When it comes to U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much -- be it arming the Syrian rebels or brokering Israeli-Palestinian peace. But the shwarma -- shaved, spit-roasted meat wrapped in doughy pita and smothered in toppings -- has managed to win the hearts of American politicians from both sides of the aisle.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stopped into a West Bank restaurant to grab one of the tasty sandwiches as part of a trip to the Middle East. The AP reports:
Kerry chomped one of the meat sandwiches after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
Asked what toppings he wanted, Kerry said, quote, "I want everything. I'm all in."
After the first bite, Kerry declared, "Fantastic."
For those who closely follow the intersection of shwarma and politics, Kerry's ecstatic reaction may have brought to mind an earlier instance of shwarma consumption by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). On a 2012 trip to Libya, McCain rapturously tweeted:
Not convinced of the shwarma's unique power to straddle America's political divide? Just look to its more contentious cousin: falafel.
During his March trip to the Middle East, you may recall, President Obama whipped up a minor controversy when it was announced that he would be dining on the fried chickpea dish with Israeli President Shimon Peres. One Palestinian chef, angry that the dish was being presented as typical Israeli cuisine, told reporters, "We, a group of Palestinian chefs, are prepared to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture by preparing the official dinner for presidents Obama and Abbas." He offered to make a dinner for the American and Palestinian leaders that would "reveal the fallacious claims of the occupation and its continuous attempts to rob our folklore, this time in the presence of the president of the biggest country in the world."
If only Obama had opted for shwarma.
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.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
When Justin Bieber performed in Istanbul on Thursday night, did he halt his concert out of respect for Muslim fans -- or because he was getting pelted with toys?
This is the stark question before us today amid reports from U.S. entertainment outlets that the teen pop sensation observed the Muslim tradition of silence during the call to prayer by interrupting his performance. E! Online reports:
Fans were shocked and delighted... when the "Boyfriend" singer paused his show for the first time thanking the singer for being "respectful" and a "great man."
As E! reported, fans rushed to Twitter to praise the artist's cultural sensitivity:
Justin showed tonight in Istanbul/Turkey how much he respects the muslim beliebers. BEST IDOL EVER— Belieber (@BiebsHeaven) May 2, 2013
Some were even more enthusiastic:
And even those indifferent to the Biebs were swayed by the gesture:
I'm not a Justin Bieber fan but as a Muslim, he totally earns my respect twitter.com/justamalaykid/...—luqieman(@justamalaykid) May 3, 2013
But Beliebers and newly converted Beliebers might want to hold their enthusiasm in check. Hurriyet, a leading Turkish daily, is reporting that toys -- not the call to prayer -- were behind the show's suspension:
Fans were throwing toys and scarves at the beloved singer as a show of appreciation, but the teen magnet decided he wanted no more of it, and abandoned the stage.
He stayed backstage and refused to come out until an announcement was made in Turkish, informing fans that the show would not go on until the toys stopped coming in.
Bieber then continued on with his show.
The news comes after Bieber caused a stir at an airport in Istanbul by refusing to go through passport control.
So, which is it? A hotheaded diva moment or a gracious act of cultural sensitivity? We may never know what really happened Thursday night -- unless, that is, any Turkish Beliebers out there care to step forward as eyewitnesses.
MIKKO STIG/AFP/Getty Images
Restaurant magazine's 2013 list of the world's top 50 restaurants hasn't just made news this week for dropping Danish superstar Noma down a peg after its three-year reign at the top. It also features a restaurant from mainland China for the first time.
The Shanghai-based restaurant Mr & Mrs Bund placed 43rd in the ranking -- a jump from last year when it became the first mainland Chinese restaurant to crack the magazine's less-prestigious top 100, at number 95. This year's top 50 also includes two restaurants from Hong Kong for a grand total of three Chinese restaurants -- the most since 2003, which is as far back as past lists on the magazine's website go (the 51-100 list includes three more restaurants from Hong Kong and another from Shanghai). Is this China's culinary scene finally catching up with the country's newfound great power status?
Well, maybe. But there's something to note about the three Chinese restaurants in the top 50: none of them actually serves Chinese food.
Mr & Mrs Bund's cuisine is described as "High-end contemporary French bistro cooking." As for the Hong Kong-based 8 1/2 Otto E Mezzo Bombana, which ranked 39th on the list? "Classic and contemporary Italian." The restaurant that comes closest to serving Chinese cuisine is Hong Kong's Amber (number 36), which serves "classical French with subtle Hong Kong influences." (Only subtle, though!)
With some exceptions, almost every other country with a restaurant in the top 50 has at least one restaurant specializing in local cuisine, though sometimes with a handful of adjectives tossed in (my favorite description: Mugaritz, in Spain, serves "techno-emotional Spanish."). Exceptions include Switzerland and Belgium, which have large French-speaking populations and restaurants serving French cuisine, along with tiny Singapore (where Restaurant Andre serves French food) and the Netherlands (where Oud Sluis serves "modern seafood with international influences").
What gives? China is a big country with a variety of well-developed regional cuisines that are generally considered delicious. And while we know there are many things China doesn't do well, soft power-wise, the one area where it could be said to have some soft power at its disposal is food. Chinese restaurants can more or less be found anywhere Chinese people can be found, which is many, many places.
My hypothesis: While there have long been many great restaurants in China serving excellent local food, it's only recently that these kinds of establishments have started paying attention to ambiance, service, and the other more subtle niceties that have to be in place before a restaurant can be a candidate for Restaurant magazine's top 50 list. As Chinese restaurateur Zhang Lan, who has sought to take her upscale Sichuan restaurant chain South Beauty international, told China Daily in 2008, "Chinese cuisine offers everything from nutrition to taste. But what it lacks is the packaging. Most people in China didn't know how to present their food."
There are some up-and-comers that could break into the top 50 in the years to come: On Restaurant's list of the 50 best restaurants in Asia, the first Chinese establishment to serve Chinese food is Hong Kong's Lung King Heen, which offers diners Cantonese food. The first mainland restaurant to serve Chinese food is 28 HuBin Road in Hangzhou, which focuses on Hangzhou regional cuisine.
