The reusable olive oil bottle -- a staple on restaurant tables across Europe, evocative of summers in Tuscany and vineyards in southern Spain -- has been banned from restaurants by the powers that be in Brussels, in a move the European Commission has sought to frame as a consumer protection measure. Critics, however, see it as an attempt to prop up a struggling olive oil industry and representative of the European Union's bureaucratic overreach.
Reusable bottles, the Commission claims, are unhygienic, and there's a risk that they could be refilled with unknown, cheap, and low-quality oils. The AP has more:
"This will ensure a high-quality product for consumers," said Rafael Sanchez de Puerta of the Copa-Cogecas federation (a European farmers federation). Also, by displaying the name, origins and storing conditions, "this will help to preserve the image of olive oil."
Many, however, are unconvinced.
"With the euro crisis, a collapse in confidence in the EU, and a faltering economy, surely the commission has more important things to worry about than banning refillable olive oil bottles?" inquired one British member of the European Parliament. Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, called the regulations the "silliest" rules since the EU's infamous attempt to regulate the curvature of cucumbers.
Of course, the requirement that olive oil must be served in pre-packaged factory bottles, with tamper-proof nozzles and standardized labeling, is the sort of regulation that people love to mock. And others have voiced the more serious concern that, by placing an emphasis on standardized packaging, the regulations could help out large-scale olive oil producers -- many of which are located in some of Europe's weakest economies -- at the expense of smaller farms.
But consumers could actually use more protection when it comes to olive oil. The staple is one of the most fraud-prone agricultural products in Europe, in part because it's so much more valuable than other forms of oil and remains relatively easy to doctor with cheaper products like soybean and other seed oil. ("Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks," one investigator told writer Tom Mueller, who later went on to write a book about olive oil fraud). The EU, in fact, has an olive-oil task force dedicated solely to stopping trafficking in dodgy extra-virgin.
Still, this kind of large-scale fraud takes place at the level of producers and bottlers -- not at the restaurant table.
On Saturday night, Europe will grind to a halt to mark its annual celebration of the cheesy and the saccharine: the Eurovision finals. This year, the singing competition is being held in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, and the field features the typical collection of over-the-top Europop, earnest acts, and strange sub-plots (the bassist in the Swiss act is 95 years old).
The competition was first held in 1956 and conceived as a way of bringing Europeans together around an entertainment program. That hasn't exactly happened, and every year the competition is riven by petty national rivalries. The Scandinavian, Balkan, and former Soviet countries vote for each other, and the Greeks and Cypriots refuse to vote for the Turks.
Politics also tends to rear its head outside the venue. This year, for instance, there were calls to boycott Israel's inclusion in the contest. And last year, controversy erupted when Azerbaijan, that year's host, arrested a group of 50 anti-government protesters hoping to use the competition to draw attention to government abuses.
This year, the hottest political story involves a lesbian kiss in the Finnish act. Finland's parliament recently decided not to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and Krista Siegfrids plans to kiss one of her dancers on stage as an act of protest (her song, "Marry Me," seems at first blush to be about a woman desperate for a proposal from her boyfriend, but she's now conveniently turned it into a more subversive message).
But let's face it: The real draw isn't politics -- it's the outlandish performances. Without further ado, here are the 10 best (or worst, depending on your perspective) acts this year.
Denmark: One of the favorites to win this year. Note the totally earnest, totally awful tin whistle in the opening (thanks to reader FranzLiebkind for identifying the instrument).
Ukraine: Being carried onstage by a giant is certainly one way to start a performance.
Montenegro: Techno-dubstep astronaut rap, where have you been all my life?! Sadly, the act didn't make the finals.
Ireland: Embodying every bad trend in European music, complete with shirtless, tattooed drummer-dancers.
Latvia: These guys didn't make the finals, but I love them.
Macedonia: Is this the most unlikely looking duet in the history of Eurovision? I'm not sure, but I find it rather endearing.
Greece: Ska lives!
Norway: One of the other favorites to win this year.
Finland: Providing the hot political story of the year via a lesbian kiss protest.
Albania: Just the worst.
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You may not have heard of koro -- a mental syndrome in which a person has an overwhelming belief that his or her genitals are disappearing -- or zar-- a condition that generates dissociative episodes characterized by intense laughter and singing -- but that doesn't mean these are any less universal than, say, anorexia. At least that was the theme of a fascinating article by journalist Ethan Watters about "the Americanization of mental illness," published in the New York Times Magazine in 2010.
One of the primary points Watters makes is that the Western mental-health practitioners behind the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4) problematically placed "culture-bound" disorders -- like those mentioned above --in their own section at the back of psychiatry's most definitive diagnostic guide, implying that these syndromes are somehow affected by culture in a way that predominantly Western illnesses are not:
Western mental-health practitioners often prefer to believe that the 844 pages of the DSM-IV prior to the inclusion of culture-bound syndromes describe real disorders of the mind, illnesses with symptomatology and outcomes relatively unaffected by shifting cultural beliefs. And, it logically follows, if these disorders are unaffected by culture, then they are surely universal to humans everywhere. In this view, the DSM is a field guide to the world's psyche, and applying it around the world represents simply the brave march of scientific knowledge.
But Watters disagrees with that approach. "In the end," he concludes, "what cross-cultural psychiatrists and anthropologists have to tell us is that all mental illnesses, including depression, P.T.S.D. and even schizophrenia, can be every bit as influenced by cultural beliefs and expectations.... [M]ental illness is an illness of the mind and cannot be understood without understanding the ideas, habits and predispositions - the idiosyncratic cultural trappings - of the mind that is its host."
