a cracked stoop in a battered neighborhood called Bas Peu des Choses, Linda Joseph, 36, clapped her hands in delight and said she probably would not have bothered to vote if Mr. Jean had not decided to run.

"Other people make promises and don't deliver, but Wyclef has heart," she said. "If he says he'll do something, we'll trust him. And besides, he already has all the money he needs. So he won't steal from us like the others.”

Oh, really, Linda? Clef's financial track record has more in common with other recent Haitian leaders than you might like.

He owes over $2 million to the IRS, which he talks about like it's a good thing: "owing $2.1 million to the IRS shows you how much money Wyclef Jean makes a year," he says, demurely referring to himself in the third person. And as we all heard about in January, he used his foundation, Yele Haiti Foundation, to pay himself and his other businesses, which is illegal. It also turns out that he's 40, not 37 as he used to claim.

At least now that Wyclef's in the race, everyone will pay attention to Haiti again for a few minutes. I hope his debates with Sweet Micky are televised.

March 30, 2010

The illusion of subway safety

NYPD Hercules force on the subway

After Monday's terrorist attacks on the Moscow metro, the New York papers reported that the NYPD was stepping up security on our own subway: "Deadly Moscow subway suicide bombing triggers security alert in New York".

Phew! Way to stop those Chechen separatists from attacking us.

While we probably don't need to worry about the Black Widows riding the A C E line, there are real threats on our own subway system: early Sunday morning, two guys were stabbed to death on the No. 2 train over a tossed Duane Reade bag that accidentally hit the killer.

As of today, the killer still hasn't been caught. The Times points out that the Christopher Street station, where the stabber got off the train, doesn't have any security cameras in it. And of the 4,000+ surveillance cameras installed in the subway system after 9/11, about half of them don't work.

The Daily News reports that the Christopher Street station didn't have an agent at the token booth that night, because it was closed last year due to budget cuts. So there's no good description of the killer; the Times says he is "described only as Hispanic."

In other MTA security news, the Daily News reports that the MTA has eliminated the cops stationed at the exit of the Midtown Tunnel and the towers at the Verrazano Bridge on weekends. Instead, the bridge and tunnel will be monitored by, you guessed it, surveillance cameras.

So today we've got cops from the NYPD Hercules unit with M16's riding the 6 train to provide the illusion of security against terrorists in Russia, while the guy who actually stabbed real people on our own subway is still out there.

A couple of great quotes from subway riders questioning yesterday's heavily armed cops:

"I think it's excessive," said Holly Celentang, 26, a rider from Queens. "I feel there should have been a bit more of a thought process before they did this. We can't lose our heads over something that happened in another country and make New York City look like we are at war."

Torey Deprisest, 23, who was vacationing from Ohio, said he was stunned at the show of force.

"I think it's ridiculous," Deprisest said. "The attack happened in a different country and had nothing to do with Americans. I'd be nervous seeing cops with machine guns on the train. It makes people afraid when they don't need to be."

February 9, 2010

Hands off the eggplant!

Bt Brinjal eggplant protesters

In an impressive display of grassroots politics, legions of passionate Indian food activists successfully prevented genetically-modified eggplant from contaminating countless delicious servings of baingan bhartha. I'm a big eggplant fan, too (a friend once observed that if any given menu has a dish that involves an eggplant, that's the one I'll order) so I'm psyched.

An Indian seed company, Mahyco, had developed the world's first pesticide-resistant eggplant seed called Bt Brinjal, though as you might guess, our old plant-patenting ghouls over at Monsanto are also involved--they own 26% of the Indian seed company and the patented Frankeggplant gene came from them. Earlier today, the Indian Environment Minister decided to keep his nation's eggplants engineering-free.

Anyway, the protests involved the usual rallies and street marches, with many opportunities to dress up like giant eggplants.

Bt Brinjal protesters

To remind everyone what they were fighting for, Greenpeace organized a World's Biggest Baingan Bhartha campaign, making the tasty roasted dish with one eggplant for every signature they collected--so far they're at 20,000 eggplants. That's my kind of politics.

November 30, 2009

Switzerland and its nuanced form of bigotry

Anti-minaret signs in Switzerland

In a spasm of racist panic, Switzerland voted in a referendum to ban all new construction of minarets. Muslims make up only 5% of the Swiss population, and there are only four minarets in the entire country, but enough people are scared of Muslims to "want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland," according to the leading political party that sponsored the referendum, which sounds about as reasonable as hetero Americans being afraid of the approaching takeover of the country by the 5% of the population that's gay. Which, well, right, OK.

Yeah, minarets are just symbols: it's not like Islam itself has been banned. The Swiss just hate hate hate minarets! Muslims will just have to practice their religion more quietly and unobtrusively. Sort of like, say, sitting in the back of the bus.

Despite the fact that it's got a lot of reactionary bigots in it, Switzerland is a little like the New Hampshire of Europe. They're as close to libertarian as Europe probably gets: taxes are relatively low and they seem to want the rest of the world to just leave them alone and let them shelter questionably-gained cash for the world's shady businessmen. The Swiss are not joiners. They're not quite members of the EU, they're into direct democracy, and they still half-pretend to be neutral.

On the positive side, Switzerland offers civil unions for same-sex couples with most of the same rights and benefits as married couples. And true to its libertarian tradition of not messing around in other people's business, New Hampshire legalized gay marriage this year. It's helping to push the US in its jerky, slow-motion lurch toward marriage equality.

But come on. Switzerland just violated international human rights conventions by banning the religious buildings of a small minority. They look like backward morons.

So the real lesson of this story is: New Hampshire beats Switzerland in the battle of libertarian non-conformist weirdo states.

August 4, 2009

Please don't let Ling and Lee fly home on one of Bill's party planes

Bill Clinton is a red-blooded American man, as we all know. We're sure he was delighted to do his patriotic duty and go to North Korea (as a private citizen of course) to try to secure the release of these two nice ladies who Al Gore hasn't really been able to help. We are terrified of what kind of favors Bill Clinton thinks he might be due in return from these just pardoned journalists.

As you can see from the picture, Bill Clinton apparently had to hang out with all these important people at the world's ugliest banquet hall, complete with special mural and lovely carpet. He's all "Oh my god, when are they sending some honeys over, I can't believe I'm doing this" and Kim Jong-Il is all "Ha! They sent Bill crawling to us."

Looking forward to the tell all, which will undoubtedly be an Oprah exclusive when we will find out whether Ling and Lee were really in a labor camp or a guest house.

Update: Ling and Lee are apparently flying home on Bill's private plane. He will skeeve all over them. Here's hoping Bill does the honorable thing and leaves them alone to nap.

March 13, 2009

Chinese bloggers too dirty for the NY Times

Grass-mud horse video

The Times reports on a new internet phenomenon in China -- cheeky bloggers are writing stories and making cartoons and videos about an animal called a "grass-mud horse" in fake nature documentaries and children's songs [video example--it's actually an alpaca].

The grass-mud horse is an "impish protest" against the Chinese government's censorship of the internet, says the Times, because the characters that form its name are a homonym for something dirty: "The mythical creature whose name, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity."

But this is the Times, a respectable family newspaper, so they won't tell you what that obscenity is -- sort of ironic for an article that's overtly critical of media censorship.

Slate, on the other hand, doesn't care about propriety, so they'll just come right and tell you that the Mandarin for "grass-mud horse", cao ni ma, is a homonym for "fuck your mother." (London's Times seems to be the first to report the actual phrase.)

The Slate article goes on to explore the "motherfucker" insult, which seems to exist globally as the worst insult anyone has been able to come up with. We get some funny and super-vulgar variations of the theme in African, Asian, Mediterranean, and Arabic cultures, with a little anecdote about the first written example in English, in a Texas court in 1889, where someone who was called that particular insult who then shot his insulter "could not be found guilty of a higher offense than manslaughter."

These subversive Chinese online writers seem to have thwarted government censors for now. Censorship has gotten a lot worse recently: in the last couple of months, the government has shut down about 2,000 websites for publishing material they don't like. The NY Times quotes Wang Xiaofeng, a blogger in Beijing, who wrote about the grass-mud horse phenomenon as a sign of censorship's inability to control free expression: "When people have emotions or feelings they want to express, they need a space or channel. It is like a water flow — if you block one direction, it flows to other directions, or overflows. There’s got to be an outlet."

Thanks to the London Times and Slate for providing an outlet for the mf'ing flow around the NY Times Manual of Style and Usage.

Here's an essay from the NY Times' Public Editor from last summer, around the time of the Jesse Jackson "I wanna cut his nuts off" incident, about when the paper decides to use crude language, which is just about never.

January 30, 2009

DFW, en español

As a tangent to the John Updike/Irving post, my friend T-Rock sent over a photo he took of a couple of Spanish-language translations of David Foster Wallace books in a bookstore in Buenos Aires recently [click for larger image]:

David Foster Wallace covers, in spanish

Hilarious and strange.

Looks like the Argentinian publishers decided to go with a literal interpretation of the "Consider the Lobster" essay on the cover of Hablemos de Langostas (which T-Rock, whose Spanish is better than mine, says would probably be "Pensemos en la Langosta" if it were a more direct translation.) In the essay, DFW does some anthropomorphizing of lobsters as part of his growing anxiety about the questionable ethics of throwing a live animal into boiling water. Here's a clearer image of that cover photo.

I took Spanish in high school, so I deeply appreciate how many Spanish/English cognates there are and love learning new ones. Such as the delightful "repulsivo" in Entrevistas Breves con Hombres Repulsivos.

I wonder if Krasinski's movie version of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men involves a pudgy man in a superhero costume. Here's a clearer, small photo of that cover.

Check out other Spanish translations of DFW's works, like the classic Algo supuestamente divertido que nunca volveré a hacer.

October 29, 2008

Guess what kind of alcoholic beverage this is

USB port wine

Just like French champagne and Neapolitan pizza, the EU protects Portuguese port by requiring that all wines labeled as "port" be from Portugal. Two years ago, the US signed a "wine accord" with the EU, stating that American wineries couldn't label any new wines with geographic names like port, champagne, or chablis.

So one clever winery from California decided to target the segment of the geek market that also likes deliciously heavy fortified wines by naming their new non-Portuguese port USB.

The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the label, after much deliberation. Note the binary code forming the tree, and the USB-symbol roots.

We should make sure no European wineries are marketing their lighter, sweeter, screw-cap wines with American geographical names. Like Boone's Farm.

August 20, 2008

Another Olympics hoax? What a shock.

Fake Olympics logo

I think we should just start assuming that every aspect of China's Olympics is, to use Wonkette's phrase, an elaborate fake.

We were already taken in by the fake fireworks, the fake little singing girl, and the fake gymnasts' passports. But today's revelation is the best one yet: the Chinese government is allowing protesters to demonstrate in designated "protest zones" during the Olympics, as long as they apply for permits.

So 77 people obediently went and applied for protest permits. How many got them? Zero! And what happened to at least 6 of the applicants when they went to the Public Security office to try to apply? They got arrested! And sent off for "re-education through labor". Shooting fish in a barrel, people.

This clever plan to make the government look like it allows civil dissent while using the fake permit system to detain would-be dissenters hit the press today when two elderly women were sentenced to a year of re-education for applying for protest permits. These ladies probably won't be sent off to break rocks, but could be detained and, as the Times says, "forced to confess their transgressions."

In better news, there are two great sets of photos from today's games in the Times, especially this one of the US men's volleyball team after they beat Serbia, and the one below of Canadian synchronized swimmers.

synchronized swimming at Beijing

August 19, 2008

NYC: Not like back home

Tourist taking a photo in Times Square

photo by Joe Shlabotnik

Today's Times asks tourists visiting New York from the US and around the world what aspects of the city surprise them the most. I don't know if it's because of how the question was asked, but most tourists took the opportunity to make little subtly bitchy comments about how day to day life in New York seems different from how things are where they're from. Because for many people, especially when they're far from home, "different" means "I hate it".

Actually, there are a few positive comments about the city from visitors, such as Michael McIsaac from London who loves our outstanding unlimited coffee refills, and Rhona Ciolek from California who marveled at our impressively gigantic piles of trashbags on curbs. An enthusiastic Spanish women notes, "There are a lot of men here that are really muscular!" And I completely agree with some valid complaints, like a Swede who points out that our waterfronts are in shambles.

But most things that surprise tourists seem to be things they don't much like. And some of their comments say more about their home countries than anything else.

So here you go: Helpful clues about what life is like in tourists' home countries, as revealed by their complaints:

Comment from a Spanish tourist: "In Spain we drink coffee in little cups."
Translation: Spanish cafes may be stingy.

Comment from a London tourist: "[New Yorkers] will not tolerate bad service."
Translation: British people suffer in silence.

Comment from a German tourist: "In the ladies' toilets you can see people's feet. Where I'm from we have full doors on the bathrooms."
Translation: It may be harder to solicit anonymous sex in public bathrooms in Germany, a la Larry Craig, but it's probably easier to actually have anonymous sex or engage in any other illicit activities.

Comment from a French tourist: "You are always served very quickly here, even in a nice restaurant. Here it's quicker, you don’t have time. In Paris you get a lot of time before your food comes."
Translation: French service is slow. Also, wow: this guy actually found a way to be snotty about New York restaurants having good service.

Comment from a Saudi tourist, looking at the lights of Times Square: "I thought it would be more realistic."
Translation: Saudis have interesting, sort of postmodern ideas about what reality is and what it should look like when it's actually in front of you in three-dimensional space.

July 28, 2008

Can rock change the world?


If you watched MTV in August 1989, you probably remember all the news reports about the Moscow Music Peace Festival, or in the words of Sebastian Bach, "Rocknost". The concert, which happened just a few months before the Berlin Wall came down, was the first huge western rock concert in the Soviet Union and represented its unstoppable shift toward democracy and cultural freedom.

Of course, it was a metal concert. The bands included Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, and Skid Row, and showed that the great unifier that spanned the Iron Curtain was big hair and guitar solos. Ironically, the supposed message of the concert was the war on drugs, which wasn't exactly reflected in the bands' behavior. Ozzy says that it was after this concert that he got so drunk that he famously tried to kill his wife, Sharon.

