French President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) has brought his right-wing activity of "le jogging" to New York City today. He and wife Carla Bruni (center) are in the Big Apple so he can attend the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. For unknown reasons, he is not wearing his favorite NYPD T-shirt.
Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a champion judoka who has coauthored a book on judo, said he would be giving Sarkozy some lessons in the martial art. The next U.S. president had better watch out: It looks like some world leaders are training to go mano a mano.
European governments frequently accuse Russia of playing pipeline politics with its energy supplies, but a group of enterprising smugglers found a way to keep a different kind of liquid fuel flowing into Eastern Europe.
Estonian authorities recently discovered a two-kilometer underwater pipeline that was set up to pump cheap Russian vodka under a reservoir into Estonia where it could be sold at a markup without export tarrifs. The smugglers managed to pump 6,200 liters of the stuff under the border before they were shut down.
With this supply cut off, Western diplomats will, no doubt, soon be dispatched to strong-arm Caucasian states into an amibitious trans-Caspian project to pump Uzbek vodka into southern Europe.
Vladimir Putin may no longer be the president of sexy after all. The Russian magazine Sex & the City just released a ranking of Russia's hottest politicians and the shirtless-fishing, tiger-shooting prime minister is ranked... No. 2.
Adding insult to injury, Putin was pushed into second place by Boris Nemtsov (right), a former deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition party Union of Right Forces. Nemtsov's recent white paper on corruption under Putin was described by the Carnegie Endowment's Lilia Shevtsova as a "bomb, which anywhere but in Russia would cause the country to collapse."
Putin's loyal toadies in the Duma were quick to step forward and defend their fearless leader's staggering sexiness:
Sergei Markov, a United Russia deputy in the State Duma, said he was taken aback by the result.
"Putin is way better than Nemtsov," he said. "He's one of the sexiest politicians in the world." His looks may be average, he conceded, but his "decisive, harsh and unbending" character makes him extremely attractive.
This is probably not Markov's proudest day in public office.
If Putin's feeling are hurt, he can take comfort in his number-one ranking on Vanity Fair's new "most influential" list and the fact that he's still way hotter than Dmitry Medvedev, number 7 on the Sex & the City list.
Last night, you may have noticed something odd in the background of John McCain's acceptance speech. Roughly a minute into the Arizona senator's remarks, a fancy-looking building with a nicely groomed lawn popped up on the jumbo screen behind him.
I remember thinking: What's that? His spread in Sedona? Why would they possibly want to show that? Turns out, it was a photograph of the Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, California:
Whoops. An image that was probably meant to underscore McCain's support for veterans has become a hilarious blooper that will no doubt end up as fodder for late-night talk show hosts and the Democratic Party.
Walter Reed Middle School's principal, Donna Tobin, posted the following statement Friday on the school's official blog:
It has been brought to the school’s attention that a picture of the front of our school, Walter Reed Middle School, was used as a backdrop at the Republican National Convention. Permission to use the front of our school for the Republican National Convention was not given by our school nor is the use of our school’s picture an endorsement of any political party or view.
What the McCain team likely meant to show was D.C.'s Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which treats wounded soldiers and was the subject of a damning Washington Post investigation in 2007.
The most amazing part about this debacle is that whatever poor intern or tech dude got the wrong photo had at least three plausible chances to get it right. Below is a shot of Walter Reed General Hospital on the WRAMC campus on Georgia Avenue:
That building in the background is a newer facility, the Heaton Pavilion:
And here's the Walter Reed National Military Center, a new building in Bethesda, Md., that President Bush inaugurated on July 3:
If no one in Venezuela noticed that the Olympics were over, it was because there is yet a bigger, more strategic game to be won. Care to guess? A soccer match? A local election? President Hugo Chávez trying out for American Idol?
Nice try. As defending champion of the Miss Universe competition, the country is going all out to defend its title.
At the Miss Venezuela pageant, step one toward Miss Universe victory, stakes are high and the training is brutal. The competition's Wikipedia entry claims that preparation for finalists can last up to six months. Rough, says one participant:
"It's like a military school, it is really tough...Apart from the exercise there is the diet, chicken and salad, chicken and salad."
The pageant is a culture, a phenomenon, and a highly rated TV program watched nationwide.
And even for those uninterested in such vain displays, there's politics to boot. The country must have been glowing with pride when neighbor -- and often rival -- Colombia took 2nd place to Venezuela in Miss Universe last year. Rumor also has it that the Colombians have sent pageant candidates to be trained in Venezuela's academies in the past.