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), it seems, is heeding that advice. The organization is unveiling DSM-5, the long-anticipated (14 years, to be exact) new edition of its manual, over the weekend during its annual meeting in San Francisco. And based on preliminary information, the task force that wrote it appears to have been more sensitive to the nuances of patient care across countries.
"Rather than a simple list of culture-bound syndromes," reads one statement on the APA's methodology, "DSM-5 updates criteria to reflect cross-cultural variations in presentations, gives more detailed and structured information about cultural concepts of distress, and includes a clinical interview tool to facilitate comprehensive, person-centered assessments."
What exactly will this look like? Instead of relegating cultural expressions of mental disorders to the back of the book, the manual will incorporate these throughout the text. The example the APA provides is for social anxiety disorder. In the new manual, "fear of 'offending others'" will be included in order to reflect "the Japanese concept in which avoiding harm to others is emphasized rather than harm to oneself."
Another example: A preliminary version of the DSM-5, which the APA released for feedback last year, updated the criteria for dissociative identity disorders so that professionals won't need to diagnose practices like shamanism as a mental illness. In the new manual, practitioners are told that if the so-called "disturbance" is actually "a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice," then it does not technically constitute dissociative identity disorder.
Changes such as these are definitely a start. But all the medical anthropologists out there need not worry. With ambiguous words like "broadly accepted" and "normal" peppered in the DSM-5, there's certainly still room for criticism.
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Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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Reuters brings us today's reminder that the world is a confusing, intricately interconnected place:
Disgruntled Bulgarian truck drivers blocked traffic at two major border checkpoints with neighboring Turkey on Friday to protest against what they said were Turkish restrictions to their operations.
Among those caught up in the blockade, now in its second day, was British band Depeche Mode, which was forced to cancel its concert in Istanbul on Friday because trucks carrying equipment from Bulgaria could not get through.
Depeche Mode, for its part, has apologized to Turkish fans on its website:
We regret to inform ticket holders for tonight's show in Istanbul at KüçükÇiftlik Park that, due to circumstances beyond the control of Depeche Mode and Purple Concerts, tonight's show will not be taking place. The Bulgarian trucking blockade at the Bulgaria-Turkey border has prevented Depeche Mode's production trucks from crossing the border into Turkey, forcing this situation.
As if ticket holders couldn't have seen the Bulgarian trucking blockade coming.
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In much of the Middle East, Wednesday was Nakba Day, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the exodus of Palestinian refugees in the war that resulted in the establishment of Israel in 1948 -- an event known in Arabic as "al-Nakba," or "the catastrophe."
Predictably, the largest demonstrations were held by Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank; the Associated Press estimates the total number of protesters in the tens of thousands, some of whom skirmished with Israeli police and military forces. But neighboring countries, despite having large Palestinian refugee populations and politicians who pay frequent lip service to the rights of Palestinians, remained quiet.
In the heyday of the pan-Arab movement, May 15, the day after the declaration of the state of Israel, was an annual rallying point for expressing solidarity with the plight of displaced Palestinians, Hilal Khashan, a professor at the American University of Beirut, told FP by email. Palestinian groups "tied resurging Arab nationalism in the early 1950s to the Nakba, which became its legitimizing cause. The Baath party and other pan-Arab parties ... observed it, as well as [refugee] camp residents, on an annual basis." But that waned with the pan-Arab movement and, after 1967, "Arabs forgot about the Nakba Day and focused, instead, on seeking to recover the lands Israel occupied in that war."
The anniversary this year was barely acknowledged outside of the protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were, for instance, only a handful of events in Lebanon. Iran's PressTV struggled to find a Nakba event to cover in Egypt, settling on a half-empty Nakba Day press conference hosted by the Building and Development Party. A handful of protesters posted signs outside of diplomatic buildings in Cairo, but for its article on the commemorations, Ahram Online chose to run pictures of larger protests in 2011. Tunisia's governing Ennahda Party released a statement on its Facebook page for the occasion, but Tunisian news sites didn't report any significant protests. The same in Jordan, home to the largest population of Palestinian expatriates. Meanwhile, approximately 350 people in Sydney, Australia shut down a thoroughfare, and a couple hundred university students in Karachi, Pakistan gathered for a protest.
The most notable Nakba Day protests outside of Israel in recent memory took place in 2011, after years of relative indifference to the occasion in the region, when protesters in Syria and Lebanon rushed the border and several were killed as Israeli forces responded. A month later, though, Michael Weiss reported in the Telegraph that the incident was orchestrated by the Syrian government in an attempt to distract from the country's growing domestic protests. A Google Trends analysis of "nakba" shows a spike of searches for the word in 2011 and a precipitous decline in interest over the past two years.
Unless an Arab government tries to revive Nakba Day as a distraction again, that trend's unlikely to change soon. "Arabs are currently preoccupied with their internal strife," Khashan told FP, "and the Palestinians are divided between the PLO and Hamas. In this period of uncertain transition, the Nakba Day has retreated to insignificance."
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On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out forcefully against the attacks. Parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." Just two days ago, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
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British consular officials are completely fed up with fielding stupid requests for assistance from Britons abroad. Or, at the very least, that's the clear subtext of a ridiculous press release by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that lists the most bizarre requests British diplomatic posts have received in 2012 and 2013 (it also makes the U.S. State Department's press releases look incredibly boring).
The release describes the requests as "often good natured" but notes that they "can take valuable time away from helping those in genuine distress." To put it less politely: "Dear Britons, we are far too busy dealing with real problems to help you pick out a perfect tattoo during your debauched romp through the Mediterranean."
Here, in all its glory, is the full list:
So, Britain, please stop bothering your country's harried diplomats with your inane requests. They don't care about your tattoo.
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