But the legacy of cultural and political change through music remains. A few years ago, Lionel Ritchie did a concert in the newly pro-Western Libya. In an interview, he shared his belief that music can be a more powerful force than diplomacy in mending political differences:

"I have seen it where in many many populations of the world, politics they couldn't agree on, religion they couldn't agree on. You bring a musical artist in, it translates totally into another realm, and I think that what's going to happen now, that by this being the door to open, you're going to see a change in this country, I can almost guarantee it."

Lionel Ritchie is apparently also huge in Iraq: "Iraqis who do not understand a word of English can sing an entire Lionel Richie song."

So now Iran, a country in which all Western pop music with lyrics is banned and the government censors Iranian albums before they're released, has agreed to host a concert with Western artists. Who is going to represent freedom and democracy at this pivotal cultural event, our decade's Rocknost?

Chris de Burgh. The man who gave wretched life to a leading contender for the Worst Song Ever, "Lady in Red", will perform later this year at a stadium in Tehran, with an Iranian band. Apparently he's very popular.

Despite this devastating blow to the prospect of mutual understanding between the East and the West, I think the concept still holds promise. While Chris de Burgh is obviously a terrible choice for this Iranian concert, other artists could make some real progress in bridging our differences. Metal is universally and timelessly loved by teens around the world, especially kids who live in an oppressive political environment that's on the verge of a huge cultural shift. Basically, if the US considers a country our enemy, then that nation's kids are the world's biggest metal fans.

Slate has an article today ("Rock the Mullahs") about metal in the Islamic world, featuring videos by hard rock and metal bands from Morocco to Israel to Iran. A new book by political historian and metalhead Mark LeVine, called Heavy Metal Islam, demonstrates that just like Soviet teens in the '80's, the pissed-off kids in Muslim countries who want their world to change are the ones in Mastodon t-shirts:

A member of Iran's most popular metal band, Tarantist, tells LeVine, "Metal is in our blood. It's not entertainment, it's our pain, and also an antidote to the hypocrisy of religion that is injected into all of us from the moment we're born."

One of the patriarchs of Morocco's heavy metal scene, Reda Zine, puts it this way: "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal."

The photo above of a so-called "Muhajababe" is from a good NPR story about LeVine's book and the Middle Eastern metal scene.

Ahmadinejad may welcome Chris de Burgh with open arms, but it sounds like he'd have better ticket sales with Ozzfest. Or go local-- Acrassicauda, Iraq's biggest metal band, is the subject of a new documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad.

June 25, 2008

Germany-Turkey throwdown

Turkey Germany flags

This afternoon, Turkey plays Germany in a semi-final game of the Euro Cup. I really love the added political drama of international sports when one country plays its own former colony, like when Senegal trounced France in the very first game of the 2002 World Cup. Games like that don't happen much in the Euro Cup, but the long and mostly exploitative relationship between Turkey and Germany means this game is going to be a good one to watch, even if Turkey doesn't have the greatest chance of winning.

I happened to go see Fatih Akin's great new movie The Edge of Heaven last night at Film Forum, and it's all about messy interactions between Turks and Germans. His earlier movie, Head-On from 2005, was incredibly good; this one deals with some of the same difficulties of the Turkish population living in Germany, but gets into even better stuff about parents and children, the things people will do to try to take care of each other, and the unlikely connections that can form between people from different worlds. It was fantastic, but way too complicated for a brief summary.

The Edge of Heaven's original title in German translates to On the Other Side, which is better. Here are a few glowing reviews, from A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, and the Guardian.

(One note about the cast--the most famous actor in the movie is Hannah Schygulla, who was in a bunch of Fassbinder movies in the '70's, and played the title role in The Marriage of Maria Braun. She's still awesome.)

Germany's Ulrich Schnauss also played a free concert at the World Financial Center last night--I caught most of it. Now I just gotta get some stuffed eggplant and shish kebab and get ready to watch Turkey face Germany starting at 2:45.

In case you're interested, here's some background on the Turkish population in Germany. The short version: Germany invited Turks to come into the country after WWII because they needed cheap labor. Loads of Turks came over, and today make up the largest minority population in Germany, but weren't given citizenship. Most children of immigrants aren't citizens either. So today, there are millions of Turks in Germany, many of whom are 3rd generation residents and may have never been to Turkey, but aren't citizens. It sucks.

Starting in 2000, Germany allowed children of foreigners born in Germany the possibility of citizenship, so maybe things are changing.

UPDATE: Germany won, barely. They pulled out a winning goal in the last minute of the game, plus the whole world missed Turkey's surprise last goal because of satellite broadcasting problems. Bleegh.

May 13, 2008

Third World? Third Helpings!

McDonalds in India

That title was coined by a friend, T-Rock, when reports of growing obesity rates in developing countries emerged a few years ago.

But now it relates to Bush's recent explanation for why we are in the middle of a global food shortage--people in poor countries are eating too much.

This is incredible: in talking about the food crisis, Bush referenced India and its growing middle class. "When you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up."

High demand for food is because of India? So if all those people in India would just stay poor and malnourished, there would be plenty of food to go around! Wow.

A representative from a poverty research institute in India hit back, and is quoted by the Times as saying:

"If Americans slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates." He added, archly, that the money spent in the United States on liposuction to get rid of fat from excess consumption could be funneled to feed famine victims.

Americans eats an average of 3,770 calories a day, which is more than anyone else in the world according to the UN, and 50% more than what the average Indian eats per day.

Maybe Bush is coming down on India for being such greedy snack-hogs because they've ignored his recent request to stop their plans to pipe gas into their country from Iran. Of course, they'll probably just use the pipeline to blast in more delicious Iranian cakes and halva and kebabs, those piggies!

January 25, 2008

Hey Palestine, let's go shopping!

Palestinians shop!

Life's been tough in Gaza lately. The people are ruled by a militant regime, there's at least 50% unemployment, and even if you have some money it's hard to buy food, medicine, gas, appliances, and pretty much everything else you would want.

Which is why it's been nice to see the tens of thousands of Palestinians flooding across the breached border into Egypt yesterday and today in an unbridled frenzy of consumerism. An economic analyst quoted by AP estimates that Gazans have spent $130 million in Egypt since Wednesday.

Egypt is moving toward controlling the shoppers eager to buy anything local vendors have to offer, but news reports suggest that until tonight, no one was doing much to stop them from coming in, and Hamas isn't taxing any goods they bring back. One Egyptian official estimates that 120,000 Palestinians are in Egypt, buying all the TVs, cigarettes, goats, generators, and potato chips (with special inflated prices) they can carry from the Egyptian border town they're temporarily being allowed into.

But of course, some resourceful Palestinians are taking this opportunity to experience other aspects of urban life they don't usually have access to. The Times interviewed Muhammad al-Hirakly, 22, while he was in line to ride the bumper cars at an amusement park. He and his friends were going to try to get all the way to Cairo, "to see the big city and our family there, and also the girls," he said. "It's the most fun we've had in years."

An older visitor took a more philosophical view of his moment of freedom:

Adel al-Mighraky, 54, was returning to Rafah... "We were like birds in a cage," he said. Once the door is open, he said, "birds will fly away as fast as they can — this is what we did. But what kind of bird has to go back to its cage after it was freed?"

Olmert and Abbas are meeting this weekend, and there are rumors that Israel might let the Palestinians take control of the Gaza borders, which have been pretty much totally closed since June. After seeing how happy a brief, overpriced shopping spree can make residents of Gaza, I hope the Israelis can recognize that despite our differences, we're all consumers at heart.

January 16, 2008

¡Viva España!

Humming the anthem

Apparently Spanish athletes are getting sick of having a national anthem with no words. They are stuck singing "dum dee dum dee dum" when the cameras pan over them before sporting events. So the Spanish Olympic committee has sponsored a contest to make up some lyrics. They've picked a winner (watch and listen) and everyone hates it. One of the criticisms is that the lyrics are reminiscent of Franco's lyrics, another is that they are totally bland and could apply to any country:
“Long live Spain!” the four-verse anthem begins. “Let us all sing together with different voices and a single heart! Long live Spain! From the green valleys to the vast sea.”

“It’s absolute drivel,” said Josep Ramoneda, director of the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona. “It could be about any country: Belarus, Lithuania, Spain.”

“It would make a good theme tune for the Eurovision Song Contest,” he added, referring to Europe’s annual pop music gala.

It reminds me of the Welsh anthem, sample quote:

O land of the mountains, the bard's paradise,
Whose precipice, valleys lone as the skies,
Green murmuring forest, far echoing flood
Fire the fancy and quicken the blood

Apparently parliament is very unlikely to approve the new words, and athletes will be stuck with dum dee dum dum.

December 20, 2007

Argentina's awesome president

Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner

This is a picture of Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, at a graduation event at a military school outside Buenos Aires.

Look at her. That fan, the pose, the exposed thigh.

Now think about Hillary Clinton, and to what lengths she would go to make sure that no picture of her sitting like this while holding a fan at a state function ever surfaced.

Like Clinton, Kirchner is the wife of a former popular president, to whom she owes pretty much all of her political success. Nestor Kirchner stepped down from the presidency earlier this year so that she could run. She won easily, all the while wearing gobs of mascara and flashy suits and loud jewelry.

As the Times of London wrote in comparing the two women, "While every fashion move that Clinton makes is relentlessly analyzed for its potential impact on voters in Iowa – from her latest hair-style to whether or not she laughs too loudly - Kirchner has gaily shrugged off accusations that she is 'frivolous'."

In keeping with her usual aesthetic, which my friend Trash Rock describes as "retired cheerleader", Kirchner wears suits like this:

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

and adopts poses like this in TV interviews:

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

And nobody cares! Can you IMAGINE Hillary Clinton with this body language, looking all languorous and kittenish on the air? Americans would flip out. Sure, Kirchner got elected mainly because voters assume that her policies will be nearly identical to her husband's, but many Clinton supporters probably feel the same way.

The problem is, American campaign strategists seem sure that if Hillary looks good on purpose, she opens herself up to criticism and stereotyping. Obama looked great on the cover of GQ, and I would have been glad to see Hillary in that non-dowdy Vogue photo shoot she backed out of last month. You can bet she would have gotten shit for it, even without holding a fan. Poor Hillary, stuck with her pantsuits.

December 14, 2007

Resting in peace


Yesterday at the inquest into the death of Princess Diana, one of her close friends revealed that she could not have been pregnant.

"While we were on this boat she had her period and that was just ten days before she died."

I'm sure that Diana is resting, happy in the knowledge that the entire world knows all about her menstrual cycle.

December 3, 2007

How you can help with the national debt

National Debt Clock

AP tells us today that our national debt is growing by $1 million every minute. This rate is so fast that about a year from now, the debt clock pictured above that used to be on West 43rd St (it was moved recently to make way for fancy new green building One Bryant Park) won't even have enough digit spaces to express the whole number.

That's $10 trillion! $10,000,000,000,000.00! God bless America.

Since we're obviously a totally irresponsible bunch of financial reprobates, and considering that rising interest rates are only going to make things worse, this makes me wonder: What kind of idiot is still willing to lend us money?

According to AP, part of our debt is held by U.S. citizens who live here and read the paper every day and still think that buying government bonds is a good investment. But a lot of investors are foreign: 44% of our publicly held debt we owe to foreign governments and investors. Japan has the biggest share.

Former Congressional budget anaylst Stanley Collender is concerned. "The first day the Chinese or the Japanese or the Saudis say, 'we've bought enough of your paper,' then the debt — whatever level it is at that point — becomes unmanageable," he says.

Our individual debt allocations are already $30,000, so what the hell--we might as well be patriotic consumers and start buying as many products as possible directly from the countries that our government owes money to. Go ahead and stand in the huge, crazy line that forms outside the Nintendo store at Rockefeller Center at 7:30 AM every time they get a new shipment of Wii consoles in. It's good practice for the bread lines we'll all be standing in when we're old and Social Security is a distant memory.

And while you're at it, support our nation's fiscal philosophy and get some new credit cards. With a few more big credit limits, your salary is doubled!

November 27, 2007

Young Kenyan men enjoy same gifts-for-sex benefits young women have had for centuries

Charlotte Rampling in Heading South

Reuters had an article yesterday on the trend of older white English women going on vacation in Kenya, and while there, taking out hot young men, buying them clothes and expensive dinners, and having sex with them.

The white beaches of the Indian Ocean coast stretched before the friends as they both walked arm-in-arm with young African men, Allie resting her white haired-head on the shoulder of her companion, a six-foot-four 23-year-old from the Maasai tribe.

He wore new sunglasses he said were a gift from her.

"We both get something we want -- where's the negative?" Allie asked in a bar later.

Apparently the negative is that a lot of hotel managers and members of the Kenya tourism board are lumping these women in with other sex tourists who come to Kenya to pay 12 year-old girls or boys for sex.

Which is nuts. Old, wealthy sugar daddies everywhere have long enjoyed taking much younger women out, showering them with gifts, and having sex with them. Some might go so far as to marry them (Billy Joel, Donald Trump, Fred Thompson, Ben Kingsley, Les Moonves, I could go on all day) but plenty more just enjoy the arm candy for a while then drop them (George Soros).

At last, young men from poor countries with little opportunity for living in economic security get to enjoy the same temporary access to nice clothes and fancy dinners that young American women have been hustling to get their hands on forever! Why should sex-for-goods be exclusively a rich man/poor woman transaction? I'm so glad to see these enterprising young African men are finally able to exploit their youthful hotness with all the savvy of a midwestern high school dropout draping herself over aging producers at Hollywood parties.

22 year-old Joseph, a Kenyan man who says he has slept with over 100 white women, says:

"When I go into the clubs, those are the only women I look for now," he told Reuters. "I get to live like the rich mzungus (white people) who come here from rich countries, staying in the best hotels and just having my fun."

He could be half the girls in their early 20's who hang out at expensive Tribeca bars hoping to snag free drinks from an investment manager.

The movie Heading South came out in 2006 and featured Charlotte Rampling (in the photo above) traveling to Haiti to have sex with young men in the 1970's. A long article about the movie goes into all these complicated arguments about sex, economics, political power, gender roles, exploitation, and on and on.

Seems like the only new or interesting thing happening here is that the older, richer person in the dynamic is female and they have to go to other countries to find young men willing to do what many young women in rich countries have done basically forever. Yawn.

