RUD14ME? That's the question people in the United Arab Emirates who covet the vanity license plate with the single digit "1" must be asking themselves. The "1" license plate is going up for auction and is expected to end up as the world's most expensive license plate. The number "5" has already sold for a record $6.75 million. I guess those willing to plunk down millions for a vanity plate have the philosophy that U LIV 1S.
What was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing last month when he donned these funkadelic shades?
UPDATE: And the winning entry, sent in by reader LHE—
The press awaits Ahmadinejad's review of "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour in 3D."
Thanks to all those who participated. Good stuff!
We've heard a lot about how folks around the world are tuning in eagerly to the '08 campaign in the United States. But what about China? "Sufei" from Sexy Beijing wanted to know what the Chinese "man on the street" thinks about the U.S. elections. The answer? Not much:
Judging from the video, Chuck Norris is not exactly a household name in China, either.
BERLIN, GERMANY- German-born Turk Murat Kurnaz, a former detainee at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay prison, as he waits for the beginning of his hearing at the German Parliament in Berlin to give evidence at a parliamentary inquiry.
It's always somewhat disconcerting to see retired leaders in new contexts. Exhibit A: Decorated general and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was the guest of honor Monday on ABC's The View, the daytime playground of veteran journalist Barbara Walters. She greeted Powell thusly:
Walters: I'm so pleased. We're also delighted that the day you watched the show was the day we were doing the breast pumping.
Powell: Well, I was just sitting there working at my computer, and suddenly I heard this noise behind me and demonstrations of it all, and I couldn't resist turning around and watching for a minute or so.
Check out the full clip here.
Donatella Versace (sister of the late Gianni) says that, thanks to the success of Putinomics, Russian women aren't as tacky as they used to be:
A few weeks ago when I returned to Russia for the first time in a decade, I found it much changed. The arrival of more brands has transformed the retail landscape. When people have choice, they can decide what they like. Back in the Nineties there was little choice but now women can shop here in the same way that they can in Milan or London or Paris, and that has, of course, altered the way they dress.
But what really struck me was the way in which this choice is now being exercised. Gone is the tendency towards ostentation and “bling”. Instead, today’s Russian women are in search of something more sophisticated. At a cocktail party I held at my Moscow store, I was greeted by many extremely well-dressed customers; but two stood out. They had a great freshness and confidence, and were dressed in a modern and understated way. It turned out that they were the granddaughters of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Of course, grandpa Gorby prefers Louis Vuitton:
For some reason, my mom always told me that fortune cookies were invented by Jews from Brooklyn. I have no idea where she got that from. And it turns out she was wrong. But her main point was right: that fortune cookies were not Chinese, never were Chinese, and never would be. Go to China, and what's for dessert? Fruit! Go to Taiwan, and what's for dessert? More fruit! Fortune cookies are a pure American invention. They caught on in Chinese-American restaurants. But they aren't Asian.
Or are they? It turns out that fortune cookies have their roots in Japan, not China. According to the New York Times's Jennifer 8. Lee (who, natch, has a book coming out in March, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, about Chinese Americans and food), a Japanese scholar named Yasuko Nakamachi has dug up evidence that fortune cookie-shaped biscuits were crafted by hand near a temple in Kyoto as early as 1878. They made their first appearance in California in the early 1900s, possibly brought over by Japanese immigrants, and then were co-opted by Chinese immigrants. Nakamachi suspects that it happened because Japanese immigrants often owned Chinese "chop suey" (also American, not Chinese) restaurants in the United States during the first part of the 20th century. Chinese owners then took over the restaurants when the Japanese were rounded up and placed in internment camps during WWII. It wasn't until the 1950s that they became popular throughout the United States, after cookie-makers learned how to mass-produce them.
The funny thing is, in discussions of inter-Asian rivalry, many Chinese often complain that elements of Japanese and Korean culture actually stem from China, if you go back far enough. Now we've got a modern Chinese-American food that actually stems from Japan. But the most important question for Nakamachi and Lee is: Who decided it would be fun to tack on the words "in bed" to the end of every fortune?
In the United States, airplane food has a long reputation for being absolutely wretched, if it's even served at all. But in some other countries, the food can actually be quite satisfying. The fun Web site AirlineMeals.net compiles photos of airplane meals submitted by passengers from around the world and includes comments and ratings on the food. (Some actually get perfect 10s!)
To date, the site includes nearly 19,000 photos from more than 500 airlines ranging from Air Madagascar to British Airways to Qantas to Uzbekistan Airways. (The photos are searchable by airline.) There's no quantitative analysis of the ratings, but in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the site, its creator—a graphic and Web designer in the Netherlands—says, "airlines from Asia get the best results... Singapore Airlines, JAL Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways International, Emirates." Makes for some tasty food for thought.
