Access to Russia's leading social network -- VKontakte -- was briefly blocked on Friday, after the website appeared on a list of sites banned from distributing content inside the country.
Apparently, Vkontakte (Russia's version of Facebook) ended up on the list after an official working for Russia's communications regulator accidentally "checked a box" next to the website's name. And while the Internet regulator lifted the ban hours later, that hasn't tamped down skepticism about the "mistake" really being unintentional.
The Wall Street Journal, for instance, mentions that the Internet blacklist "usually used to ban websites that propagate child pornography, drug use and suicide" has "often found itself 'by mistake' banning the websites of Internet and technology giants such as Google, Yandex and Wikipedia among others."
And Reuters highlights the troubled relationship VKontakte's founder has with the government, reporting that "Pavel Durov has clashed with the authorities in the past for providing a forum for opposition activists to organize protests against Putin." More specifically, "Durov refused to comply with an order by the Federal Security Service, a successor to the Soviet-era KGB, to close groups used by activists to organize protests over the December 2011 parliamentary election, which handed victory to Putin's ruling United Russia party."
Whether the mistake was intentional or not, does anyone else find it unsettling that banning a website is as easy as checking off a box?
FP may have published its list of Ramzan Kadyrov's weirdest Instagrams a bit too soon. Instead of shutting down his account, as he threatened last week, the Chechen strongman appears to be doubling down on the photo-sharing site this week.
Take, for example, the Instagram aficionado's decision to introduce his followers to what appeared to be his doppelganger. According to the Moscow Times, the caption to the photo below reads, "Dear friends, I will reveal a secret to you, but please don't tell anybody. I have sent my double to work instead of me today. Let's see how he manages!"
Around the same time, Kadyrov played guide to British actress Elizabeth Hurley, who is currently in Grozny filming a thriller with French actor (and Kadyrov kindred spirit) Gérard Depardieu. Below, the trio tours Grozny; Kadryov shows Hurley how to use an iPhone?; and the boys inspect a monster truck.
"I can't dictate to Mr Depardieu and Miss Hurley whom they should meet with, but I hope they are not taking money from a person who is accused of involvement in egregious human rights violations," Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch told the Telegraph. (The American actor Steven Seagal arrived in Grozny on Wednesday.)
And then Kadyrov's two worlds collided, as the Chechen leader introduced both Hurley and Kadyrov #2 to his kitten (this is, by the way, a different creature than his cat named Chanel.)
In a vaguely worded Instagram message, Kadyrov later suggested that the photos of his double had been a "joke" he played on detractors who spread "rumors" about him, though he didn't go into detail about how he had pulled it off -- or why posting photos with a lookalike or a Photoshopped version of himself would silence his critics.
Oh, and did we mention this one?
Russia's Green Alliance - People's Party, which registered as a political party just one year ago, has turned to art to take a stab at the country's ruling United Russia party.
Taking advantage of a contest to design an emblem for the greater Moscow region, the Green Alliance has submitted an entry to the local ministry of culture that takes multiple swipes at United Russia -- highlighting problems with the country's leaders and many of the social issues that the ruling party has failed to address.
The Green Alliance has made no secret about the meaning of the design. On Tuesday, the party even tweeted a key to all the symbols packed into the image:
???? ??????? ?????????? ? ???????????? ???????? ?????????? ??????? ?????? ?? ??????? "?????? ???????????" twitter.com/RussianGreens/...— ?????? ??????? (@RussianGreens) May 21, 2013
Here's our own (English-language) guide:
The bear is a nod to the symbol of United Russia, but in this image the animal looks sinister and thuggish.
The gold chain the bear is wearing represents United Russia's alleged ties to the mob.
The saw and tree stumps symbolize United Russia's disregard for nature. As the Moscow Times points out, it was the previous United Russia governor who launched construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest.
The cracked road draws attention to the Moscow region's poor infrastructure, which, the Green Alliance claims, is typically only "repaired by kickbacks."
The blue flashing light, which many Moscow drivers use to abuse traffic laws, is a symbol of "the power of contemporary feudalists," according to the party.
The high-rises in the background are meant to be "new buildings, without social infrastructure, built next to dumps."
The two men holding up the central shield are illegal migrant workers from central Asia. The Green Alliance points out that there are an estimated three million illegal migrants living in the Moscow region.
The "garlands" of paper money surrounding the shield represent the "harvest collected by [corrupt] bureaucrats."
"At a time when an alternative point of view doesn't appear in regional mass media, we consider it our duty to use this emblem as a way of drawing attention to problems," the Green Alliance's leader told the Moscow Times. It's a noble objective. But don't expect local officials to stamp the image on Moscow's promotional materials anytime soon.
Christian Caryl contributed to this post.