Thoughts on why no Chinese Chinese restaurants made this year's top 50? Leave them in the comments.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
During a race on Sunday to mark the Day of the Turkmen Racehorse, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and his horse Berkarar (Mighty), of the national Akhal-Teke breed, were the first to stride across the finish line, claiming an $11 million prize.
The strongman, who is known as Arkadag (the Patron), bested six other riders by completing the 1,000-meter course in 21.2 seconds, and proclaimed that he would donate his winnings to a state-run company that breeds horses. "The spectators' attention was riveted on the golden arrow -- Berkarar, led by the leader of the nation," one news outlet in the country gushed (never mind that, as Russia's RIA Novosti noted, public institutions forced workers to attend the races or "face punishments including dismissal from work").
It was a nice and tidy story spun by the country's state-controlled media -- until, that is, EurasiaNet got hold of a video reportedly showing Berdymukhammedov crossing the finish line, only to tumble off his horse and face-plant in the dirt, prompting black-suited officials to frantically run to the president's aid. Here's another clip of the incident circulating on Turkish television (h/t RFE/RL):
EurasiaNet has more:
The motionless Berdymukhamedov, who was apparently briefly knocked unconscious, was haphazardly lifted in a manner that could have left him paralyzed, if his spine had been injured. Security officials in the crowd waved for cameras to stop filming and snarled at those that continued. An ambulance sped out onto the track and the huddled ministers and security officials loaded Berdymukhamedov inside, to be whisked away to receive medical attention.
For approximately an hour it was not clear if Berdymukhamedov was alive or dead, or how injured he might be. Security officials had little idea what to do. Along with dignitaries in the stands, they sat uncomfortably in their seats, sure only that leaving the stadium was not an option. Finally, state cameramen arranged themselves and Berdymukhamedov briefly presented himself, moving stiffly but able to wave to the crowd, which cheered.
Berdymukhammedov's affection for Akhal-Teke horses has been well-documented since he took office in 2006. He's authored two books about them -- "The Flight of Celestial Race Horses" and "Akhal-Teke - Our Pride and Glory," and launched a government website, "Heavenly Akhal--Teke Horses," to boot. He's also mandated annual beauty contests for the horses, and once fired the head of the national equine association for not doing enough to develop the horse industry.
As for the horse carrying Berdymukhammedov on Sunday? He appears to be safe for now.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin sat for his nearly annual televised live-call-in show -- which, this year, went on for nearly five hours. In addition to tackling some weightier questions about the Russian economy and the country's hot-and-cold relations with the United States, Putin also addressed more casual inquiries, culled from millions of submissions.
At one point, Putin cited the Boston Marathon bombings as justification for taking a hard line in the Caucasus. "We have always said that action is needed and not declarations," Putin told viewers. "Now two criminals have confirmed the correctness of our thesis." At another, he displayed a rare flash of humor in discussing former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. "He's a slacker and doesn't want to work," Putin observed.
According to the Guardian's Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder -- who deserves a medal for live-tweeting the marathon session -- the Russian leader had a particularly pensive response to a question about whether he was happy. "Me?" Putin inquired. "This is a philosophical question." Responding to liberal journalist Aleksei Venediktov, Putin adamantly dismissed a comparison to Stalin. "Stalinism is connected with a personality cult, with mass violations of the law, with repressions and prison camps," he said. "There is nothing of such kind in Russia and I hope there will never be. Our society is different now and it will never let this happen again."
But even as Putin dwelt on the freedoms that exist in today's Russia, the sheer length of time he monopolized on the airwaves seemed to undermine that assertion ("Putin sets new record for Q&A session: 4 hours 47 minutes, 85 questions answered," the Voice of Russia proclaimed after it was all said and done). These days, we tend to associate long-windedness with authoritarian leaders -- be it Fidel Castro's infamous four-hour, 29-minute speech before the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 or Hugo Chávez's mesmerizing television rambles that went on for anywhere from four to eight hours ... or until El Presidente was done talking. Why the correlation?
In 2009, after Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi's 96-minute speech before the United Nations, the BBC investigated this very question. The article notes that marathon speeches by democratic leaders -- such as one Indian politician's eight-hour Kashmir lecture in 1957 -- are rare, and that applause (out of either genuine passion or fear for one's life) often accounts for a substantial portion of history's longest speeches. The BBC even highlights an amusing example from Russia's own Stalin, who received a standing ovation that took up a whole side of a vinyl recording of one of his speeches. But another historian argues that long speeches haven't always been the sole preserve of dictatorships:
"Now [a long speech] is seen as a sign of political weakness, for example Neil Kinnock or Gordon Brown when he uses too many words and too much jargon.
"But earlier generations, ending with Harold Macmillan, had a taste for very long speeches which demonstrated their learning. We have now less patience with people who show their authority by speaking at great length."
One could certainly devote an academic paper to the nuanced relationship between democracy and speech length, but perhaps a simpler explanation exists. As Robert Service, a professor of Russian Studies at Oxford University told the BBC, "You are only ever going to get long speeches when the speaker doesn't have to worry about the audience running away."
Any other theories?
Update: A number of readers have weighed in on the question of why authoritarian leaders tend to talk for so long. Below are a few of the more interesting suggestions:
"only their opinion matters?" - Facebook user Charles Ursenbach
"Dictatorships also have fewer things competing for viewers' attention, as the 'running away' joke denotes. While the State of the Union is going on, I can switch to a lot of other things, or even watch something in the DVR." - Commenter Pdubble
"It's probably the most democratic thing Putin does. People call in, ask him questions, some easy to answer, others not so much." - Facebook user Pavel Shmelov
"Because brevity is the soul of wit - and they are, by and large, witless." - Facebook user Julian De Wette.
"Filibusters come to mind, and the[n] immediately the relationship between democracy and speech length mentioned above." - Commenter Zhangir K S
"Because they can." - Facebook user Rick Brandl
ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images
People have a tendency to get carried away when hyping a new leader -- particularly one who represents significant change. Still, reports on Tuesday that the Muslim Brotherhood will be publishing a book on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's achievements -- nine months into his first term -- can't help but feel a bit premature, particularly considering the political and economic turmoil that continue to grip the country.