The country's newest Miss Venezuela -- upon whose shoulders the dreams of beauty domination will ride -- is set to be crowned next week.
I once went to a party in college where the hosts had hung their furniture upside-down from the ceiling. But this takes the cake:
The house, in the town of Trassenheide on Germany's Baltic Sea island of Usedom, is appropriately named "The World Stands on its Head." It opens today as a tourist attraction.
Here's what it looks like inside:
The only thing that's right-side up? The stairs.
Six months ago, Passport wrote about how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict struck the board game Monopoly, which at the time was having an online vote to determine the 22 cities to include in its world edition.
Today, the world edition of the game officially goes on sale, with 22 worldwide cities selected through a process that included more than 5.6 million online votes. The city with the most expensive rent? Montreal! Its partner in the dark blue property group -- the most expensive in the game -- is Riga, the capital of Latvia. The two cheapest properties, the brown group, are the write-in cities of Taipei and Gdynia, Poland, which isn't too far from Riga.
Oh, and the controversial Jerusalem did make it onto the board, in the yellow group with Hong Kong and Beijing.
Jonathan Kolieb complains this morning that "many television hosts, commentators, even Congresspeople seem to have a problem correctly enunciating the name of the country America occupies" -- Iraq.
He's got a point. It's pronounced roughly like ee-Rahk, not eye-Rack. You'd think that by now, most folks would have gotten that right. Ditto for the president of Russia, whose name still seems to confuse the entire political class in Washington.
I've noticed, too, that Barack Obama gets himself into trouble when he correctly says "Pah-ki-stan," but puts too long an "ee" sound on "Taliban" and then says "Afghanistan" in the normal American way.
Still, one can go too far with the whole proper pronunciation thing. "Al Qaeda," for instance, can come across as incredibly pretentious when pronounced properly, with the infamous "ayn" sound that trips up even the most diligent students of Arabic (ayn is also the first letter in the word "Iraq"). It's just not practical when speaking English to bust out with what sounds to the untrained ear like a camel with indigestion. Plus, any American who walks around saying "Pah-Ree" is liable to get punched in the face.
And let's not even get into Georgian...
U.S. President George W. Bush (L) plays beach volleyball with U.S. beach volleyball player Misty May Treanor in Beijing on August 9, 2008.
These two photos seem to say an awful lot about the difference between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev:
I'm not much of a fisherman, but I'm guessing that bringing military personnel along to scoop up your catch isn't typical.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi got Italy's lower house of Parliament to agree today on a controversial crime bill, which critics say would allow him to wiggle out of various corruption charges.
Here's what the oft-prosecuted Berlusconi had to say:
I'm the universal record-holder for the number of trials in the entire history of man -- and also of other creatures who live on other planets."
I'd fact-check this, but I'm not sure there's an intergalactic version of the Guiness Book of World Records. Guess we'll have to take his word for it.
Iran's state media faced the withering scorn of the blogosphere yesterday when online sleuths discovered that Sepah News, the voice of Iran's fearsome Revolutionary Guards, had doctored a photograph of the Islamic Republic's oh-so-scary missile test. Someone had pasted in a fourth missile, perhaps to cover up a dud launch. Top newspapers around the United States, to their chagrin, had given the bogus image frontpage treatment. (By pure luck, we weren't duped.)
Somehow, all the Photoshop fun has made Iran seem a lot less frightening. Almost like a big, friendly kitten.
I think I have a new favorite sport: bog snorkeling.
A competitor takes part in the third annual World Bog Snorkeling Triathlon on July 6 in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. The event, where competitors are required to complete a full run of approximately 12 miles, a bog snorkel of approximately 120 yards through the bog trench, and a 19-mile mountain bike ride, is seen as a preview to the annual Bog Snorkeling World Championship that takes place this year on August 25.
Passport has the day off tomorrow for the July 4th holiday here in the United States, so here's an early Friday photo to contemplate. Enjoy your weekend!
WASHINGTON - JULY 02: Eight-year-old Peter Wajda of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, poses for photographs on top of 10,512 sneakers tied by their laces and laid heel-to-toe in the courtyard at National Geographic Society headquarters July 2, 2008 in Washington, DC. Assembled by National Geographic Kids magazine, the string of shoes was certified Wednesday by Guinness World Records as the longest chain of shoes, measuring 8,700 feet or nearly 1.65 miles. Wajda, a third-grader at Moorestown Friends School, organized a shoe drive and collected 509 of the shoes used to set the record. The shoes will be shipped to Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe program and recycled into basketball courts and other play surfaces.