It looks like FP collected Ramzan Kadyrov's 11 weirdest Instagrams just in time. Today brought news that the Chechen president is threatening to close his popular account.
According to Radio Free Europe, the threat comes after Kadyrov posted a photograph of himself standing next to Bekkhan Ibragimov, a Chechen who everyone thought was serving jail time for his part in the 2010 killing of a Russian soccer fan.
In the photo's caption, Kadyrov wrote that he was helping Ibragimov combat local corruption that had prevented him from receiving registration documents.
Kadyrov apparently thought his Instagram followers would be pleased with his hard line on corruption, but instead the Chechen leader was immediately barraged with angry comments criticizing him for his support of such a controversial figure. (The 2010 killing of Yuri Volkov, the Russian soccer fan, sparked protests in Moscow.)
In comments cited by Russian media and reported by Radio Free Europe, a peeved Kadyrov responded to the criticism on LiveJournal:
I no longer understand my subscribers at all. One minute you say we need to fight corruption and punish bribe-takers, but when you see real action in this direction you start discussing and condemning the person that exposed illegal action by a bureaucrat.... Your comments are worth absolutely nothing. It is just empty chatter. That's why I think it's probably better for me to delete [my] Instagram [account] and work without taking an interest in your opinions on this or that issue.
Kadyrov has yet to make good on his threat, but he did express similar grievances on Instagram. Of course, he accompanied those comments with yet another picture.
Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram account
Ramzan Kadyrov, the 36 year-old president of Chechnya, reported human rights violator, supercar driver, champion boxer, and prolific Instagrammer, has once again posted an amazingly bizarre photo to his Instagram account -- posing with a lone wolf (Chechnya's national animal). The caption reads:
Wolf -- The only animal that can go into a fight against a stronger opponent. If he has lost the battle, he will look his opponent in the eye until the last breath, after which he dies.... The wolf always shows himself to his prey and chases it down on the run. It is for precisely this that we can respect them, despite their bloodthirstiness. #Chechnya #Hunting #Wolves.
(Interesting how Kadyrov, once a rebel fighter, appears to be evoking Chechen nationalism even as he grows closer and closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin.)
But there are two sides to this man, clearly. Here's the picture Kadyrov posted just afterwards, of him cradling this cat:
Ever since November 2012, the Chechen strongman has been uploading several photos a day to the photo-sharing site -- quite a self-indulgent act for someone who once called the task a "burden." But how else to monitor public opinion, comment on current events, and appoint Instagram followers to his cabinet? In case you're not one of Kadyrov's 132,804 (and counting) Instagram followers, here are some of his weirdest pics:
1. #lounging #tiger #bondvillain
2. French actor Gérard Depardieu at table with Kadyrov and his identically dressed children.
3. Tracksuit? Check. Golden stag? Check. Let's do this.
4. The focus was on back, traps, and biceps.
5. "They fixed a few minor things, told me that I have excellent teeth and sent me off." #oversharing
6. Kadyrov posted this photo along with a caption telling "friends, brothers, sisters, subscribers" to stop making appeals to him via Instagram ("more than half" weren't true anyway!) and to stop arguing with each other in the comments section. #orthisiswhereiwillburyyou
7. Hugging the sheep the wolf will probably eat later.
8. Chechen rulers -- they're just like us!
9. Just grabbing a bull by the horns, lounging on a tractor...
10. A perk of being president: as much Jello as you want.
11. Anything Putin can do, I can do better.
Christian Caryl contributed to this post.
All photos from Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram page.
Save the Children's "Mother's Index 2013," released less than a week before Mother's Day, generated buzz on Tuesday for its ranking of the best countries in the world to be a mother. Out of the 176 nations on the list -- 46 developed and 130 developing -- the top six are all located in Northern Europe while the bottom 12 are in Africa (Finland placed first, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo came in last). The United States finished in 30th place despite performing well on the index's educational and economic measures. The metrics holding the America back? Maternal mortality rate, under-5 mortality rate, and especially female representation in government, where it ranked 89th (women hold only 18 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress).
It's this last prong of the methodology that we found particularly interesting. Is there really a connection between a higher percentage of females in national government and a mother's quality of life?
According to Save the Children, the answer is yes. The report hypothesizes, "When women have a voice in politics, issues that are important to mothers and their children are more likely to surface on the national agenda and emerge as national priorities."
The organization based this conclusion on a number of factors. First, it compared individual countries to regional peers and nations with similar gross national incomes (GNIs), and found that the strongest performers in terms of mother and child health and well-being (maternal mortality, under-5 mortality, and access to education) also had higher proportions of parliamentary seats held by women. The team also found that when a country performed better in terms of those three health and well-being metrics than its GNI would predict, a differentiating factor was participation of women in government.