FP obtained the following top-secret document outlining 10 iron-clad rules that the best pundits must follow in order to have fruitful careers and multiply their earnings.
After a long internal debate, we decided to share this vital—but possibly dangerous—information with you, our loyal readers. Enjoy.
The foreign-policy scholar was searching for inspiration. He walked on high, to the TV Studio of Knowledge. And the Lord of all Pundits revealed himself in a flash of klieg lights. And it was said unto him, “Follow these Ten Commandments and you and your think tank shall forever be a People of Pundits close to my heart.”
The scholar thanked the Lord “for having me on today.” And it was good. And he spread the 10 Commandments of Punditry to all the think tanks of the Earth.
The scholar works at a think tank in Washington, D.C. and is a sinner of the first order.
The Writers Guild of America strike has been going on for nine long weeks and one day now, and so far there's no end in sight. True, David Letterman has been back on the air for a few days with writers, and Jay Leno without. And fake news stalwarts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were back on last night, with mixed results. (My verdict? Stewart: meh. Colbert: in fine form.) But this Sunday's Golden Globes awards show ceremony has been reduced to a news conference, and despite the premieres of several mid-season TV shows, fresh content is quickly running out.
The Writers Guild has created a series of ads called "Speechless" as part of their campaign to get their plight noticed. In the first spot, we see a depiction of what might happen if the strike continued indefinitely. What if the writers' jobs were sent to India?
Supermodel Naomi Campbell apparently really dug deep last week when she got the chance to interview Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for the British edition of GQ. Asked which world leader is the best dressed, Chávez plugged his friend's radical chic:
Fidel, of course! His uniform is impeccable. His boots are polished, his beard is elegant."
The Venezuelan strongman also had some choice words for George W. Bush:
Like the fairy-tale, the emperor [George Bush] is naked. We've seen the emperor's ass."
And, bizarrely, the British royal family:
I like the Prince. Now he has Camilla, his new girl. She's not attractive is she?"
Don't be offended, Charles. He's probably just jealous.
There are 71 characters named "Hillary," though a search for "HillaryClinton" comes up dry. Mike Huckabee, with 30 as "Huckabee" and two people going by "Mikehuckabee," is no slouch. There are 27 "McCain" avatars and another four for "JohnMcCain," and even "Romney," with 25 characters, makes an appearance.
For a top politician you can't continue in power when you are seen naked."
—Political analyst Ooi Kee Beng, commenting on news that Malaysia's health minister resigned after admitting being the guy in a widely distributed sex video
A fun game that's been making the rounds on Facebook lately is also available directly online. TravelPod's Traveler IQ Challenge is a 21st-century version of a geography bee. The site presents a blank world map with country borders, and asks you to click as closely as you can to various cities and famous locations. There are 12 rounds, starting with easy world cities (think London and Paris) and getting progressively harder (think Niamey, Niger and Honiara, Solomon Islands). You're only allowed to pass on to the next level after you've passed each round. It's incredibly addictive, because you can take the test as many times as you want, and the program will generate different locations each time you take it. It also gets really, really difficult. I had a particularly hard time locating cities in West Africa and anyplace in Australia besides Sydney and Ayres Rock. Also, because the map is so small, a little twitch of the the hand when you mean to click your mouse on Vancouver can easily put you in Seattle. I can't seem to get past Round 11, but I bet plenty of Passport readers would do better. Have fun!
A Kodiak bear receives a Christmas treat at Taronga Zoo on December 20, 2007 in Sydney, Australia. Taronga Zoo celebrated Christmas early by giving treats to the zoo's giraffes, Kodiak bears, chimpanzees, and lions--providing a wonderful natural display for zoo visitors.
And with that, Happy Holidays and safe travels, everyone. We'll see you next Wednesday, December 26, when (light) posting resumes. The Morning Brief will be back on January 2.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2007, and don't forget to subscribe to the magazine if you don't already. At just 25 bucks for two years, it's a bargain. And if you give your friend or family member a subscription, we'll throw in a one-year subscription for free (existing subscribers will get their subscriptions renewed for free under this deal).