The 124-page book, literally titled, "Months of achievements...President Morsy builds Egypt anew," will be divided into five chapters chronicling the new president's successes, including freeing the country from military rule, endorsing the constitution, and supporting Gaza's uprising against Israel.
Author Reda al-Masry, whom the Arabic-language version of Egypt Independent identifies as an Egyptian "educational expert," explained his decision to write the book to the paper, noting that he feels the Egyptian press has given Morsy an unfair hearing (ironically, he praises Western media for giving Morsy due respect as a leader). Masry then goes on to cite an impressive list of "firsts" that Morsy has achieved. These include:
The last two firsts are nods to the corruption and nepotism that characterized the Mubarak years. But while, in some ways, Morsy has been a breath of fresh air, opposition members accuse the president and his administration of trying to monopolize power and control public discourse. In this light, the book seems more propoganda than political chronicle. In the Brotherhood's defense, recent reports that the Egyptian Ministry of Culture was planning to pay for printing the book and disseminating free copies to the public have been denied. Instead, the chronicle of the young presidency's accomplishments will be distributed to young Brotherhood members.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Emotional blackmail. No, it's not Madonna's new hit single, but rather one of the accusations hurled at the pop star in a statement released by the Malawi State House on Thursday.
Earlier this week, we wrote about the material girl's less-than-stellar trip to the country, which included a series of faux pas that angered and offended the country's president, Joyce Banda. Today, tensions between the government and Madonna escalated as Malawi released a comprehensive document detailing its grievances. The full text was published in the Nyasa Times, but here are some of the highlights:
Madonna feels that the Malawi Government and its leadership should have abandoned everything and attended to her because she believes she is a music star turned benefactor who is doing Malawi good....
[I]n the feeling of Madonna, the Malawi Government and its leadership should have rolled out a red carpet and blast the 21-gun salute in her honour because she believes that as a musician, the whiff of whose repute flies across international boundaries, she automatically is candidate for VVIP [see definition] treatment.
The document then goes on to "put the record straight" with 11 bullet points. Number three accuses Madonna of emotional blackmail regarding her adoption of two Malawian children:
It, therefore, comes across as strange and depressing that for a humanitarian act, prompted only by her, Madonna wants Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude. Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can't be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes.
Number seven, meanwhile, draws our attention to the gaggle of "equally dazzling" celebrities who have visited Malawi without demanding star treatment, including Chuck Norris and Bono. Ouch.
Number nine may be the most cutting:
For her to accuse [President Banda's sister] Mrs. Oponyo for indiscretions that have clearly arisen from her personal frustrations that her ego has not been massaged by the state is uncouth, and speaks volumes of a musician who desperately thinks she must generate recognition by bullying state officials instead of playing decent music on the stage.
Madonna responded with a statement on her website that called the allegations against her "ridiculous," adding that she was "saddened that Malawi's President Joyce Banda has chosen to release lies." In what could perhaps be construed as further emotional blackmail, the singer then went on to list her accomplishments in the country, which include raising "millions of dollars in Malawi to support orphans and vulnerable children." I wouldn't bet on Malawi's leaders sending a thank-you note.
AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Mann -- director of the venerable Al Pacino/Robert De Niro movie Heat and The Last of the Mohicans -- is working on a new film, and its plotline sounds, well, unrealistic.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the still-untitled movie will feature U.S. and Chinese cyber agents -- not duking it out across the Internet, as might be expected, but working together. To stop a hacker. From the Balkans. The film is said to center around a pair of "Chinese hacker siblings"; Mann was reportedly in Hong Kong this week scouting potential lead actors and actresses.
Is this completely implausible? Well, not completely. Sure, there are some hackers in the Balkans. And sure, the United States and China occasionally make gestures toward increasing cooperation on cybercrime. But it is cybercrime from China -- particularly of the state-backed variety -- that is by far the bigger concern for business leaders and policymakers.
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
"Leader, Just Give Us Your Order" KCNA
North Korea's threats have dominated international news over the past month. But a quick scan of North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA suggests we've been missing something: Pyongyang's unique literary approach to bellicosity.
Every few days, it seems, KCNA publishes an article detailing songs and poems performed at official events -- remarkably literal titles that give you a sense of what it might sound like if Kim Jong Un adapted his provocations as a musical. Here are some of the top songs:
When it comes to poetry -- a literary form loathed by high schoolers the world over for its mind-numbing level of abstraction and obfuscation -- the North Koreans might be on to something with titles like:
If these are a little somber for your taste, there's always the poem that kicked off today's event celebrating the 20th anniversary of Kim Jong Il's election as the DPRK defense commission chairman -- the idyllically titled, "Great Joy in April."
For those who listened to "Leader, Just Give Us Your Order" and still want more, here are "We Will Defend General Kim Jong Un at the Cost of Our Lives" and "Provokers Are Bound to Meet Death":
Margaret Thatcher's death on Monday prompted a great deal of reflection on the Iron Lady's many legacies. But one in particular has been less explored: the former British prime minister's recurring appearance in political cartoons.
"She was a great subject for people who really hated her or hated her for what she stood for, which was many of the cartoonists," Anita O'Brien, the curator of the London Cartoon Museum, told Foreign Policy. "She was very distinctive. She had a particular way of speaking, which some [cartoonists] used to their advantage.... She was somebody that somehow couldn't be ignored."
For that very reason, O'Brien's museum devoted an exhibition to the satirical sketches featuring Thatcher called Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! The exhibit opened in 2009 -- two decades after the divisive British leader had left power. "Because she was such a strong figure and because she continued to try to exert an influence over many of the succeeding prime ministers, both Tory and Labour, she continued to feature in cartoons long after she had ceased to be prime minister," O'Brien explained. "Much much more than probably any figure."
To get a sense of how Thatcher was depicted in political cartoons, check out the image below by American cartoonist Bill DeOre, which appeared after Thatcher dispatched the British Navy to the Falkland Islands in 1982:
DEORE © 1982 Bill DeOre. Courtesy of the artist and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.
And another by DeOre:
DEORE © 1982 Bill DeOre. Courtesy of the artist and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.