November 26, 2007

France's race problems not magically resolved yet +

Paris Riots, 2007

Over the weekend in the suburbs of Paris, two Arab boys riding a motorbike were hit and killed by a cop car. Less than an hour later, crowds of people had set fire to four buildings, torched 28 cars, and started throwing rocks at riot police. Today, they were still going, setting gas tanks on fire while cops fired rubber bullets and threw tear gas.

This is pretty much exactly what happened two years ago. Those clashes lasted for three weeks and resulted in thousands of cars and buildings getting destroyed [details on Wikipedia]. Not may people got hurt, though. This time, 25 cops have already been injured, one with a punctured lung.

Here's another difference: the interior minister who in 2005 referred to the rioters, mostly the children of Arab or African immigrants, as "scum" is now the President. The unemployment rate for young black men is still about 40%.

It's looking like the boys that were killed this weekend were mostly at fault for the accident: they weren't wearing helmets, the bike was stolen, and they cut off the car while traveling at full speed. So the violence of the last two days seems to be more in response to ongoing discrimination against immigrants and pretty much anyone who isn't white in France, not so much this particular incident. The chief of the Paris police union says, "We’ve been saying for eons that we’re sitting on a powder keg."

UPDATE: Sounds like the violence got worse last night: 82 cops injured, some with buckshot fired from hunting shotguns (kids in the French ghetto have hunting shotguns?!), more buildings set on fire, and over 60 cars torched. This is looking bad. I think the people in charge over there need to realize that they have major problems on their hands: several generations of pissed off poor young people who are technically citizens, but are systematically treated like they have no right to live there.

Here's a quote from a local resident, Boniface Gabo, talking about the housing project he lives in: "This is no place for human beings to live. Make no mistake, every hundred kids who grow up here are a hundred lost kids."

November 6, 2007

America's decline: our public works are ugly, lethal

NYC manhole cover

Above is a picture of your basic, ugly NYC manhole cover.

Now check out this array of beautifully-designed manhole covers from Japan that Wired linked to today:

Japan manhole covers

Each Japanese prefecture makes its own unique manhole covers, many of which are brightly colored and feature cute dancing crabs, frogs, and aliens.

Meanwhile in our own country, the most interesting things our manhole covers do are burn or electrocute people.

And in the larger world of American public works, if the city that you live in hasn't had a major road explode, a bridge collapse, a retaining wall crush rush-hour traffic, or run out of water, you should consider yourself lucky.

October 29, 2007

Where Gap Kids clothes come from

Gap Product Red campaign

Gap just can't seem to shake its problem with child labor. The UK's Observer reported over the weekend that an Indian subcontractor producing Gap's line of clothing for children was using children, purchased as slaves, to make the clothes. What a coincidence!

Children as young as little Abigail Breslin, Gap model, were found working at a sweatshop in New Delhi making girls' embroidered tops. And: they weren't getting paid. From AP: "The Observer quoted one boy identified only as Jivaj as saying that child employees who cried or did not work hard enough were hit with a rubber pipe or had oily cloths stuffed into their mouths."

Rather than claim this as part of an innovative approach to developing new markets for its children's products, Gap said it has no idea, finds the allegations "deeply upsetting", and is investigating.

The Observer also reports that India is the child labor capital of the world: "According to one estimate, more than 20 per cent of India's economy is dependent on children, the equivalent of 55 million youngsters under 14."

Even though they've been through the ringer over unscrupulous labor practices before, Gap keeps manufacturing its clothes in India when it knows that child labor is a common occurrence there. It's this kind of indifference to human rights that makes the company's attempt at social responsibility via its (PRODUCT) RED campaign so transparent and phony. [note: clothes for the RED campaign are made in Africa, not India. That doesn't let them off the hook. It's the principle of the thing.]

Can one kid change the world? Sure, but not by manufacturing an embroidered blouse, and sure as hell not by buying a red t-shirt.

September 6, 2007

Now you can be a patriot AND an elitist

Made in USA

Remember when campaigns trying to get people to Buy American were mostly Wal-Mart territory and made you think of eagle-emblazoned sweatshirts and visors with flags on them?

Today, the NY Times tells us that the fashionable liberal elite has embraced Made in USA products. The local food movement, the high carbon footprint generated by buying European bottled water, and toxic Chinese toys have all inspired the urban cognoscenti to start supporting some domestic companies, particularly when their products are more expensive than foreign ones.

Price seems to be the determining factor when wealthy people decide it's cool to buy American; as the Times says, "It is hard to imagine, say, that people who tote reusable cotton bags to Whole Foods will ditch their beloved Saabs for an American-made Chevrolet Cobalt." But $1,250 custom-made bikes, designer t-shirts with flags on the tags, or top of the line New Balance sneakers with big USA logos? Sold! Conspicuous consumers are suddenly turning into a bunch of flag-waving patriots.

But this is still a pretty recent demographic shift for the Buy American market. Many products that proudly display their Americanness might be a little too patriotic for those who are really just "people wanting to have guilt-free affluence,” as Alex Steffen, editor of a sustainability website, calls them.

Yes, the less prestigious side of "Made in USA" is still with us--it's not all hand-painted sustainably-harvested wooden toy trucks. You can still be outrageously tacky while spending an assload of money on showing the world that your purchases are not just more mass-market knockoffs from China:

Hyper-patriotic car:

Flag gown:

Flag iPod case:

Flag jewels:

America, fuck yeah!

August 22, 2007

Yushchenko completes Monster Hero transformation

Yushchenko battles forest fire

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has had a rough few years. It probably hasn't been easy reforming his nation while fighting off political adversaries who poisoned him with dioxin back in 2004 and then led to several disintegrations of his government. And even though the scarring of his face from his near-death experience made him look scary and Frankensteiny, did that hold him back? No it did not!

And just because his arch-enemy Vladimir Putin is posing around for the media flexing his saggy man-boobs, in my opinion he's no match for good old Yushy Craterface.

Here he is "personally taking control of firefighting" in Ukraine, where forest fires have been burning for a few days.

Yushchenko fighting fires

Yushchenko fighting fires

Yushchenko fighting fires

OK that's it. No more mean jokes.

June 15, 2007

What security looks like in the new Hamas-ruled Gaza

A Reuters photo from the security area of the customs hall at the border between Gaza and Egypt.

security at the Gaza/Egypt border

Yikes. I'm guessing that you don't have to worry about packing your shampoo in a 3 oz. bottle when you run your bags through this scanner.

Meanwhile, one man living in Gaza takes an ambivalent, and depressingly pragmatic, approach to the new local bosses. "Today everybody is with Hamas because Hamas won the battle. If Fatah had won the battle they'd be with Fatah. We are a hungry people, we are with whoever gives us a bag of flour and a food coupon," said Yousef, 30. "Me, I'm with God and a bag of flour."

June 8, 2007

Good news! The G8 summit has solved all the world's problems. Again.

Bob Geldof at G8

Well, Bob Geldof's pissed.

Another G8 summit meeting of the leaders of the world has come and gone with the usual ambitious goals, legions of protesters, and meetings with Bono. Here's what they accomplished this year:

The countries promised to spend $60 billion to fight AIDS, malaria, and TB in Africa. Spread out over "the coming years" with no actual timeframe. And also, that money was already pledged two years ago at the 2005 G8 summit.

Also, they pledged $25 billion in aid to Africa over the next 10 years. But they'd already made that same pledge, also in 2005, and apparently have already fallen behind on promised payments.

Some other accomplishments:

  • The countries issued a "message of firmness" to Iran that it had better stop enriching uranium, or else!
  • They agreed to "seriously consider" trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. By 2050. Which is over FORTY YEARS from now.

Wow! Global leader in bottomless frustration Bob Geldof called the summit "a pantomime": "Do me a favor, get serious guys, get serious," he said. "This wasn't serious. This was a farce. A total farce."

Sure, he's right. It's a disgrace. But after I saw some sort-of cute photos of Bush, Blair, Merkel, and other frequently loathsome world leaders sitting around in the sun having a few drinks, it was hard to stay too mad at those crazy kids.

Bush and Merkel at G8

world leaders at G8

Come on, Bob, sit down, have a beer! Relax, man. They can always pledge another $100 billion next year.

February 12, 2007

NYT headlines

Yesterday's New York Times had an article on the popular recreational usage of Viagra among Spanish men, with a surprisingly Post-y headline:

"Spain Says Adiós Siesta and Hola Viagra"

Some old favorite Post headlines celebrating our Spanish-speaking brethren include a culturally sensitive piece on Bloomberg's efforts to learn Spanish:

Latin Lover

And the questionable announcement of Bill Richardson's plans to run for President:

NM Governor Throws Sombrero Into Ring.

Nothing wrong with using a few universally familiar Spanish words in a headline, but the subject matter of the Times article makes it sound sort of like an ad in the back of a magazine guaranteeing the erotic delights of spanish fly. The piece discusses how cultural shifts have affected the sexual habits of all those fiery, macho Spaniards, leading to increased popularity of... ok, I don't know if they made this up, but they claim that Spanish people call it "sexo azul":

The quest for Viagra was apparent on a recent day at a packed disco in Chueca, a bohemian district of Madrid, where a group of young men said they took Viagra because it increased sexual confidence. "No one wants to admit it, but everyone is taking it," said Santiago, a 32-year-old travel agent.

"We used to have a siesta, to sleep all afternoon, to eat well," said a spokeswoman for Pfizer. "But now we have become a fast-food nation where everyone is stressed out, and this is not good for male sexual performance."

Pfizer says it sold nearly one million boxes of Viagra in Spain last year, the equivalent of one box for every 17 men 18 and older. Globally, Pfizer earned $1.66 billion from Viagra sales in 2006.

And how about the señoritas? Turns out they're a bunch of insatiable hot tamales, too.

One such woman is Carmen, a chic, twice-divorced 45-year-old information technology executive and Sophia Loren look-alike, who complains that her sexual ardor intimidates most Spanish men. Frustrated by her boyfriend’s sexual performance, Carmen insisted that he take Viagra, which he obtained by making a fake prescription on his home computer.

The Viagra worked, she says, but she decided anyway to leave her boyfriend, an urbane 55-year-old psychologist, for a 32-year-old unemployed student athlete.

"Viagra is not the solution many Spaniards think it is," said Carmen. "I came to realize that the problem wasn’t my boyfriend’s sexual prowess. The problem was him." Now, she added, "I have sex six times a day, but I do miss going to the opera."

Whoa. Or, ¡Whoa!

February 9, 2007

Friday afternoon reading: Dogfighting championships

Jack, Russian volkodav

The best Times articles are often the non-news features about some weird practice going on out in the world somewhere that has no bearing whatsoever on life as we know it. Today we've got the illegal but popular sport Russian dog fighting; lots of crazy, bloody details that show what a bizarre place Russia is these days.

The sport involves massive, thick-headed breeds, including Central Asian shepherd dogs and Caucasian ovcharka, bred by livestock herders across the continent to defend sheep and cattle in the mountains and on the steppe. Collectively the dogs are called volkodavs, the wolf-killers.

While most of the day’s more than 10 matches drew little blood, this one was different. Jack and Sarbai tore each other’s mouths with the first bites. Blood flowed, staining the dogs’ faces and flanks.

Between Sarbai and Jack’s rounds, other dogs fought. One was called Koba, the nickname used by Stalin. He won.

Another was named Khattab, after a Jordanian-born terrorist who fought in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Chechnya before Russia’s intelligence service killed him with a poison-soaked letter in 2002. (!!!) He won, too, in the junior middleweight class, extending his undefeated record to eight wins.

Each fight lasts until one dog shows fear or pain — by dropping its tail, squeaking, whimpering, refusing to fight or snapping its jaws defensively, all grounds for instant disqualification. There is no scoring. There are only winners and losers or, in fights that continue for three rounds without an animal yielding, draws.

Many dogfights in Russia are said to be tainted, with steroid-swelled dogs, or animals smeared with wolf fat to confuse or intimidate their foes, or dogs’ mouths injected with Novocain to make them fight without hesitation.

And a wonderful quote that echoes Borat's "we say in Kazakhstan that horse is like man" speech:

"The dogs teach us," he said. "You cannot look at a dog and tell who it is. The dog is on the inside, not on the outside. It is in his spirit."

"It is the same with people," he added, and lifted his glass.

January 19, 2007

Study: Kiev lake more effective than Proactiv for smooth, blemish-free skin

Yushchenko, with surprisingly clear skin

We've been following the political career, and the dioxin-related skin problems, of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko since the near-deadly post-election poisoning/bad sushi scandal. And I'm glad to say he's looking very handsome and un-Creature-like these days while swimming in a pore-evaporatingly cold Kiev lake as part of an Epiphany ceremony.

Here's a before and after shot from right after the poisoning:

Yushchenko, before and after

Related: Dioxin: The Modern Prometheus; Look out, Condi!; Robert Redford Syndrome; greatest Low Culture caption of all time.

October 25, 2006

German soldiers pull German Lynndie

German soldier skull photos

Today German tabloid Bild published photos that they claim were taken in 2003, of some German soldiers in Afghanistan clowning around with a human skull.

The photos are pretty typical of what we in America are no longer so surprised to see from our soldiers in the War on Terror: shots of a soldier posing with the skull, positioning the skull as the hood ornament of their Jeep. One creative soldier, in a reversal of the pointing at the prisoner's penis pose that Lynndie England made famous, took out his own penis and photographed it next to the skull.

Here's the Bild article in German and translated.

Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said, "These pictures revolt and mystify me. It is clear that such behavior cannot be tolerated from German soldiers. It runs counter to the values and codes of conduct we try to instill in our soldiers."

Posing for pictures with a skull that military sources say may have come from a mass grave is certainly not as bad as posing with actual live, tortured prisoners, like some U.S. soldiers did. The German pictures probably are revolting, as the Minister says, but after Abu Ghraib, how mystifying can they really be? "We must investigate exactly how such degeneration and misbehaviour can happen despite good training and good supervision," said Bernhard Gertz, who represents German troops.

Bernhard: this behavior happens because of the training, the supervision, and the entire approach that our countries have taken to this war.

October 17, 2006

Mail order brides stalled by anti-commercial-romance legislation

Russian mail order brides

The NY Times today has a pretty standard piece on men who buy wives for themselves through internet "don't call it mail-order" dating/marriage sites. As if not being able to get anyone in your own country to marry you weren't bad enough, these guys are suffering through some added inconveniences at the hands of their own government.