After lampooning America as "Borat," it appears the world's most notorious British comic may be setting his sights on the Middle East. His next film, featuring the character "Bruno," a flamboyant
German Austrian homosexual, is set for release in May 2009. And, if this encounter with two über-serious advocates of Israeli-Palestinian peace is any indication, it's going to be hilarious:
We exchanged astonished glances. "Hamas," we explained, "is a Palestinian Islamist political movement. Hummus is a food."
"Ya, but vy hummus? Yesterday I had to throw away my pita bread because it vas dripping hummus. Unt it's too high in carbohydrates."
The Hamas-hummus confusion went on for several minutes. Then, the interviewer declared: "Your conflict is not so bad. Jennifer-Angelina is worse."
Here's an end-of-the-workday treat for you: Nicolas Sarkozy acting like a jerk for a change.
The brand-new EU president was preparing for an interview on French TV last night and had some words for a sound technician who failed to return his "bonjour." Facing widespread public protests throughout France, Sarkozy seemed to read it as a politically motivated snub. Here's a translation provided by the Guardian:
When you're invited on, you are entitled to have people say hello to you, or you're not on in the public sector," he growls. "It's all demonstrators here ... It's incredible ... And serious. That will change."
The EU just got a whole lot classier.
If you want to become a German citizen, you'll have to pass a new citizenship test as of September 1. The test has 33 questions on the country's politics, history, and society. To pass, you have to answer 17 questions correctly (52 percent of the total 33).
Seven sample multiple-choice questions were unveiled this week. I took the mini-test here and passed, but just barely (I got four questions right). How did you all score? Feel free to leave comments below.
And, for anyone planning to become an American, the United States will be using a redesigned citizenship test as of October 1 that is supposed to focus less on civics trivia and more on fundamentals about the country's government, history, and geography. Ten sample questions are here. I doubt many American-born citizens would know the answers to most of these questions. In fact, Gary Gerstle, a professor of American history at Vanderbilt University, told the New York Times that of those who take the test:
[T]heir knowledge of American history may even exceed the knowledge of millions of American-born citizens.
No word yet on whether the German or American citizenship tests' study materials will include a DVD of gay men kissing and a topless woman on the beach -- images found in the Netherland's test-prep package.
In Japan, where people seem to have a fondness for high-tech gizmos and small, cute things à la Hello Kitty, an engineering professor and his students are serving up something, er, gastronomic: the world's smallest bowl of Ramen noodles.
The bowl is 0.001 millimeters in diameter, while the noodles were 0.002 millimeters long and 0.00002 millimeters thick.
But this wasn't just a fun stunt. The whole thing is made from carbon-based nanotubes, whose special properties (they're stronger than steel) mean they have the potential for wide use in electronics and medicine. Note: not food! As Masayuki Nakao, the engineer behind the creation, stressed to the Associated Press, "… they are not edible."
BROCKWORTH, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 26: Contestants in the men's race chase a Double Gloucester Cheese down the steep gradient of Cooper's Hill in pouring rain during the annual Bank Holiday tradition of cheese-rolling on May 26, 2008 in Brockworth in Gloucestershire, England. Thousands of spectators gather to watch contestants from around the world tumbling down the 200m slope - which has a 1:1 gradient in parts - in a series of races, said to date back hundreds of years, with the winner of each receiving a cheese. Injuries are commonplace, even forcing cancellation of the event in the past.
Fans of the NBC show "The Office" know that the TV show is based on a British series of the same name that first aired on BBC back in 2001. What they might not know is that similar to telenovelas, reality shows like "Big Brother," and other TV genres, it's truly gone global. The French have "Le Bureau," the Quebecois have "Le Job," the Germans have "Stromberg," and Chileans are about to air their own version of the show too.
What viewers might not realize is that the show is actually, well, "Japanese" in origin. On "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend, series creator Ricky Gervais talked about how the Asian version first inspired him. Then he presented the following clip. Enjoy!
State gifts have a long history of goofiness, (300 lbs of lamb?) but I have to hand it to Bill Gates. His recent gift of a traditional mother of pearl-inlaid X-Box 360 to South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is both beautiful and functional. Plus, it helps boost Microsoft's numbers against Sony for dominance of the South Korean gaming market.