The cartoon below was published in the Daily Mirror the day after Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet minister, Geoffrey Howe, delivered a scathing resignation speech, voicing his discontent over her refusal to better integrate the United Kingdom with European economies:
This photograph shows a sketch at the Cartoon Museum drawn by Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell in 2000, after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that it was time to "move British politics beyond the time of Margaret Thatcher."
Photograph by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
"One of the things that came across when we did the exhibition was that she really divided the country," O'Brien told , and this doesn't look to be changing any time soon. "Even the whole issue of her funeral is dividing people. I'm sure there will be more cartoons between now and next week and probably after the funeral."
For Maggie's part, "she didn't care about cartoons at all," O'Brien notes. "We know this because one of our trustees was one of her ministers. Whereas some other politicians and previous prime ministers may have been quite hurt or offended by the cartoons, she just completely ignored them so they had no impact on her. I don't imagine she had that much interest in the visual arts."
Today, 30 July 1987 © Martin Rowson
When, in 2012, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman chose to title a blog post about Estonia's less-than-stellar economic recovery "Estonian Rhapsody," we should have known that this was no run-of-the-mill fiscal commentary -- but rather an omen of far more dramatic things to come. The slew of angry tweets that the post elicited from Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves included the phrase "Nostra culpa" and provoked mixed responses in the international press, with some glorifying the president and others lambasting his rashness.
Conflict, rhapsodies, Latin -- in retrospect, it's easy to understand why Estonia-based writer Scott Diel and U.K.-based composer Eugene Birman thought this bizarre online feud had the makings of an opera. Their much-anticipated 16-minute production, Nostra Culpa, is set to premier on Sunday at the Estonian Music Days festival.
So how exactly does one go about turning six tweets and a blog post into opera? Foreign Policy caught up with Birman to find out what we can expect.
The opera will be divided into two acts, according to Birman, with the first detailing Krugman's philosophy and the second Ilves's tweets. "I thought the most powerful thing would be to take those things verbatim and oppose them -- not to put them into conversation because there was no conversation," Birman told FP. The two acts are fairly different in style, with Krugman's movement set to loud and fast music and the Estonian president's sung against a more varied and slower score.
For Birman, the decision to separate the exchange into two acts using a single female soloist, Iris Oja, underscores the problems with communication in today's world. "The nature of Twitter for example, or writing an article is that there's no real discussion," he said. "You can respond to something but it's not really a discussion format. They're speaking at each other instead of to each other." In the digital age, where everything is mediated through our computer screens, having one voice speaking directly to the audience does seem fitting.
Diel and Birman hope the opera will stimulate deeper discussion in Estonia about the political and economic issues behind the spat. "Estonia became independent through music," Birman tells FP, referencing the mass singing demonstrations, known as the Singing Revolution, that helped the country peacefully overthrow the Soviet government. "There is something Estonian about this -- that we're using music to have a discussion about what the political policy of Estonia should be," he says.
But more than anything, the opera's purpose is to highlight the absurdity of all the squabbling over economic recovery -- and in particular the terms so often thrown about by pundits. Librettist Scott Diel achieves this by transforming Krugman's 70-word blog post into a series of almost tweet-like phrases imploring the Estonians to follow his advice. "There's this line in the libretto that says stimulate over and over again and it becomes almost sexual," Birman says. "The words when you take them out of their context become really strange."
One of the stranger moments comes in the second movement, when in adapting Ilves' sarcastic tweet "Let's sh*t on East Europeans," the singer will make a high-pitched whistling sound with her voice in place of the asterisk.
While Birman concedes the content is amusing, he cautions "in the end there's nothing really funny about what they're discussing. If you think about it, if you look at the words and you look at the argument, then it's pretty ridiculous. But that makes good theater." We won't argue with that.
Here's the libretto in full, as written by Scott Diel:
RAIGO PAJULA/AFP/Getty Images
In one of the odder reasons we've come across for stonewalling a politician's bid for office, a voter has formally objected to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahbaz Sharif's candidacy in Pakistan's May 11 elections, citing the absence of his beard. Pakistan's Geo TV reports:
[The voter] claimed that the former chief minister didn't follow Sunnah [teachings of the prophet] and teachings of Islam. The applicant said Mr Shahbaz didn't grew a beard as per Sunnah so his nomination papers be rejected and be disqualified from contesting election.
While beards are prevalent among Muslim politicians, they are certainly not a requirement -- particularly in Pakistan, whose former and current presidents, Asif Ali Zardari and Pervez Musharraf, both boast clean-shaven jaws. As Sharif tweeted on Thursday, "Never thought beard would be relevant to contesting elections."
The politician, a former chief minister of Punjab, isn't just facing opposition over his facial hair, however. As the Pakistani paper Dawn reported on Thursday, the country's National Accountability Bureau has also objected to the candidacy of Shahbaz and his brother Nawaz (a former prime minister), who "have been accused of accumulating money and assets beyond their declared means of income by misusing authority." Perhaps, then, the main issue is not Shahbaz's lack of a beard, but rather the man behind it.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Kenya's efforts to promote safe sex and combat HIV/AIDS have apparently hit a snag, as religious leaders have accused the government of promoting infidelity instead.
The controversy began when Kenyan health officials teamed up with USAID and a similar agency in the U.K. to sponsor a television advertisement showing two women shopping in the marketplace. One of the women reminds her friend to use a condom while having sex with her boyfriend when her frequently drunk husband is away. The boyfriend is shown in the background, selling shoes and flirting with another woman.
The commercial quickly came under attack from Christian and Muslim leaders who argue that it promotes immorality and infidelity. "The advert depicts this nation as a Sodom and Gomorrah and not one that values the institution of marriage and family," a leader of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, declared. One woman criticized the ad for using a mother as the main character. "The fact that a mother figure has been used makes it worse because mothers are the people who stand for families and the ones who teach children the good morals," she said. (Past condom ads in Kenya have been decidedly humorous, though they haven't exactly put public-health messages front and center.) The government has since withdrawn the ad.