Earlier this month, Passport noted that a Swedish consulting firm had calculated that Santa Claus should begin his worldwide toy-delivery journey in the mountains of northern Kyrgyzstan—at latitude (N) 40.40°, longitude (E) 74.24°, to be exact—to maximize efficiency of distribution and minimize strain on his reindeer.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have become quite excited by the prospect that Father Christmas might be relocating from the North Pole (now claimed by the Russians anyway) to their Central Asia country. They're apparently so excited that they've decided to name one of their many unnamed peaks "Mount Santa Claus." A group of mountain climbers is scaling the lucky peak, and on Christmas Eve, in an official ceremony at the summit, it will bury a capsule containing the Kyrgyz flag.
Why would a former Soviet country that's 75 percent Muslim be so embracing of Saint Nicholas? Answer: It's a way to promote tourism to the isolated, but beautifully mountainous, country. An international Santa Claus conference is already being organized for the summer. Maybe it's time to repaint Santa's mailbox.
'Tis the season for wacky business revelations—or rather, wacky revelations about business people. The Financial Times' John Gapper highlights a number of incidents likely to raise a few eyebrows. For instance, David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group, bought a copy of the Magna Carta for $23.1 million. He plans to display it at the National Archives in Washington, to "repay a debt I have to the country." Less charitably, the CEO of Sallie Mae, the student loan behemoth that is in trouble thanks to the subprime crisis, bailed on a conference call:
It started amiably but Al Lord, its chief executive, then got into a tussle with analysts about how much information he was divulging. The call ended with Mr Lord saying testily to his head of investor relations head: "Let's get the (expletive deleted) out of here" and Sallie Mae's shares dropping 21 per cent.
You might have thought that staying on a call long enough to answer questions and remaining polite would not be too much to ask of a chief executive trying to retain confidence in his company.
HBO President Chris Albrecht allegedly punches and chokes his girlfriend while drunk at 3 A.M. in a Las Vegas parking lot.
I like Mackey's haircut. I think he looks cute." -- Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, posting under the screen name Rahodeb, on a Yahoo Finance stock forum. The Federal Trade Commission reveals that Mackey authored this and numerous other posts over an eight-year period, hyping his company and himself while trashing the competitor he hoped to acquire, Wild Oats.
In July, as Bear Stearns executives futilely attempt to prop up two hedge funds that ultimately collapse amid the subprime meltdown, CEO James Cayne spends ten of 21 workdays out of the office, playing golf and competing in a bridge tournament in Tennessee. According to The Wall Street Journal, his fellow bridge enthusiasts claim that Cayne sometimes smokes marijuana at the end of tournament sessions.
It may soon be time to cross Nicolas Sarkozy off the list of the most eligible world leaders. France's gossip rags are bursting with rumors that le président de la République is seeing Carla Bruni, a 39-year-old ex-model who once dated Mick Jagger. My favorite part of this story? Of all places to be seen together in public, France's new first couple selected Disneyland Paris.
While Belgium's king and interim prime minister struggle to end the country's seemingly endless political paralysis and trade unions take to the streets in protest of the government's inability to form a coalition, Dutch-speaking Belgians seems to be taking out their frustration on an unlikely target. Twenty-year-old Czech immigrant Alizee Poulicek, who was recently crowned Miss Belgium, was booed at an event in Antwerp on Monday when it became clear that her knowledge of Dutch was minimal at best:
When the show's presenter quizzed her on her hopes for the future, she said: "I didn't understand, can you repeat?"
Ms Poulicek says she has been taking language lessons and has promised to improve her standard of Dutch.
In halting Dutch, Ms Poulicek told the Flemish network, VRT: "I have to try to learn more."
She then went on in French: "I spoke almost no Dutch when I started this adventure."
That has not impressed the Flemish language press.
Poulicek has spent half her life in the Czech Republic so she presumably speaks Czech in addition to French. Here in the United States, where Miss Teen South Carolina was greeted with polite applause for this performance, the idea that a beauty queen would be booed for being insufficiently trilingual is a little baffling. Then again, even in cosmopolitan Europe, the organizers of beauty pageants don't seem like the most enlightened bunch:
The organizer of the contest, Darlene Davos, said it could have been far worse.
"It is the least painful thing," she said. "I would consider it different if they had said: 'Miss Belgium is an ugly girl'."
Oh, those wacky Nordic pranksters! A teenager from Reykjavik called up the White House earlier this month and pretended to be Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Vifill Atlason, 16, was transferred from staffer to staffer until he reached Bush's secretary, who scheduled a phone call with Bush for the following Monday. Alas, the presidential conversation was not to be. The Icelandic police showed up at Atlason's door a couple days later, and put an end to the charade. And thus ends another chapter in the tense, dramatic relationship between Iceland and the U.S. of A.
Meet Sha Zukang, the new U.N. undersecretary for kicking butt:
From the moment I showed up at the General Assembly, the other countries knew I was trouble. They took one look at my three-button navy suit jacket and my dark, searing eyes, and prayed to whatever God they knew up there to keep their daughters safe from me....
