If Nobel prizes are any indication of a country's relative academic strength, the U.S. doesn't have much to worry about. With Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson winning the economics Nobel today (or the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel if you're not into the whole brevity thing) Americans have won or partially won all the prizes this year with the exception of literature.
The literature prize has earned something of a reputation for anti-Americanism recently with only one U.S. author (Toni Morrison) winning in the last 20 years despite a number of perennial contenders like Phillip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates.
Combating alchohol abuse has always been something of a non-starter in Russian politics. This is, after all, a country whose former president was once found by the Secret Servce thoroughly sauced outside the White House, wearing nothing but his underwear trying to hail a cab so he could get a pizza.
But current President Dmitry Medvedev is trying to change things with a proposal to ban outdoor beer sales in his country, a first step in getting Muscovites to lay off alcohol. He also wants to limit the hours of the day alcohol can be sold.
This week, a bill was submitted to lawmakers that would triple the tax on beer from 3 rubles per liter to 10 rubles per liter by 2012. Wine and spirits would also see a sharp increase.
State prosecutors are also moving to ban liquor sales in airports. Under Russian law, no beverage with alcohol content above 15 percent can be sold in crowded or dangerous places, and prosecutors say this means airports.
Russians drink five gallons of pure ethanol a year, double what is considered dangerous by the WHO. And on average, 30,000 people a year die from alcohol poisoning in the country. Over half of the deaths of the 15 to 54-year-old demographic between 1990 and 2001 are attributed to alcohol.
"I have been astonished to find out that we now drink more than we did in the 1990s, although those were very tough times," Medvedev said.
He is a fan of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's anti-alcohol reforms in the 1980s aimed at curbing consumption, even though he acknowledges that the plan had major flaws. Gorbachev destroyed the majority of vineyards and wineries in Georgia, probably the birthplace of wine (This didn't help the growing anti-Russia sentiment in the Southern Caucasus at the time). He also shut down distilleries and breweries. Most notably, the Soviet Union suffered tremendous sugar shortages, because people turned to moon shining. (The Russian word for ‘shine is Samogon) Stores also ran out of window cleaner and aftershave. It is estimated that 13,000-25,000 people died from drinking ill-made moonshine.
Medvedev's plan is much more cautious but many Russians are still wary.
"It's impossible. He doesn't stand a chance," a Russian construction worker told The Los Angeles Times."The Russian man will always be drinking. Russians don't surrender."
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
The city council of Nairobi passed a series of by-laws yesterday outlining new illegal activities for the streets of Kenya's capital. Newly outlawed activities include blowing one's nose in public without using a hankercheif and spitting into trash cans. Another of the laws criminalizes loud noise.
This particular ordinance may have the biggest impact on the economy of Nairobi, in which street hawkers, cab drivers and store owners rely on verbally cajoling customers into their services. One resident argued the city is just trying to make money, either from imposed fines or bribes, and directly ignoring the needs of its citizens:
"We get our daily bread here,We are not making noise. The council must know that we are self-employed."
The city maintains that the purpose of the news laws is to make the city more habitable and reduce general nuisance.
The Sham MCs, a group of nine young rappers, recently released, Crossword, Syria's first rap album. The group's increased exposure reflects the growing diversity of Syria's music culture. Nevertheless, their album has been met with controversy, typical of Syrian reactions to Western culture such as their anti-Facebook policies.
Group members of the Sham MCs voiced their annoyance through their music over such negative reactions:
"The second track [on the album] is called Against the Flow, [because] it's like we're going against everybody's idea and they hate rap because it's like a Western thing."
Furthermore, 21 year old, Sham MC member, Badi Issa, who credits his first exposure to rap as an Eminen video in the sixth grade, argues his group is promoting Syrian, not American, culture, saying the group is trying to:
“do something for us, for Syria, for the youth of Syria, for the land of Syria – something that has an identity of its own.”
Recently, following the end of Ramadan, the Sham MCs played a three day tour in venues normally reserved for traditional Syrian musicians, and this past summer they became the first rap group to perform at a Syrian festival, alongside George Wassouf, Syria's most famous singer.