In an interview with NTV, the head of Kenya's National Aids / STD Control Program (NASCOP), Dr. Peter Cherutich, defended the spot, arguing that Kenyans "cannot bury our heads in the sand." Sexual infidelity is a reality in the country, he explained, and NASCOP is doing its duty by promoting sexual health in light of this fact:
The collaboration that we would like to have with the church is that they become our partners. They teach their congregants and they teach Kenyans how to protect themselves against HIV, by being faithful to their sexual partners. And for those that are not able to be faithful, then they need to use a condom.
"We know for a fact that a big proportion of both men and women have sex outside their regular partnerships," Cherutich told the BBC in another interview. "And so, unfaithfulness, as you would call it, is a reality that we need to address in this country." NASCOP says that it is also trying to fight the stereotype that only men are unfaithful, while emphasizing that the task of using condoms should not be left to men alone.
It's an important conversation -- but one many Kenyans appear ambivalent about having as families gather around the television.
On Monday, Barack Obama released a message to the Iranian people marking the beginning of Nowruz, an ancient holiday celebrating the start of the Persian New Year and the advent of spring. In a YouTube video with Farsi subtitles, the president offered a brief note of celebration before launching into the crux of his message: "the world's serious and growing concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which threatens peace and security in the region and beyond." He continued:
As I have every year as President, I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the people and leaders of Iran. Since taking office, I have offered the Iranian government an opportunity -- if it meets its international obligations, then there could be a new relationship between our two countries, and Iran could begin to return to its rightful place among the community of nations.
In past years, Obama's annual Nowruz address has been regarded by some as a shining example of soft diplomacy and by others as a cynical case of political opportunism -- but all have agreed that the president is seizing the moment to send a message to the Iranian people and government. Which raises the question: What about the millions of non-Iranians who also celebrate the holiday?
Foreign Policy caught up with Adil Baguirov, who serves on the board of directors of two D.C.-based advocacy organizations -- the U.S. Azeris Network and the U.S. Turkic Network -- that have repeatedly lobbied Obama to make his Nowruz address more inclusive and less politicized. "The Turkic people who number some 200 million spanning across Eurasia, from Yakutia to Europe, were once again overlooked" in this year's message, he wrote in an e-mail.
But, he notes, this wasn't always the case. Baguirov drew a pointed distinction with the Bush years, when the president would "congratulate not only all the Iranic people (people of Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan , and some people living in other regional countries, as well as the diaspora in U.S.), but all the Turkic people and diaspora that trace their heritage from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as a multitude of autonomous regions in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, the Turcomans in Iraq, the Uzbeks and Hazara's in Afghanistan, the Uighurs in China, and others."
In his 2006 Nowruz message, for example, Bush noted that for "millions of people around the world who trace their heritage to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and Central Asia, Nowruz is a celebration of life and an opportunity to express joy and happiness." (It's worth noting that Bush focused a bit more on Iran in 2003, and devoted his entire 2002 address to Afghans and Afghan-Americans after the fall of the Taliban.)
Baguirov, for his part, said Obama's approach is as if Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei spoke directly to the American people on Christmas or New Year's Day. "Other countries, especially if they have been celebrating those holidays far longer, would be rather baffled and even offended by such preferential treatment," he pointed out.
Clearly, the Obama administration now sees Nowruz as a chance to address Washington's increasingly fractious relationship with Tehran, and to reach out to and draw support from the Iranian people. Whether or not Iranians appreciate the gesture, it's clear at least some other Nowruz celebrants don't.
Last week, the Saudi daily Al-Youm reported that Saudi Arabia is considering transitioning away from the state's institutionalized method of executing convicts: beheading by sword. Beheading -- the approach to carrying out death sentences in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century -- has long been practiced in the kingdom in observance of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, which seeks to mimic practices at the time of Mohammed. But a committee of Saudi government officials recently ruled that execution by firing squad would also be permissible under the national brand of sharia.
"This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages of official swordsmen," the committee explained in a statement quoted by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. The committee also complained that official swordsmen have been known to show up late to executions.
Does this mean those few remaining swordsmen will be out of a job soon? It turns out the Saudi newspaper Okaz asked one of them: Mecca-based executioner Mohammad Saad al-Biishi. He says he's not concerned, citing the fact that he's already received firearms training. In the meantime, he'll keep on with the beheadings.
"I just returned from Ranyah governorate, where one of the judgments was implemented with a blow from a sword," he told the paper.
Even if the transition to firing squad occurs, al-Biishi is optimistic about the future of his profession, and has been apprenticing his son in beheadings. He acknowledges, though, that the government's concerns about a shortage of qualified swordsmen are justified. "This profession is not desired by many," he told Okaz, "despite the salary and personal reward we gain from it."
The execution business in Saudi Arabia is booming. Human rights groups estimate that approximately 70 people were beheaded in the kingdom last year, and 14 so far this year. The January execution of a Sri Lankan national, who was accused of the murder of a 4-year-old in her care as a maid while still a 17-year-old minor, prompted Sri Lanka to recall their ambassador from Riyadh last month.
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images
Several news outlets, including the pro-reform Shargh daily, said French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in Iran for talks with officials over how and where to file the lawsuit. She is also the lawyer for notorious Venezuelan-born terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
This isn't the first time the Iranian government has complained about the film's portrayal of the Iranian people during the 1979 hostage crisis. In February, the government even organized a conference to highlight the anti-Iranian ideology behind Ben Affleck's film and other movies. The lawsuit was discussed on Monday during yet another conference in Tehran for Iranian cultural officials and movie critics entitled "The Hoax of Hollywood."
While the details of how (and if) Iran will go about suing Hollywood have yet to be released, one can't help but wonder: Does Iran actually have a case?
The short answer? Not really. "The threshold for a defamation suit in this context is pretty steep," Cory Andrews, senior litigation counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, told FP. To prove defamation, you have to not only establish that what is presented as fact is actually false (a difficult task when dealing with a partially fictionalized movie), but also that the plaintiff's reputation was injured, causing financial damages. "I'm not sure how the current Iranian regime would go about proving damages," Andrews notes. "The film is loosely based on events from 1979, not 2013. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is dead, and as a general rule of law you cannot libel the dead."
Even if Iranian officials choose to pursue a case of group libel -- a controversial legal theory, typically raised in cases of racial hate speech -- they would still have to prove that the regime suffered an injury to reputation and measurable damages as a result of the film.