Congress created the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, or Imbra, in March. The legislation "is intended to give foreign women and the American government more information about the men who seek so-called mail-order brides." In other words, Congress recognized an alarmingly fast rise in reports of abuse from women who came to the US to marry guys they met online. So they made a law that gives these women more information about the criminal record and marital history of their future husbands before they pack their bags and become legally bound to a man who has gone out of his way to find a wife who has no way of knowing any objective information about him. Men must now also provide this information to the government when applying for a fiancée visa. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Not so, according to the buyers. The customer is always right, and that should extend to spousal transactions, say purchasers of foreign brides. “We should have the right to correspond with, date and marry the person of our choosing,” said David Root, who has been involved with many women from the former Soviet Union in the past decade but has not married any of them. “The government shouldn’t interfere in this.”

He may have a point--Americans can indeed marry whomever they please. And it's not like they're forcing these women to leave their homes for a lifetime of marriage to a man who is often, let's face it, a total stranger. The man that the NY Times story follows, Adam Weaver, sounds like a nice enough person who was seeking an "old-fashioned girl", and now just wants to marry his Colombian fiancée (she's 17 years younger than he is, does that mean she qualifies as a "girl"?) without a lot of delays.

But some men who get into foreign marriage services clearly are delusional: there's a hilarious example in Sam Smith, who owns a company called I Love Latins, based in Houston [site not really safe for work]. In explaining the appeal of his service, he says, “It all started with women’s lib. Guys are sick and tired of the North American me, me, me attitude.”

"Me, me, me", huh? And what kind of attitude is it that compels a wealthy American man to search for another human being on a shopping site using criteria like age, weight, height, religion, and command of English, and then pay thousands of dollars for this probably low-income person from a poor country with few or zero opportunities for a stable life to leave their home and enter into a legally-binding contract with them that allows that person to live legally in the US only if they remain married? That's altruism! Right, Sam Smith?

October 12, 2006

Meaningful gift-giving

Putin gets his gun

Vladimir Putin was given a very thoughtful and personal gift from Bavaria's Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber last night during his formal visit to Germany: a traditional Bavarian gun! How considerate of those Germans. Especially considering the event that dominated Putin's visit to Germany and probably many other aspects of his life this week: Saturday's murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

A NY Times editorial on the murder says she was killed at her apartment by one shot to her heart, and three to her head. Politkovskaya, a long-time vocal critic of Putin's administration, was most recently working on an article, with photos, about torture in Chechnya.

Bush asked Putin about the murder when they spoke recently about North Korea, and Putin said her death was "a blow to Russia" and promised an investigation. Putin also he had also "not forgotten" the case of Paul Klebnikov, an American who was editor of Forbes Russia when he was shot to death two years ago.

Still no news on who shot Andrei Kozlov, a Russian central banker who was trying to reform the corrupt banking system, a month ago. Or, probably, on any of the 13 other journalists that have been murdered in Russia since 2000, when Putin came into power.

September 21, 2006

Photo op

Thai fashion student in Bangkok

The coup in Thailand: a politically confusing pro-democracy military ousting of a democratically-elected (though potentially corrupt) government, or fashion photo shoot opportunity? Both!

This Bangkok fashion student takes her inspiration from the military's stylish uniforms as they guard the government buildings they raided just last night.

September 19, 2006

Coup in Thailand

Coup in Thailand

Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra spoke yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations here in New York, and discussed his country's sometimes rocky experiences with democracy. He also answered questions about the recent violence involving Muslim separatists in the south, and personal charges of corruption.

Apparently he finds it useful to compare the government he leads to a baby, because he used two different baby metaphors to describe the young democracy:

"I, for one, haven’t seen a child learning to walk without bumping his bottom constantly. As adults, we must learn to live with the pain and the pangs of democracy, lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

But when the cat's away... the tanks come in. A military group calling themselves the Council of Administrative Reform seized power tonight, surrounding government buildings with tanks, and have suspended the constitution and declared martial law. It's the first coup in Thailand in 15 years.

Good timing on the part of the military, waiting until the controversial leader is out of the country to take over. Must have been like taking candy from a baby.

August 15, 2006

More bad press for Slough

The Office's Slough Trading Estate

Slough Trading Estate is the home of "The Office"'s fictitious Wernham Hogg paper company. Like its analog on the US version of the show, Scranton, PA, Slough is accurately depicted as a soul-crushingly dull and ugly place.

It's also where British police just raided two internet cafes in connection with last week's foiled plan to blow up a lot of planes.

Terrorist cells might even be a step up for Slough's public image, based on David Brent and John Betjeman's 1937 poem ("Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough".)

June 5, 2006

World Cup: yes, Americans watch it too

Fans at Novecento

How about if this year, we forget about all those lazy sports journalists and commentators out there who every 4 years come out with the same old "why don't Americans care about soccer?" routine that is increasingly tedious and inaccurate.

Thankfully, New York media isn't falling into that trap. The Post has a feature on where you can watch World Cup matches, which start this Friday, with a good list of names and addresses. Little Brazil (46th St between 5th and 7th Aves) is going to have a lot of options, including Ipanema and Brazil Brazil. Hallo Berlin, the friendly German beer and sausage hall on 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen is going to be serving sausage breakfast sandwiches, and has gotten 3 more TVs installed.

And you've probably already seen groups of really hammered English guys smoking outside Nevada Smith's on Sunday afternoons year-round: they'll be there when the bar opens at 7:00 AM this weekend. The 11th Street bar (11th between A and B) and Baker Street Pub (First Avenue and 63rd) will also likely be popular with England fans. Novecento on Broadway in SoHo is for Argentina fans. Or go to pretty much any bar or restaurant in Astoria, and you'll probably find people watching.

You should watch the games at the ESPN Zone in Times Square only if you want to be surrounded by the kind of people who constantly ask "why don't Americans care about soccer?"

The Daily News has a great piece on the Trinidad and Tobago Soca Warriors, who are in the World Cup for the first time ever this year; much of the Caribbean population of Brooklyn is beside itself with excitement. Caribbean businesses around Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Fort Greene will definitely be showing the games, and probably hosting giant Carnival-like parties for the next month.

And the NY Times offers a helpful rundown of the 10 teams that stand a decent chance of winning. It's a useful summary of how the teams have been doing lately, and offers updates on Wayne Rooney and Francesco Totti's broken limbs.

Meanwhile, in Poland they're celebrating by putting miniature soccer pitches in their urinals.

February 9, 2006

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Some countries' governments still get into fist-fights during their parliamentary sessions.

Ukrainian Parliament likes to tussle

From Reuters: "Communist deputies scuffle with members of parliament loyal to President Viktor Yushchenko before the president's annual State of the Nation address to the chamber in Kiev, February 9, 2006. Yushchenko proposed breaking a legal logjam with parliament by creating a commission to draft a new version of the constitution to be submitted to a referendum."

OK, Congress, let's see a few flying fists on the red carpet at next year's State of the Union. Anyone who knocks the wind out of Rick Santorum gets a free pizza.

February 7, 2006

Google News censorship in action

Wu Xianghu, a Chinese newspaper editor, has died from his injuries after Chinese traffic police "beat him up for an expose about exorbitant electric bicycle licence fees."

Google News has lots to say about it:

google news

What about Google News at Well, not so much:

google news china

Keep up the good work, Google! We thank you on behalf of the billion+ Chinese people who have no idea this is even an issue.

[Thanks to computerbytesman's side-by-side comparison tool that made this easier.]

January 18, 2006

Monster photo-op

Viktor "The Creature" Yushchenko shakes hands with Leonid Stadnyk, who at 8' 3" may be the world's tallest man.

Yushchenko + world's tallest man = Frankenstein

Stadnyk was visiting his mother in a hospital in Kiev. [tx ADM]

Earlier: Yushchenko prepares to eat Condi.

November 16, 2005

Bush captivates Kyoto business community

Bush speaks in Japan

On his trip through Asia, Bush spoke today at the Kansai Economic Federation in Kyoto, Japan. He spoke stirringly about U.S.-Japanese relations, and, somewhat mysteriously, took the opportunity to chastise China for not offering its citizens adequate human rights and political freedoms.

His audience of Japanese businessmen responded with appropriate enthusiasm.

Japanese businessmen snore

November 15, 2005

Kazakh Foreign Ministry's Next Target: The New York Post

NY post kazakhstan

November 10, 2005

A brief note on the riots in France

Riots in France

Now that the riots in France are starting to quiet down, let's take a look at the larger history of French agitation.

In the late 18th century, groups of poor French people were fed up with years of oppression and social and economic injustice. They took to the streets in a variety of attacks on the upper classes and the structures that supported them. From the Wikipedia entry on the French Revolution:

"A number of factors led to the revolution; to some extent the old order succumbed to its own rigidity in the face of a changing world; to some extent, it fell to the ambitions of a rising bourgeoisie, allied with aggrieved peasants and wage-earners."

For the past two weeks, groups of young French people, mainly immigrants and the children of immigrants from North Africa, have taken to the streets to burn cars and break things out of frustration at years of oppression and social and economic injustice. Specifically, unemployment, police harrassment, racism, poverty, and an interior minister who refers to them as "scum" and pledges to clean out the public housing projects where many rioters live.

The main differences between the events over 200 years ago and those happening now seem to be that 1) white French people don't seem to understand that they themselves are the oppressive force of injustice to be toppled this time, and 2) the rioters of today are far less violent than during the first revolution. Cars have been burned, sure, but hardly any people have been hurt or killed in two weeks of widespread rioting.

I have yet to talk to anyone who isn't at least a little bit pleased that France is finally being exposed as a discriminatory and racist country that has been totally indifferent to its unequal treatment of its citizens. Especially when French people are often pretty condescending about issues of race in America and everywhere else. Time to wake up, people! Sorry about your cars.

By the way, I can't wait to see The Economist bitch-slap France for its handling of all this in tomorrow's issue.

September 28, 2005

Recent hurricanes' silver lining

Amidst the death, destruction, and bureaucratic ineptitude in the Gulf coast during the past month, there have been some rare glimpses of hope for a better future. Some people living in poverty might get the financial help they need to get a better place to live, build some equity, and work toward a better future. Michael Jackson will collaborate on a Katrina benefit single with an as-yet undetermined group of exciting artists, none of whom can be reached for comment.

And today, Canadian party leaders have put aside their political differences and come together to flip hamburgers at a charity barbecue for hurricane victims. Prime Minister Paul Martin was joined by the Conservative Party leader, the Bloc Quebecois leader, the New Democratic Party leader, and the U.S. Ambassador to Canada.

Canadians barbecue for hurricane victims

August 31, 2005

Baghdad Trampling

It's hard for many of us to imagine how a crowd could become so out of control that it could trample over 800 people, or what such an enormous crowd even looks like.

This photo of the shoes and other debris littering the street after the crowd was dispersed and the bodies were cleared this morning adds some perspective.

Baghdad street after trampling

That such a large-scale horror happened over rumors that there was a suicide bomber in the crowd also demonstrates how insecure Iraqis still feel on their own streets.

August 25, 2005

Love and Kisses for Chávez

As Chávez was getting ready to depart from Cuba the other day, Fidel Castro appeared to be so overwhelmed with emotion that he couldn't restrain himself from making kissy-faces all over the place.

Fidel kissy face

Fidel kissy face with Chavez

Fidel kissy face and Chavez

Either that, or he's just jealous of the love that Chávez shares with Chirac...

Chavez with Chirac

...and Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

Chavez with Patterson

That dashing rogue Chávez, so hot right now! He should send a thank you note to Pat Robertson.

August 22, 2005

A Helpful Current Events Quiz from Ämy's Röböt

In these uncertain times™ of rapidly shifting priorities, Amy's Robot is proud to introduce a new feature: a pop quiz to test your knowledge of important happenings around the globe.

We present...

World Event, or Mötley Crüe Concert?™

Question 1: Iraqis rioting for improved public services, or "Shout at the Devil"?

a)Iraqi riot

b)Shout at the Devil

Question 2: World Youth Day, or "Home Sweet Home"?

a) Home Sweet Home

b)candles at world youth day

3) Metal detectors in Sudan, or New England?

a) land mine detection

b) Vermont metal detector

Click below for the answers

Continue reading "A Helpful Current Events Quiz from Ämy's Röböt" »

August 5, 2005

We're back

After a long, lonely week of work travel, vacation, and ADM suffering a total communications-device meltdown, we're back. Nice to see you.

Here's a photo of Russian Navy spokeman Igor Dygalo, speaking about the stranded Russian mini-sub that will hopefully very soon be triumphantly pulled up from the ocean floor by a U.S. remote operated vehicle "Super Scorpio." Or a British one. Looks like Igor has such empathy for his endangered sailors that he has acquired a sympathy frozen-and-dead demeanor.

Russian Navy spokesman

We hope the rescue missions get there in time, and we hope someone gives Igor a hug.

July 6, 2005

Bushes in Denmark

Before heading to G8 in Scotland to solve the world's problems (or rather, to convince the other world leaders to "scale back goals" and pretty much forget about solving the world's problems,) the Bushes partied it up with the royal family in Denmark. Perhaps they were celebrating Bush's birthday today, which he shares with 50 Cent.

Let's check out some pictures:

Jenna gets cozy with a giggly married man (Danish Crown Prince Frederik) at lunch.

Jenna Bush at G8

Bush has a toast with Queen Margrethe of Denmark.

Bush at G8

Better be Diet Coke in that wine glass, birthday boy, or Jesus will hate you.

July 5, 2005

Benevolent Rock Stars

jon bon jovi live 8

This weekend, rock stars across the globe made entertainment and philanthropic history by picking up sweet gift bags, hugging famine victims, and protesting the economic policies keeping Africans in poverty.

Of course, for some activists this is just one stop on the summer political awareness tour. Why, just three weeks ago Jon Bon Jovi was making philanthropic history by supporting the economic policies keeping Americans in poverty at the Wal-Mart Annual Meeting.

Luckily, the set lists were different.

Live 8:
Bad Medicine
Dead or Alive
Social Disease
I'll be There for You

Livin' on a Prayer

[tx Cushie]

June 10, 2005

And the Award for Most Disingenuous Political Statement Goes To....

best kiss
how to look like a total asshole

Ryan Gosling accepts the "Best Kiss" Award at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards.