For example, Rwanda has the highest percentage of female lawmakers in the world (52 percent), and it surpasses other countries with similar levels of national wealth in terms of maternal mortality, under-5 mortality, and years of education. Nepal and Afghanistan, which have made great strides in improving the quality of life of women and children, also have the highest levels of female political representation in South Asia.
It's data Congress might want to take a closer look at.
On Thursday, China's Ministry of Public Security announced that the police had arrested 63 traders accused of buying rat, fox, and mink meat and then selling the meat as mutton. Apparently, the crime ring had been mixing the meat with gelatin, red dye, and nitrates before selling it in Shanghai and neighboring Jiangsu province. How appetizing.
It has been quite a year for food scandals, what with IKEA's horsemeat meatballs and China's floating dead pigs. To China's credit, the country appears to be tackling the food safety issue head on (state media report that Chinese law enforcement officials have arrested more than 900 people for selling fake or tainted meat in the last three months). But this latest revelation has shocked more than reassured, leaving many in China to wonder whether the "mutton" stewing on their stoves is really made of lamb after all.
But never fear! Foreign Policy reached out to North Carolina-based artist Laura Ginn, who, after organizing a rat-themed five-course dinner in New York last year, has become somewhat of a rat meat connoisseur. With her help, we hereby offer you five ways to know you're eating rat.
1. It smells like rat. Rats secrete an oil onto their skin that gives them their distinct "rodenty" odor. Some compare the smell to that of a warm tortilla, says Ginn, while others compare it to urine. Regardless, it's distinctive. While it's true that the odor lessens after the rat is skinned, and again after the rat is cooked, no amount of cooking can ever completely get rid of the smell.
2. It tastes like rat. The oil rats secrete gives them a distinctive taste as well. Ginn describes it as quite pungent and gamey -- most similar to raccoon or rabbit. Blended with other meats, rat becomes a lot less distinctive, so you'd have to be rather discerning to notice it.
3. It tastes delicious when brushed with a moonshine glaze and barbecued. Of all the ways Ginn has eaten rat, this is her favorite preparation. A close second is smoked rat jerky served on brioche French toast. So, if you happen to be savoring a moonshine-BBQ dish, or think there is something slightly "rodenty" about the gamey and delicious jerky you are consuming, you might want to check the ingredients.
4. It looks like lamb. When it's raw, pinkish/red rat looks very much like lamb. Unfortunately for the Chinese, when ground, rat can look a lot like any generic ground meat. When cooked, rat looks more like rabbit, Ginn thinks, just because of the shape of the cuts.
5. You're in Asia. According to Ginn, rats are most commonly eaten in Asia because of the rice crop. In areas where rats feed off rice paddies rather than garbage, the rodents are considered safer to eat. Of course, it isn't clear whether the rats marketed as mutton in China were healthy, rice-fed rats or sewer-dwelling, garbage-eating, Templeton-esque rats. The New York Times reports that the arrest announcement "did not explain how exactly the traders acquired the rats and other creatures." Rats are also disease carriers, so when Ginn organized her meal she ordered hers from a company that supplies specially raised, grain-fed rodents to zoos.
Today is Earth Day -- the annual holiday, first celebrated in 1970, to recognize and encourage environmental protection efforts, all while binding disparate peoples around the globe together in a common cause. It's a stirring cause, but one that was greeted this year with many articles lamenting the world's declining interest in both the holiday and the environmental movement it represents.
In the United States, at least, there seems to be some truth to these grumblings. As the Huffington Post reports, polling data demonstrates that environmental issues have become less important to Americans over the past few decades:
[A] 1971 Nixon poll found that 63 percent of respondents said that it was "very important" to work to restore and enhance the national environment, with 25 percent saying it was "fairly important" and only 8 percent saying it was "not too important." But in the 2013 HuffPost/YouGov poll, only 39 percent of respondents said it was very important, while 41 percent said it was fairly important and 16 percent said it was not too important.
Just looking at Google searches for the term "Earth Day" tells you something. Worldwide, the popularity of the search term is at an-all time low since 2004, which is as far back as Google Trends goes. It's unclear what caused the search numbers to drop so suddenly in 2005 and again in 2009 (let us know if you have any theories).
According to Google, the United States still leads the world in terms of Earth Day interest. But the search term's popularity within the country also seems to be on the decline, with variations from year to year:
But for all those who now fear that environmental complacency has put both Earth Day and the Earth in peril, it's worth noting that things may not be that bad. The same Huffington Post study showed that Americans are using less electricity and recycling more than they were 30 years ago. And hey, for a time "Earth Day" was the "hottest" Google search term today in the United States, Canada, and India. Not even Ryan Lochte's new reality TV show could top it.
Could it be that we're showing our Earth Day spirit in ways other than simply Googling the term? Or, in this plugged-in world, does Interet popularity truly correspond to awareness, enthusiasm, and activism?
Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images
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