The decoration is the handiwork of Kim Young-jun [pictured above], the head of a manufacturing company called Gookbo. "I got a call from Microsoft Korea last month," Kim said. "They told me something about an Xbox, but I had no idea what that was. I thought they were talking about some kind of black box."
Even so, [Noah's ark] would struggle to comply with modern marine transport guidelines, even with a few thousand creatures.
That's from a very weird Reuters story that uses the upcoming U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity as a peg to discuss whether or not the Noah's ark story really happened. Biologists, environmentalists, creationists, shipbuilders, and "livestock shipping experts" all weigh in.
By the way, if you're ever in the greater Cincinnati area, I highly recommend a visit to Answers in Genesis' infamous Creation Museum. In addition to learning just how all those animals did fit on the ark, you can also see some pretty scary animatronic dinosaurs in the full-scale Garden of Eden replica.
I don't think I'm alone in considering "Obama girl" and her imitators the most annoying Internet meme of the 2008 U.S. election (including the entire Ron Paul campaign). But I suppose it was only inevitable that the phenomenon would go global. Anonymous Russian Internet jokers have redubbed the entire "I've Got a Crush on Obama" video into Russian to make it about new president Dmitry Medvedev.
Apparently, many Russians feel that Medvedev can come across as a bit of a nerd compared with his macho, judo-practicing, shirtless-fishing predecessor. If that's the case, the derivative "Medvedev girl" is going to have to up her game to top girl group Poyushchiye Vmeste's 2002 classic, "Someone like Putin," which had the memorable chorus: "I want someone like Putin, full of strength / Someone like Putin, who doesn't drink / Someone like Putin, who doesn't hurt me / Someone like Putin, who won't run away."
Just try to get it out of your head:
Maybe we don't have to worry that Americans are too dumb to read the Economist after all.
A teenage rap duo in Chicago has recorded a track, aptly called "The Economist," that extols the British publication's breadth and brevity and samples podcast commentary by correspondents Edward Lucas and Anthony Gottlieb.
"The style in which they write is simple and concise, how do they get their sentences so precise?" the rappers wonder. [UPDATE: Matt Yglesias quips, "The answer, of course, is 'heavy-handed editing' facilitated by lack of bylines."]
And the chorus is a gem, too: "He reads the Economist so he can get the gist, its solid competence gives him confidence that his intelligence is correct."
The rappers also weigh in on accusations that the Economist pushes a particular line: "Yes, they have a bias; it's pro-democratic. And pro-free trade; they are very emphatic."
Jay-Z it is not. But it is funny stuff.
OK, not really:
Iraqi students of the University of Technology, Baghdad, pretend to drink alcohol as they drink soft drinks during a celebration of their university day on May 4, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq.
Earlier this month, the documentary version of FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím's bestselling book Illicit aired on the TV channel PBS in the United States. The film and book documents how -- as the book's subtitle says -- "smugglers, traffickers, and copycats are hijacking the global economy."
Those copycats who profit off pirated DVDs had better be careful, though. The doggy duo of Lucky and Flo are out to get them. The black Labs are the first canines to have been trained to sniff out the polycarbonates found in DVDs and CDs. Although they can't differentiate between legit and pirated discs, their noses lead human investigators to discs that are hidden in cargo that has been declared as having other items, such as clothing. Lucky and Flo have been so successful that they've even received death threats from crime syndicates.
Check out a video of the furry crime fighters here:
Where In the World Is Osama bin Laden?, a documentary by Morgan Spurlock -- the man who ate McDonald's cuisine for 30 days straight for Super Size Me -- took on the task of finding al Qaeda's leader. As Spurlock explained in a Seven Questions interview with FP last week, sometimes a comedic film can get an audience to pay attention to a serious topic.
This week, Harold and Kumar -- those two guys from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle -- take on the subject of Guantánamo Bay, though their purpose doesn't seem to have anything to do with prompting serious discussion about the controversial prison. In Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, debuting this Friday, the pair board a flight to Amsterdam with a bong. That gets them sent to Gitmo. The duo make a wild escape, of course. Politically incorrect humor is abundant.
Some reviews say the movie falls short of White Castle's charm, but it currently has a 78 percent on the tomatometer. So, if you need something to do this weekend, you have two choices: Gain a bit of enlightenment with Spurlock, or lose a few IQ points with Harold and Kumar.
Language purists in France are fuming. The country's entry in the Eurovision music contest has English lyrics! (OK, two lines are in French.) Of the 43 countries participating, more than half -- 25 -- submitted songs in English. It sounds like there's a new linga franca.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.