ICC To Bring Charges of Genocide Against Government Officials In Sudan
"The Notebook": #1 Romantic Film of the Year at the Sudanese Box Office

June 1, 2005

Bad PR

Reuters seems to be going out of its way today to post embarrassing pictures of world leaders.

Gerhard Schroeder at an anniversary celebration of the European Space Agency:

Schroeder in shower cap

Rumsfeld has a tense moment at a news conference today:

Rumsfeld awkward

Bush and his microphone sure are happy to see South African President Mbeki:

Bush and Mbeki

May 18, 2005

Racial Missteps

Mexican President Vicente Fox was in hot water with the likes of Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton this week for refusing to apologize for an unfortunate racially loaded comment. In response to the U.S. crackdown on immigration, Fox declared that Mexicans in our country "take the jobs that blacks won't".

The nerve! But after all, what can you expect from the President of a country where, as the AP helpfully tells us, "blackface comedy is still considered funny and nicknames often reflect skin color."

Thank god we've moved beyond such crass and tasteless ethnic humor in our own country.

bloomberg in sombrero

May 9, 2005

The future of U.S.-European relations

Bush with European pals

Today's commemoration of the Allied victory of World War II in Red Square is a great opportunity to evaluate Bush's attempts to reconcile his foreign policy with the leaders of Europe. Things have been especially touchy with Putin, with recent Bush's remarks about Russia's democratic backsliding. Let's see how U.S.-Russia relations look! Reuters says the two leaders "hid their political strains as they smiled and chatted like old friends."

Well. Maybe there were smiles, but for Putin, there was also a good deal of grimacing...

Putin grimaces

... and bemused smirking.

Putin also smirk

Maybe Putin was still miffed about Bush calling his 1956 Volga a "Commie-mobile" after he drove it at a photo op on Sunday.

Putin and Bush in 1956 Volga

April 20, 2005

Rejoice, Opus Dei!

New Pope in Times Square

Our friend Norman K. pointed out a quote in one of the NY Times analysis pieces on the selection of Ratzinger as the new Pope, in which a priest from Oklahoma City who was watching the events yesterday in St. Peter's Square said of him, "He'll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics. He's going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children."

Perhaps not the best choice of metaphors. Norman K. says, "Yes. The Germans have always been quite good at putting people on trains. And the last time it happened, I believe the Catholic church signed off on it. Not an auspicious metaphor for a Pope who was a member of Hitler youth. As a coworker of mine said yesterday, this Pope is a great choice for atheists, since he'll kill the church in Europe and North America."

It is a telling move when the church selects as its new leader someone who will appeal to the growing body of politically and socially conservative people in wealthy countries. I can only assume that the church has written off young or progressive Catholics who had already become disillusioned with the church, but this move will certainly push even more people away. It might be a good strategy for the next few years, as the world moves toward conservatism, but the next generation of Catholics will just keep getting smaller.

Another Times article takes a biographical view of Ratzinger, and refers to a biography by John L. Allen, Jr., who wrote about how Ratzinger's early experience with the Nazis helped form his (totally creepy) ideas about the role of the church. The biography says, "Having seen fascism in action, Ratzinger today believes that the best antidote to political totalitarianism is ecclesiastical totalitarianism. In other words, he believes the Catholic Church serves the cause of human freedom by restricting freedom in its internal life, thereby remaining clear about what it teaches and believes."

It's basically the opposite of liberation theology, which was central to Latin America's revolutions.

Meanwhile, German New Yorkers were celebrating yesterday, but many admitted it was largely for reasons of national pride, rather than admiration of Ratzinger. Peter Bleeser, a German priest at a parish in Westchester who knew Ratzinger in Munich says, "I'm happy it's a German, but I'm not very conservative and he is. He's an excellent theologian, very intelligent, but he's a strong conservative. Not much is going to change under him."

April 4, 2005

No one likes to do it

Don't worry, it's not just you. No one is having sex.

At a recent gathering of hot young women, ages 24-26, living the single life in Manhattan, the New York Times hosted a discussion of sex and dating. In the resulting article, the featured women are so averse to sex, serious relationships, dating, and pretty much anything other than maybe kissing acquaintances in a bar, that I can't imagine how anyone in this city is ever going to get any action ever again.

"It's not that people aren't dating," explained Jessica Rozler, co-author of The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up (if by "living it up" you mean "going on a date or two then running home to worry if people think you're a slut.") She continues, "It's that there's this weird gray area. People still want to be in relationships, but they don't want to be settling."

OK, so single women in New York like to date lots of men and maybe aren't so into having serious boyfriends. Yet, these women also seem to shun having sex outside of relationships: "Most girls don't have one-night stands," one discussion participant said. "They might have one or two in their life."

"A lot of girls are not having casual sex," explained Andrea Lavinthal, the book's other co-author and (not surprisingly) an editor at Cosmopolitan, a magazine mostly notable for its advice on trapping rich men into marrying you.

So there's no casual sex, no serious relationships; the most these ladies seem to want is a few low-key dates here and there. Their alarming self-restraint is also well illustrated by their definition of the phrase "hooking up": "Most women at the club expounded happily on what a hookup meant for them. 'Late-night grinding on the dance floor, maybe a little groping' was one version, said Kate Kilgore, who is in public relations at Victoria's Secret Beauty. The few men who spoke up seemed to find the elastic nature of the term somewhat tiresome. 'There are so many definitions,' said Corey Zolcinski, a commercial real estate representative and disc jockey. 'Some people think that it means meeting for a drink.'"

I don't know about you, but when I was 24, "hooking up" to me did not mean meeting for a drink.

So what's the story with these people? Are those of us in the late-20's/early-30's generation just a bunch of licentious tramps in comparison to these Doris Days in their early 20's? And what about the recent trend among teenagers of having "friends with benefits", pretty much meaning random sex with casual acquaintances, often met online? ADM points out that the analog to teenagers' "friends with benefits" seems to be "boyfriends without benefits" among these early-20's people. It all sounds very bad.

In a piece about the sexually messed-up country of Japan in today's Guardian, we learn that there is a growing problem among Japanese married couples in which they don't have sex, ever. Like, not even one time. The Japanese birthrate hit an all-time low of 1.29 in 2003, and there are more and more women who complain that they have never had sex with their husbands, or do it less than once per year. Marriage rates are also falling, and the government is understandbly worried about what this will mean for the country's population in a few years.

[Note: I think we can all assume, as the article does, that Japanese men in these kinds of relationships are still having loads of sex with hookers. It's just the wives that get nothing.]

Unsatisfied with this deal, these women are starting to patronize a new kind of clinic in the suburbs of Tokyo, which offers frustrated wives a catalog of men for them to fuck. The guy who runs the clinic (I guess I should say "clinic", because it's really some sort of dating service) says, "The women who come to see me love their husbands and aren't looking for a divorce. The problem is that their husbands lose interest in sex or don't want sex from the start." After a counseling session, the ladies browse through photographs of 45 men, mostly professionals in their 40s, and pick one to go on dates with and then make regular appointments in hotel rooms.

"Mr Kim dismissed charges that his service was little more than a male prostitution ring. 'The men volunteer and pay half the hotel and restaurant bills, so legally there is absolutely nothing wrong with it,' he said."

I'm glad these Japanese women are finally getting some action, but it's a scary prospect for the chaste young ladies in New York: even after they get married and actually decide to put out, they still might not be getting any.

March 30, 2005

Update on Afghanistan

Laura Bush and Karzai

From the Washington Post:

"Under heavy security, Mrs. Bush spent just six hours on the ground in Afghanistan after flying nearly halfway around the world. U.S. troops manned M-60 rifles at either end of four helicopters that flew the first lady and her entourage to Kabul University.

'We are only a few years removed from the rule of the terrorists, when women were denied education and every basic human right,' Mrs. Bush said at a teacher training institute. 'That tyranny has been replaced by a young democracy and the power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan.'"

Then Mrs. Bush bought a box of cookies from a bakery, paying the shop owner one dollar (U.S.) for them. "Good deal," she said. Outside the bakery, she gave gifts to three children who were "positioned to receive gifts from Mrs. Bush": a bookmark and a kaleidoscope.

"This matters much more than hundreds of millions of dollars," Karzai said of Mrs. Bush's visit, although the fragile democracy is heavily dependent on international aid. "Much more."

President Bush has never been to Afghanistan.

From the New York Times:

"Shortly before Bush landed in Kabul, a car bomb attack claimed by the Taliban killed one person and wounded another in the city of Jalalabad, 75 miles east of the capital.

Rights groups routinely decry violence against women and children and, while the militant threat has receded, many ordinary Afghans fear rising violent crime.

Taliban spokesmen Abdul Latif Hakimi said the Islamist guerrillas were behind today's attack and others elsewhere in the country recently, including a mine blast that killed four American soldiers in Logar province on Saturday.

On Tuesday, two U.S. soldiers were wounded in an ambush in the central province of Uruzgan and overnight two rockets hit a section of the airport in the western city of Herat occupied by U.S. soldiers, but caused no casualties, the U.S. military said."

So keep those invaluable bookmarks coming, Mrs. Bush! And those nifty kaleidoscopes, too! The kids love them.

By the way, while you're off risking your life in war-torn Afghanistan to make diplomatic visits, it looks like that impish husband of yours is getting awfully friendly with the locals in Iowa.

Bush gets friendly

March 28, 2005

Some World Leaders Doing Better Than Others

Could it be that our own President George W. Bush is sapping the life force of Pope John Paul II?

Stay with me here.

On the one hand, you have the Pope, whose rapidly failing health left him, according to the Daily News, "speechless",

speechless pope


anguished pope

and "grimacing"

grimacing pope

on the most Pope-centric day of the Catholic year.

Is it just a fluke that this sharp decline coincides with reports of George Bush's recent "frisky" and "impish" behavior? According to biking buddy (and sometime chief media strategist) Mark McKinnon, the President is "as calm and relaxed and confident and happy as I've ever seen him."

fruity bush kisses

Far-fetched, you say? Well, how else to explain this bizarre quote from the President's rather creepy Saturday radio address?

"In this season of renewal, we remember that hope leads us closer to truth, and that in the end, even death, itself, will be defeated. That is the promise of Easter morning." [emphasis mine]

Before you get any ideas, I'm already pitching this to HBO.

March 23, 2005

The future of Europe today! Or in 2006, anyway


Remember a couple of years ago when France decided that their language, culture, and unjustified superior attitude were being threatened by popular usage of the word "email"? They decided to ban it from official use, replacing it with the French "courriel", which might have been a reasonable move that had some marginal impact on the world if they had done it, like, 10 years earlier.

Anyway, now all of Europe has made a similar bafflingly outdated gesture toward modernity by creating a new extension for internet addresses: .eu. Which will launch in 2006. It took the EU from 1997, when they first starting discussing the idea, until 2002 to apply to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers for the new extension. Oh EU, you silly Old World slow pokes, you!

March 1, 2005

At least now we don't kill minors anymore

A major victory for American human rights today: the Supreme Court just ruled that it is unconstitutional for our nation to execute 16 and 17 year-olds under the death penalty. 70 people currently on death row for crimes they committed while minors will now not be killed by their government.

In making this decision to not execute minors, the United States joins the rest of the first world (although hardly any first-world countries have any death penalty at all) and leaves behind the other countries that have recently executed minors: Congo, China, Iran, and Pakistan. We've discussed the US's company with other child-killers before in an earlier post.

The official ruling is here [pdf].

February 22, 2005

Bush's visit to Europe

bush's teeth

While touring Europe and doing his best to play nice with the world leaders he's been crapping all over for the last three years, Bush can't help but show up Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt with his far superior Superpower teeth.

Belgium also might want to keep an eye on their creepy Prime Minister, as he looks suspiciously like a zombie.

February 17, 2005

Now Alanis loves America

We've been following Alanis Morrisette's take on American and Canadian media governance since she pulled that fake-naked stunt in a bodysuit last year, to voice her condemnation of "censorship" in the U.S. We covered her confusing relationship with a probably gay and definitely Canadian actor. And now, she joins the rest of us censorous hypocritical patriots by becoming an American.

She's maintaining dual citizenship, but says of her new legal homeland, "America has been really great to me and I have felt welcomed since the day I came here."

February 11, 2005

Dioxin: The Modern Prometheus

yuschenko kiss

For a few moments I gazed with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips; but presently my rage returned; I remembered that I was forever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow and that she whose resemblance I contemplated would, in regarding me, have changed that air of divine benignity to one expressive of disgust and affright.

Related: Monster...hungry!

North Korea: Bush Knows Best


BUSH: States like [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq], and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic. [emph. added] [source]


BUSH: It is naive and dangerous to take a policy that [Kerry] suggested the other day, which is to have bilateral relations with North Korea. Remember, he's the person who's accusing me of not acting multilaterally. He now wants to take the six-party talks we have -- China, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States -- and undermine them by having bilateral talks. That's what President Clinton did. He had bilateral talks with the North Koreans. And guess what happened? He didn't honor the agreement. He was enriching uranium. That is a bad policy. [source]


KERRY: With respect to North Korea, the real story: We had inspectors and television cameras in the nuclear reactor in North Korea. Secretary Bill Perry negotiated that under President Clinton. And we knew where the fuel rods were. And we knew the limits on their nuclear power.

Colin Powell, our secretary of state, announced one day that we were going to continue the dialog of working with the North Koreans. The president reversed it publicly while the president of South Korea was here.

And the president of South Korea went back to South Korea bewildered and embarrassed because it went against his policy. And for two years, this administration didn't talk at all to North Korea.

While they didn't talk at all, the fuel rods came out, the inspectors were kicked out, the television cameras were kicked out. And today, there are four to seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea.

That happened on this president's watch. [source]


North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador indicated Friday that six-nation talks on the country's nuclear program were over and said the real issue is whether the United States intends to attack the reclusive communist nation.

Han Song Ryol made clear that his country's announcement Thursday that it is a nuclear power and would indefinitely suspend its participation in six-party negotiations was the result of Pyongyang's belief that the United States is bent on invading North Korea to topple Kim Jong II's authoritarian regime. [source]


U.S. Refuses North Korea's Request for One-On-One Nuclear Talks [source]

I'm glad the President realizes that when dealing with an arms-brokering nuclear power, replacing or supplementing multi-lateral talks with bi-lateral talks is "bad policy" compared to replacing multi-lateral talks with, well, nothing at all.