I came here to do two things: advance the cause of economic equality, and get some tail—and I'm all set on economic equality.
Thank you, The Onion. With the Daily Show in hiatus, you're all we have.
Jason Leow pens an entertaining thumb-sucker for the Wall Street Journal on one of the key mysteries of our age: why top Chinese leaders seem compelled to dye their hair.
President and party chief Hu Jintao, 64, still has black hair. Even his retired predecessor, 81-year-old Jiang Zemin, still turns up at major political events with a shiny black top.
Leow tries out a few explanations for this:
Political leaders need to go on television and are seen by the public. They need to show that they are in good health," says Wang Zhengrun... Experts say that obsessing about hair color here may be rooted in modern-day social conditions... Driven by the desire for youthfulness... Today's growing consumer culture...
Of course, he's missing the most obvious explanation: Ladies love it. Consider this recent photograph of Jiang Zemin, which has been making the rounds in the Chinese blogosphere:
Perhaps hoping to turn back time after last week's electoral defeat, Hugo Chávez has finally followed through on plans to set back Venezuela's official clock by half an hour. The move is being billed as a public health measure but, as far as I'm concerned, is basically just begging headline writers to come up with stupid puns. (Back to the future, anyone?)
The scheme was originally announced back in September, but was derailed by confusion over whether clocks were being set forward or back. (Chávez didn't seem too sure himself.) Now that the scheme has been made official, Venezuela joins Afghanistan, India, Iran, and Burma as countries that differ from Greenwich Mean Time by half-hour increments. Take that, imperialists!
The change is one of several initiatives in recent days that seem meant to show that Chávez is still capable of making policy after his constitutional changes were rejected by a close popular vote. If one of the only upsides of accepting defeat for Chávez was that it bolstered his credentials as a democrat, activities like hanging out with Belorussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko and dedicating statues of Ho Chi Minh in Caracas don't really make it seem like he's trying to capitalize.
Apparently, a basic knowledge of U.S. history is not one of them.
According to the Washington Post, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino shared an embarrassing moment she had previously kept to herself. At a press briefing, a reporter mentioned the Cuban Missile Crisis and Perino wasn't sure what it was.
The press secretary had this to say on NPR's "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me" quiz show:
I was panicked a bit because I really don't know about... the Cuban Missile Crisis. It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure.
Going strictly by the name of famous historical events is probably a high-percentage guessing strategy, but it probably wouldn't help Perino figure out what the Boxer Rebellion or the Hundred Years' War was all about, nor would it provide much insight into the War of 1812.
(Hat tip: PoliticalWire.com)
Vermiculate. Lobscouse. Desuetude. Macerate.
Just about every American high school student who has planned to attend university has had to learn words such as these in preparation for the SAT exam that is used as part of the college admissions process.
Now, by learning these words, whether for fun or for test preparation, you can also help end hunger. A computer programmer created a Web site, Freerice.com, that throws multiple-choice vocabulary questions at you. For every one you answer correctly, the site donates 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. The first few questions are relatively easy, but as you answer questions correctly, subsequent ones become progressively more difficult.
South Koreans take Christmas very seriously, apparently:
South Koreans dressed in Santa Claus take a written exam in a Santa Claus School class for the Christmas holiday season at the Everland amusement park in the Seoul suburb of Yongin, South Korea. Christmas has become increasingly popular over the years in South Korea.
Not to sound like Scrooge, but these photos are kind of terrifying.
In the November/December issue of FP, Jeff Chang's article, "It's a Hip-Hop World," described the social, political, and even economic implications of hip-hop's appeal to young people around the globe. It appears, however, that age is no longer a factor in hip-hop's growing popularity. In China, the "hip-hop grannies," a 30-member group of retirees, perform hip-hop dance routines for both entertainment and high-energy exercise. Most of the members are over 60, but that hasn't slowed them down. The group is now performing on tour and taking China by storm.
I know the saying "you're only as old as you feel," but I don't think I can imagine Grandma Lewis taking part in this particular international trend.
The Swedish engineering consulting firm Sweco has determined that Santa Claus should begin his annual worldwide toy delivery in Kyrgyzstan—to be exact, at latitude (N) 40.40°, longitude (E) 74.24°—and continue his journey in a westwardly direction in order to maximize efficiency of distribution and avoid placing undue strain on his reindeer.
They would still have to fly at 6,000 km, or 3,700 miles, per second, though. But I suppose that the conventional limitations of physics aren't really an issue here.
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.