As for where Iran could file its lawsuit, Noah Feldman, a professor of international and constitutional law at Harvard, tells FP, "The Iranianans could bring suit in any place where the film is shown, I suppose, and rely on anti-defamation laws." Still, he adds, "it seems highly unlikely to go anywhere in any credible jurisdiction."
Then again, Andrews reminds us, "it's the easiest thing in the world to file a suit." So while Iran might have an exceedingly difficult time proving their case, that won't necessarily stop them from giving the makers of Argo a minor headache in the process.
© 2012 - Warner Bros. Pictures
Traditions aren't traditions if they're not a little weird, right?
"We have decided to prepare the body of our 'Comandante President,' to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people," Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro declared on Thursday, in announcing plans to preserve Hugo Chávez's body and showcase it in a glass tomb at a military museum near the presidential palace. "Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong."
In fact, it turns out Maduro was missing a few names. The practice of embalming national (mainly communist) leaders and boxing their bodies in glass for posterity may have gone out of vogue with the end of the Cold War, but Chávez still has distinguished company. Here are the most notable members of the exclusive club:
Vladimir Lenin, Russia
Died: Jan. 21, 1924
Call him a trendsetter. Lenin was the first communist revolutionary to be encased in glass upon his death, and his body is now on display in Moscow's Red Square at Lenin's Mausoleum, commonly known as Lenin's Tomb. But that might not last forever given public opposition to the memorial. In 2011, for instance, a member of the ruling United Russia party created a website where people could vote on whether to bury the former Soviet leader (the vary majority of respondents voted in favor of burial).
Mao Zedong, China
Died: Sept. 9, 1976
The founder of the People's Republic of China ruled the nation from its establishment in 1949 until his death. Though he reportedly wished to be cremated, the chairman's mausoleum went under construction immediately after Mao died and was completed by the following May.
Kim Il Sung, North Korea
Died: July 8, 1994
Like his neighbor to the north, Kim Il Sung ruled the Democratic People's Republic of Korea from its inception in 1948 until the day he died. Draped in a Workers Party of Korea flag, his body is on display at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, also known as the Kim Il Sung Mausoleum.
Kim Jong Il, North Korea
Died: Dec. 17, 2011
Kim Jong Il, who led North Korea from his father's death in 1994 until his own demise nearly two decades later, was put on display in the same shrine that houses his father. Dennis Rodman visited the remains of both former leaders during his recent trip to North Korea.
Ho Chi Minh, North Vietnam
Died: Sept. 2, 1969
The communist revolutionary established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 at Ba Dinh Square, where his body now rests. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was inspired by Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow, and his body is watched over by an honor guard.
Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images
Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines
Died: Sept. 28, 1989
Marcos was president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, but died in exile in Hawaii. Nonetheless, his remains were returned home in 1993, and his body was put on display inside the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum in the city of Batac. This week, the mortician who embalmed Marco offered some advice (and his services) to Venezuela. "They must not delay" choosing an embalmer," he told AFP, adding that he would not use resin to preserve Chávez as was done with Lenin.
Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images
Pope John XXIII, The Vatican
Died: June 3, 1963
Angelo Roncalli led the Catholic Church from 1958 until his death, and his body is now on display at St. Peter's Basilica. He was known for forging better relations with other religions, and was beatified on September 3, 2000. In 2001, the BBC reported that Vatican officials had found the pontiff's bodily remarkably well-preserved when they opened his coffin after nearly four decades as part of an effort to transfer his remains from a Vatican crypt. His body was soon put on display in St. Peter's Square, with the pope's face covered in a thin layer of wax.
Of course, we could go further back in time. You could always visit King Tut.
Earlier this week, we reported on the controversy in Tunisia and Egypt over some "Harlem Shake" videos, which have provoked arrests and an investigation by the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and the follow-up Harlem Shake protests Egyptians and Tunisians were planning.
Well, they happened.
The video above is from Cairo, outside the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another protest took place outside the Ministry of Education in Tunis, though rain deterred some dancers.
The videos are spreading (here's one from another school, Tunisia's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology), as is the backlash. Salafist groups have tried to intimidate students making Harlem Shake videos, and, at one school, a protest broke out that was dispersed by police with tear gas.
The videos are clearly becoming more political. In the video from Egypt, for example, a protester is wearing a large fake beard to mock conservative critics. And in the videos from Tunisia there are a number of protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes and gas masks that were popular during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Unlike so many other flash-in-the-pan memes, the Harlem Shake might be around for a while -- especially if politicians in Egypt and Tunisia keep trying to get rid of it.
Last night, Argo, Ben Affleck's account of the Iranian hostage situation, surprised few when it claimed the Academy Award for best picture. Also unsurprising was the reaction of Iranian media.
The film, which looks at Hollywood's role in helping smuggle six hostages out of Iran amidst the fraught 1979 revolution, has garnered intense criticism from the country for its negative portrayal of Iranians. The Iranian government even organized a conference to discuss the ideology behind films like Argo, and their use in promoting an anti-Iranian, Islamophobic agenda. And when Michelle Obama presented the Oscar via live feed from the White House, this seemed to confirm the worst fears for many in the Iranian media.
In a rare occasion in Oscar history, the First Lady announced the winner for Best Picture for the anti-Iran Film ‘Argo,' which is produced by the Zionist company Warner Bros.
Mehr News dubbed the award the "most political Oscar" saying, "the anti-Iranian movie ‘Argo', the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, unveiled the bare politicization in Hollywood."
Meanwhile Iran's state TV called the whole thing an "advertisement for the CIA."
In his acceptance speech, Affleck included a couple of shout outs to the frustrated nation:
I want to thank our friends in Iran living in terrible circumstances right now. I want to thank my wife who I don't usually associate with Iran.
Not the most diplomatic of speeches, this prompted Mehr to further lament: "Ben Affleck continues to show a bleak picture of Iran: Iranians live in terrible circumstances.”