  • graphic showing timeline of North Korea's nuclear program and its capabilties]
  • Outstanding, extremely detailed timeline of North Korea's nuclear program and our negotiations with them, from the late 1970s to 2000.

February 8, 2005

Peace in the Middle East!

Palestine and Israel shake hands

Today's cease-fire pledge between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas is an important breakthrough in the Israel-Palestine peace process, and a step toward one day finding a two-state solution.

It's a fragile situation, however. I don't know, something about this photograph of young Palestinians watching the summit broadcast casts some doubt on the pledge's successful future.

gunmen from Jenin

February 1, 2005

World leaders not doing very well with doves lately

pope dove

"GIMME PRETTY BIRDIE!" [Pope looks at a dove from the window of his private apartment]

Related: Yushchenko tries to eat a dove at his inauguration. [Low Culture]

January 24, 2005

Snow injustice

It snows in Brooklyn, kids go sledding

sledding brooklyn

It snows in Afghanistan, kids get whooping cough

snow in afghanistan

January 14, 2005

Anti-Americanism in consumers

Since we all know how much the whole world freaking hates the US these days, a clever market research firm recently polled 1,000 consumers in the UK, Canada, France, and Germany to find out how much this anti-Americanism spills over into their buying habits. A nice chart plots the selection of brands on two axes, one showing their perception of the "American-ness" of their product, and the other showing how strongly they say they will avoid buying the brand.

The results have inspired us to generate this guide for American companies who want to market their products to foreigners, who appear to be irrationally averse to certain goods that they perceive as being somehow more American than others.

  • If the name of your company sounds vaguely foreign or European, especially French, you have nothing to worry about. Brands such as Estee Lauder, Ralph Lauren, and Gillette are all perceived as not particularly American, and consumers don't plan to avoid buying their products. National Geographic apparently has enough of an international focus to be untainted by Americanism.
  • Brands that specifically align themselves with images of America, or that are defining elements of American culture, don't fare as well. Disney, Marlboro, McDonald's, Coke and Pepsi (though Coke is seen as more American) are all shunned by foreign buyers.
  • If you have the word "American" in your company name, forget it. American Express, American Airlines, and United Airlines are all thought of as extremely American, while Northwest Airlines is not. Consumers say they wish to avoid all three of the airlines, however.
  • If your brand produces the gold standard of whatever product you produce, it doesn't matter if you're perceived as American or not--everyone in the world will still want to buy your stuff. Levi's is perceived as very American, but few of the consumers polled say they plan to avoid buying Levi's jeans.
  • But when it comes right down to it, no consumers really make any sense. Jack Daniel's, about as American a brand and image as you can get, is perceived as being less American and more desirable than is Budweiser (despite there being a Czech beer by the same name) or Starbucks. As the article's author notes, "Some of the other results make me think that the people polled are just dumb. Chrysler, which polls in the danger zone as very American and unlikable, is owned by a European company!"

January 5, 2005

Yahoo! Photo Editors at it Again.


No, that's not Jude Law in the Entertainment section, it's ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet! As Americans know, there's nothing more entertaining than civil rights abuses.

What it means to be generous

The outpouring of cash that Americans are donating to tsunami relief organizations is getting a lot of praise in the press, and rightfully so. The Christian Science Monitor goes as far as to say that giving has undergone a "profound shift" in the US, as regular people reach into their pockets to help the reconstruction of already poor nations, ravaged by a tragic natural event.

The CSM article suggests that perhaps Americans want to change the current world-view of our nation, to convince the rest of the world that Americans are compassionate, not just well-armed. This is certainly an understandable desire, and I'm pleasantly surprised that many Americans have even noticed that our position as a moral leader has taken a battering in recent years. Or even over the last 40 years. Regardless, I'm happy that Americans realize that we're unliked these days, and that they've tried to do something about it by giving money to tsunami victims.

But let's not get too carried away with the self-congratulatory pride. As Nicholas Kristof points out in his Op-Ed today, America is still relatively far down on the generosity ranking when our enormous wealth is considered. Foreign aid to poor countries in general is still only 0.1% of our annual budget, even though the wealthiest members of the UN collectively decided that foreign aid should constitute 0.7% of their budgets. Many Americans think that we give around 24% of our budget to foreign aid, demonstrating that the general public has literally no idea that our supposed generosity toward poor countries might be a lot of money, but it is still woefully inadequate and, yes, stingy. Kristof also points out that the number of tsunami casualties roughly equals the number of people worldwide who die every month from easily preventable diseases like malaria.

We Americans also tend to have very short memories. A lot of people are donating to tsunami relief efforts, and that's great, but many donors are stipulating that their cash go ONLY to the immediate needs of tsunami victims, as though there were no other people suffering from disasters in the world. Remember Sudan? Remember Afghanistan and Iraq? The organizations that are working in South East Asia are mostly all working in these other places too, and have been all along. Doctors Without Borders has notified potential donors that they have enough money to accomplish their goals in the tsunami-affected countries--no more tsunami donations, please! They do encourage donors to give to their ongoing relief efforts all over the world. Much like some donors to 9/11 relief funds got all outraged when the Red Cross used some donations for long-term relief, instead of immediately giving all of it to victims' families, many tsunami relief donors seem to be equally short-sighted.

Who do we want to help here, victims of this disaster, or our own international image? It's wonderful and generous if you want to give money to these relief efforts, but take five minutes and make sure you're giving to an organization that is doing the work on the ground, and still needs more support. Give2Asia is part of The Asia Foundation, and is working with local Asian organizations to use contributions for both short-term relief and long-term recovery. Contributions given out of guilt are certainly just as valuable as those given for more altruistic reasons, but it's important to remember that there is great need in a great many countries that will still be there long after this new crisis is over.

January 4, 2005

After all, pictures of crying children can only capture the public's interest for so long.


"Thailand continues to collect dead and clean debris along the beaches near the popular resort area of Phuket. More than 4,500 are listed as killed by the tsunami that struck Thailand more than a week ago." [source]

Related: Revealing a cynical understanding of the tabloid media, Petra Nemcova agrees to an US Weekly photo shoot from her hospital bed - provided that the proceeds of photo sales go to Save the Children. You go, Petra.

December 28, 2004

Supermodel tsunami

sri lanka

Faced with the horror of 44,000 people dead, millions more displaced and homeless, villages destroyed, survivors at risk of epidemics of disease, the shaky economies of poor nations blasted, and the fresh water supplies of many islands potentially ruined by salt water contamination, is there any way that our media can still work in a story featuring some pictures of a foxy girl in a hot little outfit?

Why yes! Yes there is.

ABOVE: Non-supermodel Sri Lankan women walk the catwalk of despair.

December 22, 2004

Christmas in the red for Eastern Europe

Now that so many formerly communist nations have joined the EU and embraced consumerism, many of these households are finding out what Christmas in capitalist countries is all about: accumulating debt. While credit card companies describe eastern and central Europe as "virgin territory with a large potential for growth", Hungary's largest bank expects that household debt as a percentage of GDP could double in the next 5 years across the region.

Stores in Poland and Romania liberally offer shoppers personal credit, charging hefty commissions on their loans. The Czech Republic calls their popular new gigantic new supermarkets "hypermarkets", perhaps a reflection of the frenzied state of shoppers, free to borrow and spend like they yearned to do while under communist oppression. The article reports, "The new mores are light years from the philosophy prevailing under the communist system -- when consumption was constrained by the scarcity of products, meager salaries and a lack of loans."

So enjoy your portable DVD players and new leather furniture sets this Christmas, eastern Europe! While you're reveling in the holiday spirit, remember the true meaning of capitalism: a 21.99% APR.

December 15, 2004

Illegal nannies on tap

Perhaps inspired by the Bernie Kerik scandal involving his illegal Mexican nanny, the UK has stirred up its own version: David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, just resigned after admitting he used his office to expedite the visa processing for a Filipina nanny. A nanny for the child he had with his married ex-lover, no less. Much like the job Kerik was nominated for, Blunkett was in charge of his country's security, law enforcement, and immigration.

This guy hasn't been doing well in the public eye for the last few months, since his affair and child were discovered. At the end of the AP piece, they include a bizarre anecdote demonstrating his crumbling mental state: "Blunkett showed signs of feeling the pressure — using a back door to leave his home Wednesday to avoid reporters, and canceling plans to appear in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon. He may not have helped himself by turning up at a Christmas party and singing a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers duet, 'Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.' News reports said the song bombed, and Blunkett quickly departed."

He also looks terrible in the picture. Get some rest, fella.

December 14, 2004

Stars apologize, capitalize

Oliver Stone to Turkey: "Hey guys, I'm really sorry about that Midnight Express screenplay I wrote. You don't really rape and torture your prisoners, OK? And that whole "nation of pigs" thing was way out of line, and anyway, that was in the original book. OK? Now go watch Alexander. You guys love the Greeks, right? Besides, no one in my own goddamn country will go see it."

Robert DeNiro to Italy: "Oh hi, Italians? Hey, I'm really sorry about all those harmful ethnic stereotypes I've been promoting for my entire career. You're not *really* all a bunch of greasy murderous thugs. And that Shark Tale thing? That was just a joke, you know, for the kids! OK? Now go see my dead father's art exhibit. And while you're at it, give me Italian citizenship. I'm proud of my heritage, and I deserve it! Capishe?"

December 6, 2004

Yushchenko's Mystery Ailment Solved!

Viktor Yushchenko

There has been much excited speculation lately on Ukraine opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko's "mystery ailment". In addition to causing the politician crippling pain, this disease has also delighted the international press by destroying what journalists insist on calling Yushchenko's "movie-star looks".

Many theories are being thrown around, including poison, bad sushi, and an unidentified immune disease. Yuschchenko's own specialists can do little more than list his symptoms: "He was severely ill, but this does not all add up to a single disease or even a known syndrome," said one doctor.

While this case may have stumped Europe's most illustrious physicians, the Amy's Robot Bureau of Rare Diseases has been able to identify Yushchenko's ailment as something very serious indeed: Robert Redford Syndrome.

Robert Redford

Sadly, there is no known cure.

November 29, 2004

Exchange Rate Disco


Europeans, their minds addled by the record high value of their currency against the US dollar, enter a whirlwind of gleaming bank notes and blurry glowing exchange rates. These euro-folk--even their exchange bureaus look like clubs.

The Guardian offers some analysis on why the falling dollar will make it harder for European companies to compete internationally against our US companies and their increasingly low relative prices. Americans considering travel to Europe any time soon might want to pack a few lunches to bring along, since your cash won't be worth much.

November 24, 2004

From the Department of Oversimplification

U.S. Fails to Explain Policies to Muslim World, Panel Says

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 23 - A harshly critical report by a Pentagon advisory panel says the United States is failing in its efforts to explain the nation's diplomatic and military actions to the Muslim world, but it warns that no public relations plan or information operation can defend America from flawed policies." [NY Times]

Clearly, these people are infidels if they can't even be swayed by the most American of all solutions, advertising.

November 23, 2004

Welcome to Marlboro Country


Ever since the class action suits against big tobacco companies in 1998, companies like Philip Morris have had to change the way they promote their cigarettes in this country. This, along with an enormous potential population of smokers overseas, has prompted many companies to target most of their biggest campaigns at foreigners. The LA Times has a great piece (login req'd) on the creepy and secretive 2004 Adventure Team, a 12-day outdoor tour of Utah's Moab Desert for a group of 42 people, ages 22-24, all from countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. If they are selected from the application process (which requires all kinds of revelation of personal consumer habits) they get a free trip to the US, ride around in jeeps, hike, wear western hats, and pretend to be cowboys. All the while associating all that freedom and natural beauty with Marlboro cigarettes.

Americans are less likely to respond to all that "Come to where the flavor is" marketing stuff, ever since some of the original Marlboro cowboys came forward with lung cancer in the 1990's. Many people from other countries still love fake cowboys and images of the old west of America (as evidenced by the social clubs of Germans who dress up as Native Americans.) They seem to have a great time on their vacation celebrating American values, like smoking.

An American value that Philip Morris and the Adventurers seem to value less is freedom of the press. The LA Times article is structured around the efforts of the reporter and photographer to gain access to members of the group and the guides, which are mostly rebuffed. They are told to go away by the field guides, the owner of some of the private land used during the Adventure, and by some of the foreign participants themselves. One woman shouts at them, "Why are you bothering us? This is not American." It appears that Philip Morris used to allow some American journalists on the annual tour, but recently decided against allowing any American participants at all. One executive says, "We want the winners to experience the freedom of America. And we find this is easiest when Americans are not part of the event."

So Philip Morris are shilling for a mostly non-existent vision of America to young people from other countries, in an effort to associate their brand of cigarettes with freedom, beauty, and unspoiled nature. But in their execution of this supposed celebration of American values, they actually reveal what have become some of the most pervasive values in corporate America: wilfull manipulation of imagery, corporate secrecy, intimidation and control of media, and marketing campaigns that intrude into consumers' personal lives.

Be sure to read to the end of the article, in which one of the participants offers to the reporter the she actually isn't a smoker. A German rep from Philip Morris overhears this, and freaks out all over the reporter, yelling that he is rude and ordering him to leave, saying, "We never ask these rude questions in Europe!" So much for American freedoms.

AFP Effectively Combines Sight Gag, Understatement

Bush in a poncho

"World leaders, visibly uneasy, donned brightly colored blanket-style ponchos instead of sober suits in an annual 'fashion show' for an Asia-Pacific summit in Chile."(AFP/Tim Sloan)

November 19, 2004

A Warm Welcome For President Bush

Santiago protests

This is the fourth straight day of protests in Santiago, Chile against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (you know the members of APEC better as "our masters").

“We are protesting not only because of APEC," one protester said, "but also because Bush is coming, who is the No. 1 terrorist of the world. And he is coming to do his utmost to ensure that they keep impoverishing people.”

September 17, 2004

China just needs someone to talk to

If you live in a hard-core Communist country, in which your job, house, family, and life are all owned and regulated by the government, you probably won't have much psychic space in which to question your existence and wonder if you're an actualized person. But if your Communist country starts to encourage some entrepreneurship, and more and more industries and elements of daily life are sometimes controlled by individual people, but with many inconsistencies, and if social expectations suddenly change to include more competition and self-determination, you might have a nervous breakdown.