The state-owned, Press TV, went in a different direction. In a snub worthy of the Academy, they chose not to acknowledge the film at all in their coverage of the evening, making it seem, for those who wouldn't know better, that Life of Pi and Amour were the big winners of the night.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
The 85th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, and as folks in Hollywood begin to prepare with juice cleanses and facials, international contenders have a somewhat different if equally complicated road to awards night. Wednesday, Palestinian director of 5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, was detained in LAX, where security threatened to deport him if the Oscar-nominated filmmaker couldn't provide physical evidence of his invitation to the awards show.
The West Bank olive-farmer turned director is the first Palestinian ever to be nominated in the documentary category after he used cameras to chronicle his nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. Traveling with his wife and son, Burnat was held by immigration for 45 minutes and only released after he sent a text message to fellow filmmaker, Michael Moore, who later tweeted about the incident:
"It's nothing I'm not already used to," he told me later. "When u live under occupation, with no rights, this is a daily occurrence."— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) February 20, 2013
Detaining a Palestinian filmmaker who happens to be buddies with Michael Moore probably wasn't the best PR move on the part of US Customs and Border Patrol. In addition to tweeting frantically about the occurrence, Moore has also updated his website with the statements of both directors.
This isn't the first time a foreign participant has had trouble getting to the show. In 2009, Indian singer Sukhwinder Singh, who was set to perform "Jai Ho" from Slumdog Millionaire, was unable to make it to awards night after the Academy failed to send the requisite letter of invitation he needed to obtain a visa.
In a different category, there's Roman Polanski's infamous no show when he won best director for The Pianist in 2003. The director feared being arrested if he entered the US after fleeing from a sexual abuse charge in 1978.
This year, Rachel Mwanza, the Congolese star of the Canadian nominated feature film, War Witch, had to interview with U.S. authorities to prove she wouldn't remain in the country illegally after the show. The sixteen-year-old actor was only just granted a visa, three days before the ceremony -- incidentally the same amount of time it takes to complete a pre-Oscar juice cleanse.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
As far as holidays go, Valentine's Day seems innocuous enough. But for some Muslim groups, it's a lot more sinister than hearts and flowers.
In Pakistan, for example, the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority wrote a letter this week requiring television and radio stations to censor content related to the holiday, deeming it "not in conformity to our religious and cultural ethos."
Tanzeem-e-Islami, an Islamist organization in the country, took censorship efforts one step further, urging the government to block cell phone service in order to prevent "moral terrorism"-- otherwise known as the swapping of sappy V-Day sentiments. The same group also plastered Karachi with anti-Valentine's billboards (that look suspiciously Valentine's-y) with warnings to citizens like, "Say No to Valentine's Day" (another billboard posted on Twitter declared, "Sorry Valentine's Day, I am 'Muslim'").
It's no surprise, of course, that conservative,
Islamic clerics aren't enamored with this unapologetically consumerist, Western holiday named for a saint and and centered around romance. For many, the holiday
seamlessly intertwines anti-Western sentiment with the threat of loosening
moral values. The spokesman for the Pakistani Islamist organization
Jamaat-e-Islami said as much this week:
This is imposing Western values and cultures on an Islamic society.... Look at the West -- people love their dogs but throw their parents out when they get old. We don't want to be like that.
Pakistan isn't the first Muslim country to wage a war against Valentine's Day. In Indonesia this year, protesters took to the streets with signs reading, "Valentine, Infidel Culture" and, "Are you Muslim? Don't follow Valentine Day." As we noted last year, countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, and Uzbekistan don't feel the love this time of year either. And hey, at least Pakistan didn't mark the holiday by banning the color red.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
It may be the biggest news to break in Latin since Julius Caesar's death.
Pope Benedict XVI provided vindication for Latin teachers everywhere on Monday by breaking the news of his upcoming resignation via a speech in the oft-dismissed ancient language:
More satisfying still for those who maintain Latin is not dead, the Huffington Post Italy reports that the news was first broken by a reporter for Italy's ANSA news agency, who apparently beat out journalists from France, Mexico, and Japan thanks to her superior language skills. Giovanna Chirri initially could not reach a Vatican spokesman to confirm the news, AFP reports:
In a heated debate with her editor, the journalist insisted her Latin knowledge was sound and they could alert the news.
The difficult part was "understanding the Latin," he said. "At a certain point, for example, I caught the word 'incapability' in the pope's speech. I turned around and spoke with my Mexican colleague. We noticed that Pope Benedict had a sad look on his face, not his usual look. Something wasn't right. Then, when cardinal Sodano mentioned the 'sadness,' we finally understood."
The choice of Latin for a major announcement was likely no accident: Benedict has long indicated that he considers a Latin revival important for the future of the Church. In November of last year, he established a Pontifical Academy of Latinity with the goal of promoting the language, saying in a letter at the time that even among priests and seminarians, the study of Latin has become "more and more superficial." He further demonstrated his determination to take Latin into the modern world in January when he began tweeting in the language. Still, Benedictus PP. XVI has just 17,816 followers so far -- the fewest of any of the pope's nine Twitter accounts.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
With a North Korean nuclear test looming imminently on the horizon, the nation's propaganda machine appears to be in full 1980's-pop-swing. Last weekend, the government uploaded a video to its official website depicting a young Korean man falling asleep beside a telescope --don't we all?-- and dreaming happily of a rocket circling the globe. As an instrumental variation of Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie's hit charity single from 1985, "We are the World," plays in the background, viewers are treated to images of celebrating North Koreans before the video takes a more ominous turn, depicting a war-torn U.S. city-scape, (incidentally lifted from the video game, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3). The captions running across the screen confirm the video's threatening intentions:
"Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing," runs the caption across the screen.
"It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself," it added.
The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will "surely come true".
"Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us... never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory," it said.
This isn't the first time the U.S. has been the target of North Korean propaganda. With some of the country's most popular cartoons depicting similarly chilling themes, is it any wonder this young man started dreaming about it?
Stealthy? Yes. Fashionable?
Well, what do I know.
Citing a desire to explore "the aesthetics of privacy and the potential for fashion to challenge authoritarian surveillance," New York artist Adam Harvey will be unveiling a line of "drone-proof" clothing next week designed to help those seeking an escape from the all-seeing eyes.