There's an interesting LA Times piece about the rising industry of talk therapy and psychoanalysis in China [login req'd]. As you might guess, living in a country of a billion people with vast economic stratification, an economy changing from state-controlled to more free-market, western influences in tension with traditional eastern values, and horrific pollution and urban decay, all gets pretty stressful. Prozac sales have doubled over the last 4 years, and a new therapy industry has "sprung up virtually overnight", with many therapists operating in private practice as the government struggles to get in on it.

China has an average per capita income of $1,000, so only the relatively wealthy can afford a therapist. But isn't it the trappings of wealth and modernity that get people anxious and miserable enough to seek out therapy? Increased pressure and fast-paced cultural change are taking their toll on well-off urban Chinese people. As the article says, "For many Chinese, the most troubling sign of increasing instability has been a parade of news stories unheard of in years past. Overwrought college students pour acid on zoo animals, kill roommates with a hammer and step in front of trains."

One Beijing therapist is hosting group therapy sessions for road rage, as well as individual counseling for typical western complaints, like divorce and relationship problems. Her style is reminiscent of Denis Leary's therapeutic philosophy: She says of some of her clients, "They have to be strong in front of the people they know, but they are weak inside. Most of them need to be told: 'You have no problems! Cut it out! Get to work!' "

And just like that, they feel better about themselves.

August 23, 2004

How to go to college

The New York Times offers some helpful advice today on what is probably one of the easiest things one can do in modern America: being a college student. Chuck Klosterman, our patron saint of metal fandom, reviews a new book entitled Real College: The Essential Guide to Student Life [tx Rungu]. He points out that the most difficult part of college for many students is paying for it--an area of advice that the book's writers mysteriously omit in favor of trickier topics such as "social life" and "studying". Klosterman notes that if your biggest worry about attending college is how to get your roommate to vacuum more, you probably don't really need an advice book: "For those who actually paid for college themselves, the repayment of student loans was the only 'real challenge' higher education ever presented; everything else was just sort of fun and exciting and amazingly drunken."

The breezy assumption that college students' parents pay the bills is one flaw of the book; as far as I can tell, the other major problem is the usage of the name "Rollo" as one of the "real-life freshmen" characters who write in questions about college life to the writers. I mean, is "Rollo" attending clown school? Will his (her?) concerns be relevant to a student who is not taking classses like The Anthropology of Dance or Television and the Nation at UC Santa Cruz?

Anyway, Klosterman comes up with his own bits of practical advice for the kid entering college which strike me as important platitudes for adults to hold onto as well: "if something makes you vomit, don't worry about it; everybody vomits sometimes" and "your parents will never, ever understand anything about you (and it is unreasonable for you to expect otherwise)" are especially relevant.

But perhaps college students really do need book-length advice from authoritarian figures to guide them through higher education. At least, maybe the kids who study a semester abroad need it. It appears that our ambassadors of the American education system have been promoting the ugly American stereotype to our foreign friends: dropping beer bottles onto passing cars from their dorm windows, getting into knife fights, skipping their classes for weeks at a time, getting caught with drugs, and, of course, getting drunk and puking all over everything. The host universities are complaining, and some U.S. colleges are requiring their students to meet some strict academic standards before they are accepted into study-abroad programs, or even take a class before they go on how to be an exchange student without getting arrested.

Kids: if all you want to do in college is drink, you can do plenty of that right here in America--just join a fraternity or sorority. If you want to have a European vacation, just get your parents to pay for one during the summer--hey, they're already paying for college, right? (see above.) What's another couple thousand bucks? OK, some full disclosure: I was one of those college students who studied abroad, and I was even one of the ones who went to a university in an English-speaking country, which college administrators say are "more likely to attract students who have no language expertise or interest in foreign culture." Sometimes I opted to spend an evening in the bar that was in my dorm rather than do my reading for Gothic Literature. But I did manage to vomit exclusively into appropriate receptacles, and never once wore a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt while actually in a Hard Rock Cafe.

July 20, 2004

Photo of the Day

There is still hope for happiness in the world, even if you let the terrorists win. Just look at these happy Filipinos! Americans only seem to look this happy if they are celebrities having psychotropic experiences in dance clubs.

June 10, 2004

Quick: Which Reality Show Contestant is This? UK version

There isn't a photo of the UK version of the generic female reality show contestant, because the mode of conformity promoted by their reality shows is behavioral, not so much physical. [sorry for ripping off your post title, Em. I thought I'd make a statement about the international pervasiveness of reality show socialization, and plus it was easier than coming up with my own idea.]

The Guardian also decided to publish a piece on women and reality shows today, and while the examples probably aren't familiar to a US audience, the descriptions of how different kinds of women are treated on these shows sounds pretty familiar. The writer contends that "there is an obsession within reality television with finding the appropriate limits for women's behaviour." Sure, looks matter too (the recent winner of Pop Idol, Michelle, was a heavy woman who got a lot of ridicule for her weight, but hey, at least she won the freaking contest) but the boxes that women are squeezed into on UK TV focus mostly on conformity of speech, decorum, and behavior.

The current season of Big Brother just featured an ejection of lesbian contestant Kitten, who sounds pretty typical of most Real World roommates in recent seasons. Kitten's brash attitude earned her a lot of harsh abuse from the press: she's been called a "loudmouth lesbian", the "anarchist whinger", the "attention-seeking brat", "hell's kitten", the "sinner", "staggeringly thick Kitten." Sure, I heard some complaints about Trishelle last year on Real World Las Vegas, but not in national media.

Other shows that feature celebrity contestants also celebrate those women who sweetly stay in line--and it doesn't hurt if they're small and cute and have straight blonde hair (sound familiar?) The writer of the article describes a perfect Stepfordian ideal in these contestants: "As far as I can see, the only sort of woman who gets positive reinforcement out of participating in reality television is one who pulls off the trick of being both sexy and demure." A show called Hell's Kitchen, which is sort of like if The Restaurant was staffed by B-list celebs, features 20 year-old soap star Jennifer Ellison, who was praised in the Daily Mail for being so "perky" and "cheery" and "industrious", which - along with her "Barbie doll figure" - apparently "endeared her" to the public. Pop star and ex-Atomic Kitten Kerry McFadden won the US failure but UK hit show I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, and got kind press for behaving "like a trouper" with her "bravery" and "cheeky smile" and being a sweet blonde in a bikini.

UK reality shows that focus exclusively on looks rather than behavior, such as makeover show What Not to Wear, are less radical (so far) than their US counterparts, sticking to outfit and style advice rather than plastic surgery. The "tips and tricks" section of the website offers clothing advice on how to minimize what's too big (referred to as "boobs" and "bum") maximize what's too small, and how to hide your ugly fat ankles or your chubby face. On the show, the two makeover hostesses suggest new outfits for a variety of women, but move all of them towards the same ideal look: "All their subjects end up looking much the same, in their mauve cardigans and burgundy bootleg trousers and highlighted shoulder length hair. Is this really the box that we now long to fit into?"

Yes, conformity in looks or behavior is boring. And it makes for boring television too. The fact that we all keep watching these shows, repeated in endless iterations with slight variation from season to season, just shows how obsessed we all are with trying to figure out how women are supposed to look and act.

A new show called Ladette to Lady that will be broadcast in the UK this fall features a group of loudmouthed, bawdy, hard drinking girls who will be molded through the show into refined, polite, ladies who know how to act correctly. They will go through tests in important areas of knowledge for today's woman, including dressmaking, party hostessing, and cooking. The show's website says the lessons will reveal in the young women "a true female sensibility." Hopefully, hair-straightening techniques and robot CPU installation sessions will also be included in the series.

June 9, 2004

Pizza Wars

Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi has lost a lot of respect through his questionable politics and plastic surgery, but his administration recently passed a piece of conservative legislation that is upsetting Italian business owners: the process and ingredients for making Neapolitan pizza have been strictly regulated. (Story was first covered weeks ago, but the Times article offers more squabbling of pizzeria owners.) The Association of Real Neapolitan Pizza urged the new laws to help brand Naples as "the cradle of pizza." We really like our pizza here at Amy's Robot, and I can understand the need for standards (as one of Naples' foremost pizza makers says, "Pizza with pineapples? That's a cake.") However, one of the Naples pizzerias that will be declassified as Neapolitan pizza is Da Michele, one of the best and cheapest pizzerias that I, or anyone else travelling in Naples using a budget travelers' guide, have ever been to. Under the new laws it may be an outlaw pizzeria, but it's the real deal. The menu consists of the following: cheese pizza; marinara pizza; Coke; beer. I admire its uncomplicatedness. I doubt the lines of locals and travelers at Da Michele will shorten based on government certification of the pizza.

Can you imagine what would happen if New York State passed laws regulating the size, ingredients, baking time, and flavors of bagels, and H&H was suddenly declared a producer of unworthy New York bagels? Their inclusion of the "everything" bagel flavor is suspiciously progressive.

May 17, 2004

Iraqi National Pride and the Olympics

Thanks to the Olympic wild card system that allows some athletes from every country in the world to compete without qualifying, Iraq will send six individual athletes to Athens this summer. Iraq's national soccer team will be the country's first to compete in the Olympics; they qualified based on their own merit, recently beating Saudi Arabia (!) in a regional qualifying match.

The article includes some incredible stories of Iraqi sports under Saddam, and Uday's efforts to build up Iraq's international Olympic presence. "Iraq has taken part in the Olympics before but has only ever won one medal - a weight-lifting bronze in 1960. Saddam was determined to change that, putting his eldest son, Uday, in charge of the national Olympic team. Uday's control of the team was through fear and intimidation. Those who failed to perform well enough were jailed and beaten. His Olympic committee building became a private jail, replete with torture devices, until it was flattened by an airstrike during the war."

Sure, many athletes are glad to be able to miss an occassional goal without being sent to jail, but not everyone in Iraqi sports thinks things are better off under US occupation. Security problems have caused league games to be cancelled, and some athletes say they are in greater danger now. However, they are eager to enter international competition and represent their country again. They even have a new Olympic slogan: "Iraq is Back!" Go get 'em, tigers!

May 13, 2004

Bush and Europe

The headline of a New York Times piece from Sunday (sorry people, I've been busy over here) on how Europeans feel about Bush says it all: "Europeans Like Bush Even Less Than Before". Conservative members of the British Parliament think he's frightening, and several think the world would be better off with Kerry in power. And these are the Conservatives. Where does that put Tony Blair, who's been put in the awkward position of supporting Bush even though he and Clinton were wearing one half each of those Best Friends Forever necklaces in the '90's? Even the Tories think Bush is too conservative, so perhaps Blair has to start forming alliances based on actual policy alignment, not just cozying up to whoever's in power this year.

The most interesting comments in the article come from Spaniards interviewed by a political scientist. People in Spain are saying, "I'm very frustrated that I can't vote in the U.S. elections, because these are the ones that affect my way of life more than anything else." If the U.S. is going to play Lead Nation of the World and make the decisions that have global impact, should non-Americans have some voice in U.S. elections? The Guardian noted in a March editorial that nothing will change the state of world politics more than a change in the White House. It makes me wish we had some kind of International Vote Donation program, so that any American who plans to not vote in the upcoming election could donate their vote to some Italian, or Spaniard, or German, so that they could help influence what happens to global politics.

May 3, 2004

U.S. Losing its Top Position in Sciences +

A post from our friend Jim:

Here's an interesting juxtaposition of articles from recent editions of the New York Times. Today, we learn that the United States is producing fewer PhDs in the sciences than is used to, that we account for a smaller share of world patents and Nobel Prizes than we used to, and that fewer foreign graduate students are choosing to come here. Some of this I think is overrated: if Asian countries produce more PhDs, and European universities encourage their faculty to publish rather than pontificate, it's a good thing for the world, and says nothing about changes in America. But some of this is very bad news: fewer foreigners are coming partially because visa restrictions are getting tougher for foreign students, and green cards are harder to get. Importing the best and brightest from India and China might be bad for India and China, but it's a windfall for us. Why is it so great?

Why, for the reasons laid out in this article. While Singaporeans and Germans are out studying physics and biochemistry, publishing journal articles and starting companies, American high school students are going to Creationist theme parks. Creationism sure is an appealing philosophy. Why bother studying hard classes like biochemistry and genetics when your church says it's all lies? This sort of foolishness didn't matter so much when it was a bunch of bumpkins in Tennessee who weren't going to amount to anything more than textile workers anyway, but now that those textile jobs have moved to other countries, it would be nice to get some warm bodies into science programs. What a shame the only thing that develops slower than the Southern economy is the Southern worldview. -Jim

In other troubling education news, CUNY has included an initiative in its four-year plan to recruit and retain more black men in its colleges. It looks like men in general are seriously in trouble in New York public higher education, representing only 38% of all CUNY students. The largest race group at CUNY schools is black (31%), so it makes sense to target black men specifically to raise enrollments of all men. Interestingly, schools within CUNY that have the highest majorities of black students also have the largest disproportion of female students: Medgar Evers College's students are 92% black and 78% female. Maybe the new breed of affirmative action programs need to focus not only on class, but also on gender. -Amy

April 6, 2004

Alanis and Hypocritical Censorship


By now, you have probably seen the photo of Alanis Morrisette wearing a bodysuit with removable nipples at the Canadian music awards the other night. The outfit was part of a bit where she lambasted America for "hypocritical...censorship," told a story about having to remove the word "asshole" from the song "Everything," and said she was "overjoyed to be back in my homeland, the true North... strong and censor-free." [source]

Well, not quite. In fact, it's interesting that Alanis didn't take the opportunity to criticize her own country for some recent official actions that have come a lot closer to censorship than what's been going on here lately. A few months ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (which in part serves as Canada's federal investigative bureau) began sifting through a reporter's garbage and eventually 20 officers raided her home, looking for information and sources for a story the reporter wrote about a suspected terrorist the US had recently deported to Syria. The incident caused such a kerfuffle the prime minister had to issue this clarification: "We are not a police state and we have no intention of being a police state." This, despite the fact that some of the officers dispatched to the reporter's apartment were from the RCMP's "the truth verification section." The raid happened in January, and the government is still reserving the right to prosecute her for the story. (The other day, she wrote about her experiences in Canada's National Post.)