The four-piece line, dubbed "Stealth Wear," as reported by RT, includes an anti-drone scarf and an anti-drone hoodie, designed to throw off the thermal imaging systems often used by unmanned planes, a shirt with a shield that protects the wearer's heart against x-ray radiation, and an accessory Harvey has called the "Off Pocket," which lets the user "instantly zero out" a phone signal to protect against GPS tracking.
It's not Harvey's first time using art to investigate ways to shake off big brother: his master's thesis at NYU looked at ways to interfere with facial recognition software. The clothing line is a response to the growing use of domestic surveillance drones (there are expected to be as many as 30,000 in U.S. skies by 2020) but still, it's not hard to think of some people outside the U.S. who might be interested in acquiring some anti-drone wear. No word yet on how much an anti-drone scarf will cost.
Stealth Wear will be unveiled at a London studio next week along with videos explain the technology behind the garments.
For many Americans, there's a sense that the United States has not fared well in the comparisons inevitably invited by the attacks that occurred on the same day in elementary schools in Newtown, Connecticut and Guangshan, China. In Newtown, 20 children were killed. In Guangshan, 22 may have lost fingers, or ears, but they survived.
"That's the difference between a knife and a gun," wrote James Fallows in the Atlantic. Writing on Salon, Mei Fong asked "what good is freedom of speech and a democratic system, when these rights can't prevent the slaughter of innocents?"
But the societal soul-searching on the Chinese side has focused more on the aftermath of the tragic attacks, and many, including some state-owned media, have voiced admiration for the humanity and compassion displayed by U.S. public officials following the attacks, as well as the transparency with which the Sandy Hook shooting has been handled.
In a story headlined "Anger at attack response" published Monday, the typically nationalist Global Times newspaper reported that no local officials have visited the Guangshan hospital where many of the injured children have been treated, while a report from Xinhua, noting that no village officials could be located after the attack and that the only employee to be found was playing video games has prompted widespread disdain.
Xinhua also reported that news of the attack at Guangshan, in which a man knifed 22 children in central Henan Province, was initially deleted from the website of the local party committee, and that a news conference on the attack planned by the local government for Saturday was cancelled without explanation. The China-watching site Tea Leaf Nation notes that the names of the children injured in the attack have yet to be released.
Meanwhile, Chinese internet users have watched the aftereffects of the two tragedies play out with disapproval.
"We know much about the American killer, even his family and childhood, but know little about the Chinese suspect," wrote Weibo user and writer Zheng Yuanjie.
"In an instant, information about the deadly gun attack in an American school that claimed 28 victims blanketed Chinese media," wrote economist Han Zhiguo. "On the same day, there was a campus attack in Henan province's Guangshan county, in which 22 students were injured with lacerations....you could only find information about it on Weibo. Was mainstream media's difference attitudes [toward the two incidents ] because Chinese children's lives aren't valuable?"
The perspectives generated by these same-day tragedies on contrasting societal strengths and weaknesses may be interesting to note; still, it's worth remembering that neither society's grass is looking particularly green at the moment.
H/t Tea Leaf Nation
Conventional wisdom for women and men choosing a perfume or cologne generally holds that one should avoid making a strong statement with a scent. Let someone else's perfume sensually assault everyone else in the boardroom.
Not so, apparently, in Gaza, where a local company's newest fragrance is called M-75, named after the long-range rockets Hamas designed and fired on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last month.
Marketed to both women and men (there are two different scents and his and hers bottles), the fragrance is meant to be a symbol of Palestinian resistance and a celebration that M-75 rockets were able to reach their targets during the eight day "Operation Pillar of Defense" in November.
According to the owner of the company, Shadi Adwan, "The fragrance is pleasant and attractive, like the missiles of the Palestinian resistance, and especially the M-75." Its goal? "To remind citizens of the victory wherever they may be, even in China."
The success of this political beauty statement has yet to be determined. M-75 costs twice as much as other perfumes in Gaza, due to its "luxurious" ingredients. Let's hope this doesn't lead to retaliation. No one wants to know what "Pillar of Defense" smells like.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
He's performed with Madonna, has been on the Today show, and is scheduled to perform at a "Christmas in Washington" concert this weekend that President Obama plans to attend with his family.
But now South Korean rapper Psy -- chubby, goofy Psy, who horse-danced his way into so many American hearts this past year -- is now being dogged by some surprisingly vitriolic anti-U.S. comments from his past.
In 2004, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, took part in a live performance of Korean band N.E.X.T.'s song "Dear American" in which he rapped:
Kill those f****** Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f****** Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughter-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
The rap came two years after PSY had participated in a protest concert against the presence of 37,000 troops in South Korea. During the concert, Psy lifted a miniature American tank above his head and smashed it on stage, to cheers from the audience.
As many have noted, it's important to remember the context here: the protest concert came shortly after two middle school girls in Korea were killed after they were struck by an armored vehicle operated by U.S. soldiers (the soldiers were later acquitted of charges related to their deaths). And the 2004 rap came in the wake of the beheading death of a Korean missionary in Iraq, after South Korea rejected the kidnappers' demands that it withdraw its troops.
Korea is an American ally, but has long been ambivalent about the presence of U.S. troops on its soil; many have also questioned the presence of South Korean troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Psy -- whose Gangnam Style video passed Justin Bieber's "Baby" last month to become the most-viewed video ever on Youtube -- has yet to comment.
Update -- Psy has responded in a statement: "As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I was featured in - eight years ago - was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I'm grateful for the freedom to express one's self, I've learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I'm deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words."
"I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months - including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them- and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it's important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology."
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Former NBA player and Chinese superstar Yao Ming has a new gig as a goodwill ambassador for the nonprofit organization WildAid, who recently brought him to Kenya to
make all of our photo dreams come true "document the poaching crisis facing rhinos and elephants, as a result of Asian demand for rhino horn and ivory." One unintended consequence of his visit was to make everything in the country appear comically small.
Above, he towers over a baby elephant named Kinango, whose mother was killed by ivory poachers. "He pushes against me partly for contact, but also testing his strength," Yao writes on his blog.
But Yao isn't just surrounded by tiny elephants. He's also accompanied by a number of diminuitive elderly men.
You can read more about Yao's adventures in Africa on his blog.
Kristian Schmidt for WildAid
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.