Another issue that affects free speech in Canada is that they have fewer limitations on prior restraint than we do here. Judges can, and do, suppress verifiable information before that information is made public, something that happens only very rarely here. As the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in 1998, this can have a grave impact on investigative reporting in Canada. To wit:

Canadian journalists face other obstacles, many of which would not pass muster under the U.S. Constitution. Broadcast journalists, for example, are forbidden to use language that does not display "sensitivity to problems relating to sexual stereotyping." Reporters are barred from reporting background on the case between the time charges are brought and the start of the trial. Judges can stop the broadcast of a documentary when a company complains that proprietary information would be revealed. Prior restraint of publication, anathema in the States, is permissible in Canada because, as its chief justice pointed out in a recent ruling, the country does not have a First Amendment.
I'm not going to get into an Google-powered inventory of all the problems this has caused over the years, but one incident that comes to mind is the suppression of details in a rather grisly rape/murder case there about 10 years ago. A judge prohibited journalists from printing details related to the case, and Canadians ended up smuggling in American papers to learn about the case. Fortunately, the internet had just begun to be accessible by the common person, so devoted Canadians set up a Usenet group to trade information about the case, which the government then tried to limit access to. After that turned out to be fruitless, Canada began to prosecute people who distributed photocopies of articles about the case. (In fairness, the judge who barred coverage of the case did so to ensure an accomplice's right to a fair trial, one of the few cases in which prior restraint is permissible here, though the publication ban went on for years after the trial ended, and journalists are still being charged with reporting on the case.)

Anyway, everybody who loves me knows I love Alanis and Canada, but she should take a closer look at her own country before she starts criticizing us.

Finally, I think Canada's free speech restrictions are extensive enough that it should give some pause to all those Americans thinking of heading north post-election.

March 29, 2004

The Guardian's Agony Aunt

The UK's Guardian newspaper this week debuts a new column by Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, who will dispense advice to people's personal problems. This is a potentially genius move by the Guardian, which typically takes a progressive and liberal angle on the news, because it will display Widdecombe as the inflexible and mean weirdo that she is. The self-parody potential is significant. It's kind of like if Newt Gingrich (or Phyllis Schlafly?) started writing an advice column for Harper's. Widdecombe is known for her advocacy of "the stiffening of spines and the polishing of mettles," and in her interview with the Guardian about her new column, calls a number of the interviewer's questions "stupid," says she has never watched Oprah or been to a therapist, and says, "I think a good old dose of British reticence would actually be quite welcome. I can remember when reserve was considered the norm and people didn't talk about their, er [another disdainful pause], personal problems, particularly among the middle classes." It's just too good.

Other interesting things about Widdecombe: she has basically no record of ever being in a relationship with anybody, she features her cats on her homepage, and she has written several novels. Here's her first column, published today.

Healthy Nose Picking = Early April Fools Joke? Let's Find Out.

friedrich bischingerSomething about the widely reported and heavily blogged story that there are health benefits of nose-picking struck me as an early April Fools joke, so I set about trying to establish the existence of the story's source, Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, who is supposedly one of "Austria's top docs."

At first, I guess because of overly-specific queries, Bischinger was nowhere to be found in Google outside of the context of this story. He didn't exist before last week.

But then...A broader search yielded a treasure trove of Bischinger and his expertise, including his picture:

In case you can't get in touch, here's some of his meditations (translated by robots) on nicotine addiction, and how it's more powerful than sex:
Skurril is also the craze power of the cigarette or better the admittedly fascinating drug nicotine, which lets the difficulty of curing understand also. In one Pleasure Score sucked - thus an evaluation "which - how much desire and pleasure make", stand nicotine in highest place. Followed reduced from - in descending attractiveness - gambling, alcohol, power, sport, meal and far "Sex"!!! Possibly the cigarette is also a reason for the sinking geburtenzahlen, in any case is it a concurring cause for the increasing Unfruchtbarkeit of our civilization. We thus rather cough.
You can even email him via another page. So, of course, I did:
Hello. Is it true that picking the nose is good for you? Is it true that eating it is good for you? I saw the news story. May I believe it?

Ist es zutreffend, daß, die Nase auszuwählen für Sie gut ist? Ist es zutreffend, daß, es zu essen für Sie gut ist? Ich sah die Nachrichten Geschichte. Mag ich ihr glauben?

Thank you!

I will update this post as soon as I hear back from the Herr Doktor Bischinger.

Of course, it's still possible that either the doctor made it up for Austrian April Fools day (which was, actually, last week) or Ananova, the original source for the story, is pulling our legs, using a doctor from another country as a shill.

Aside from all this -- though I'm no doctor -- the argument that actually EATING your mucus is good for you just doesn't make much sense. Dried mucus is a waste product. Does it ever seem like eating your body's waste is a good idea? Sure, urine is better for you than salt water, but that's not saying much.

But just to be safe, you should probably keep picking. Especially at traffic lights.

Update: Well, he hasn't written back yet, I guess because the email address isn't valid. (One bounced, the other prompted no reply.) So here's the page where you can see all his contact info.

March 24, 2004

American Culture: Ugly or Beloved?

Last night I attended a forum sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy called American Culture in the World: Benevolent Force or Evil Empire? The forum is travelling around the country and has an impressive roster of speakers. I attended largely to see one of our favorite reporters Ashleigh Banfield, who tragically didn't show up. Here's who did:

Danny Schechter, the 'news dissector', is the author of Media Wars: News at a Time of Terror and general critic of how wimpy the media has gotten lately. He was speaking in place of Ashleigh Banfield, and echoed her statement that brought her under attack about the 'sanitized war' we've been watching.

Abderrahim Foukara is the UN reporter for Al-Jazeera, and grew up in Morocco. He spoke about the love and reverence that Arab people, especially young people, have for American culture. He repeatedly referred to America as a whole as an icon for the rest of the world. Like many other speakers at the forum, he said that people of the Arab world feel confusion and disillusionment that a country whose culture and history of democracy and freedom that they admire so much can have such messed up politics.

Similar comments from Ziba Mir Hosseini, an Iranian anthropoligist who is currrently teaching at the NYU Law School. She spoke about the respect that Iranians and other Muslims have for America, historically, and the disdain they have for what we've done lately. She got more worked up than any other speaker, saying that, though she loves Americans as individuals, she'd seen greater sophistication of cultural thought and better understanding of global politics in shantytowns in Morocco and in rural Iran than she has ever seen in the U.S.

There was also the CEO of Court TV, who I'm not sure why he was there, but the most exciting speaker of all was one of my personal musical heroes, Nile Rodgers. What was Nile doing there, you might ask? Turns out he started a foundation after 9/11 called the We Are Family Foundation that promotes global understanding and multiculturalism through the arts. Nile grew up in Greenwich Village, and had a lot to say about when he was working for Sesame Street as a guitarist, and their tour through South Africa. Nile also seemed to be there mostly so that all the other speakers could talk about how totally dorky and uncool they were compared to him.

March 18, 2004

Maureen Dowd on Spain, France, Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Bush, Kerry, and Jane Austen

A typically all-encompassing column from Maureen Dowd today, in which she takes on a little more than one Op-Ed piece can handle (it's only 700 words, Maureen!) Still, a lot of good points.

The current administration is reacting to the recent Spanish elections with a lot of "By voting the current party out of office, the Spanish are letting the terrorists win!" Of course, what they mean is, "If you American pissants all vote the current party out of office, you'll let the terrorists win!" The thing is, the Spanish people never seemed to support the war, and they certainly don't like it now that we know about the global wool-over-the-eyes deceptions that led to it in the first place. The latest reason we're hearing for why the war happened was that we want to promote democracy and political freedom in all nations. Not, however, in renegade countries like Spain, where the people democratically stated their preferences in the victory of the Socialist, anti-war party.

Then she goes into some Pride and Prejudice metaphor in which Kerry is "Pride", as the snotty-nosed, condescending rich boy (who she says is Mr. Collins in the book, but isn't Mr. Darcy supposed to be the "pride" character?) and further promotes one of the more irritating co-opted catchphrases in international politics, unfairly stolen from The Simpsons. She characterizes Bush as Elizabeth "Prejudice" Bennet, the dogmatic, inflexible one, incapable of recognizing facts that differ from his assumptions. Not the most carefully thought out literary parallel, but maybe she can come back to it in another column in which she hasn't also taken on the political developments of many European countries.

March 17, 2004

New Worst Movie Ever

Remember all that squabbling in the 1990's about how NEA money was funding art that a lot of people (mostly Republican Senators who did not appear to be frequenters of museums) found offensive? Well, now the UK has its own artistic scapegoat, in the form of a small, indepedently-produced movie called Sex Lives of the Potato Men. The reason for the uproar is that the film was subsidized with money from the British national lottery, which is a major funder of the arts, so some people argue that public money is paying for objectionable material. Of course, playing the lottery is hardly like paying taxes: if people don't want to fund artistic ventures that they might not agree with, they can not buy lottery tickets.

But at least over there, they get smart, educated movie critics to write pithy, adjective-heavy reviews in which they demonstrate their own wit while tearing the movie apart. All we have is Rudy Giuliani, in reference to Chris Ofili's 'The Virgin Mary', saying "I have a general rule that I follow: anything I can do isn't art. And if you want to throw dung at something, I could figure out how to do that. That is not art." Hey Rudy, if you're so clueless about how to make art, then keep your mouth shut.

The UK film critics got a few good jabs in, like Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, who wrote "The urgent debate for our native film industry seems to me to be as follows: should we put the gun barrel to our temples, or in our mouths for a cleaner kill?"; Will Self said the movie was "mirthless, worthless, toothless, useless." Just FYI, the movie features a lot of masturbation, nose-picking, dog poop, and fat people having sex. It doesn't look like it's slated for a US release.

February 17, 2004

The Troubles and John Kerry

The British press is interested in the continuing social, political, and religious problems in Northern Ireland, and today, in how John Kerry proposes to respond. A rash of suicides among Catholic teenage boys in Belfast highlights the ongoing problem of violence and terror, especially for young men. Depression and other forms of self-destructive behavior, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, are also common, but the suicides are raising greater alarm. Meanwhile, Kerry has criticized Bush's failure to advance the peace process, and is also urging the IRA and the all republican and loyalists paramilitary groups to disarm. Kerry's criticism of the Unionists for "refusing to form a government with Sinn Fein" should also be popular with the Irish-American population. However, these recent suicides and the violence around Belfast is largely attributed to the Irish National Liberation Army, a paramilitary offshoot of the IRA that has probably gotten a lot of its funding from Irish-Americans, who don't understand the realities of the terrorism they support. Kerry can gain a lot of supporters in the US by siding with Republican Irish activists, but he might want to keep focusing on the disarming part.

January 29, 2004

NY Times Frees Sex Slaves

The NYT continues its suddenly all-encompassing coverage of the sex slave industry with this "special op-ed" multimedia feature. Nicholas Kristof goes to Cambodia and buys the freedom of two slave girls.

This is reminiscent of a banner headline in Spin magazine about 10 years ago: "WE FREE A SEX SLAVE" The experiential journalistic behind that piece? Indefatigable novelist, historian, and reporter William T. Vollmann. The article isn't online, but he briefly discusses it in this interview.

January 21, 2004

We're too dumb to watch TV

The British Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, has stated that people in the UK need lessons in television viewing, so that they may better understand the difference between opinion and fact. She said that watching television as an informed viewer is like "understanding great literature," and that "Everyone needs to be able to decode the way the media works, questioning everything in order to understand everything."

The Secretary is encouraging viewers to catch up with postmodern trends in television programming (scripted "reality" shows, Law and Order using real news stories as plots, last night's State of the Union address) in hopes that they will stop complaining about shows they find worrisome, like Shattered, a game show in which participants went a week without sleep. Has the public gotten too lazy and complacent and unquestioning to even watch TV effectively? As Bill Hicks said, Go back to bed, America. And Britain.

January 15, 2004

Poor Lonely Tony Blair

Interesting commentary in The Guardian about the strange position Tony Blair has been put in regarding the US presidential election: he can't back the Democrats. Blair has swiveled his loyalty to Bush after his old flame Clinton left town, so he's maintained his alliance with the US (sort of) but simultaneously alienated himself from the rest of Europe and the developed world. Now that American Democratic candidates are letting the Bush/Blair policy have it, what's Tony to do? Change sides again? It will be interesting to see how Blair deals with Bush and UK/US relations when the really vicious campaigning starts.

December 29, 2003

Marriage, Divorce, and the Catholic Church

While the Pope continues his anti-gay-marriage stance, the people of Chile are fighting for their rights too, the right to get divorced. Chile is the only country in the western hemisphere where divorce is illegal (Malta and the Philippines are the only others in the world. ADM notes that divorce only became legal in Ireland in 1997--it was passed by 1/2 of one percent in a referendum.) The only legally sanctioned method of dissolving a marriage is annulment, which is a popular option among US Catholics as well. Annulments are acknowledged by both the Catholic church and governments, and allow marriages to end by claiming that they never legally took place. Common reasons given for the invalidity of marriages are usually "blatant fictions": couples often claim some administrative error or the emotional immaturity of either partner. Chileans also are allowed to end a marriage by claiming that a spouse who leaves them is "presumed dead" if the absent spouse is not available to prove otherwise. It's not much of a surprise to learn that wealthy and powerful people are often the ones who are able to pay the applicable lawyers' fees and marry many times, using the nullification system to their advantage.

Perhaps the Pope would be interested to see how the sacred institution of matrimony is being practiced in Chile, and maybe reassess the "divine gift" that has already been degraded very handily by straight people. -amy

But Catholics in America don't really have to worry about all this, since there are so many non-Catholics. If we marry one of them, and get divorced, we don't even need an annulment. The marriage is invalid by its nature, so we can move right on to the next one! Besides eternal salvation, this is probably one of the few unmitigated perks Catholics get. -adm

September 24, 2003

No Naked Jungle People Please, We're British

Kate Beckinsale, who has never been drunk, is shocked -- shocked!-- at the state of reality television in England, particularly because of Naked Jungle, in which participants accomplish feats and swing through rugged locales while nude. Show's been on for 3 years, Kate. Go get a beer and enjoy it.

September 10, 2003

10-year-old girl OD's on Ecstasy

Account of the death of a 10 year-old English girl who took 5 ecstasy tablets and died. Apparently she found the pills hidden among some older friends' belongings: "She was OK, but then started saying stuff, like moaning, and being really stupid and asking everyone to pick her up and kiss her."

About International

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Amy's Robot in the International category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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