Myspace /Sham MC's Pics
The United States State Department got a crash course in the perils of social networking over the weekend.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and his family posed for a picture with Barack and Michelle Obama at the U.N. What the Zapateros didn't know was that the picture would be posted online to the State Department's Flickr page. This wouldn't normally be a problem, except that the people of Spain have never seen any pictures of the prime minister's daughters before.
Spanish Goths/Punks approve of the picture because, well, let's say the girls appear to shop at Hot Topic. (Asunto Caliente?)
Spanish media was conflicted over the photo, many of them published it on the front page; however the state-owned news agency, EFE, did not run the photo. EFE said, "They should not have their personal rights prejudiced by the prime minister's decision to take them to New York."
The prime minister's office was trying to get all of the photos down, claiming he tries to keep his children out of the public eye. A noble cause, it seems there should be some middle ground between the Spanish case and this.
Photo via Gawker.
Venezuela banned an airing of Family Guy last week after Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami took offense to one episode in which the family dog, Brian, leads a movement to legalize marijuana. (Whole episode here.)
Stations that still air canine-cannabis propaganda will be fined, according to El Aissami. Hugo Chávez's government doesn't have much of a taste for U.S. cartoons. Last year The Simpsons was also deemed unsuitable.
"The government considers it to be a series that isn't appropriate for that time [11 am] because it isn't appropriate for children," said Elba Guillen a spokeswoman for the privately-owned Venezuelan station Televen.
The station avoided getting fined for airing The Simpsons by replacing it with a much more family-friendly show.
Mark Davis/Getty Images
Roman Polanksi, the famed director of Chinatown and The Pianist, who has not set foot in the United States for more than three decades, is now facing extradition proceedings in Switzerland -- at the request of the Los Angeles district attorney's office.
Upon touching down at the Zurich airport on Saturday, after departing his native France, Polanksi was detained by authorities. Unlike France, Switzerland has an extradition agreement with the United States that applies to cases like that of Polanski, who is wanted in connection with a 32-year-old sex case.
In 1977, Mr Polanski admitted to having sex with a 13-year-old in Los Angeles. The woman has since identified herself and publicly offered her personal forgiveness. But that has not changed the course of legal proceedings.
As Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, told the New York Times:
"Any time word is received that Mr. Polanski is planning to be in a country that has an extradition treaty with the U.S., we go through diplomatic channels with the arrest warrant."
Polanski's case is perhaps not unique in the world of extradition law, but it is provocative. The notion of the Los Angeles DA's office for 32 years tracking the director's busy European travel schedule, waiting for an opportunity, whilst he chose to appear at various film festivals via video-conference rather than in person, is fascinating. But beyond the celebrity factor, it's hard to pin down exactly what seems so incongruous.
Is it simply that in a post-9/11 world we're now accustomed to thinking of "extradition" in connection with national security interests, and clear-and-present danger?
Andrew W.K. is a musician, nightclub owner, children's show host, motivational speaker, and news commentator who has penned tracks such as, "Party ‘til you Puke," "Party Party Party," "Long Live the Party," "It's Time to Party," "Party Hard," "Big Party," and "Dance Party."
He says of art and entertainment, "I want my jaw to be on the floor completely out of my comfort zone. In life we are fortunate to have comfort, so art and entertainment should take us away from that."
So, what does former Secretary of State Dean Acheson have to do with Andrew W.K.'s latest album? More than you would think. The album, '55 Cadillac, is an instrumental piano album inspired by his experience with the title car. The car, it turns out used to be owned by architect of the Cold War, Dean Acheson. And W.K. thinks his spirit may have lingered.
"The only time the car ran well was when my wife was in it," W.K. said. "I wondered if the car was somehow... It didn't want me to own it."
He said maybe he didn't fit the idea of an ideal person to Acheson, explaining why the car didn't work for him. On the other hand Acheson did share a room with legendary composer Cole Porter in law school, so maybe he had an affinity for musicians, W.K. said. "Maybe Dean Acheson has been watching down on me," he said. "But I'm no Cole Porter."
Oddly enough, W.K.'s views on global governance aren't that far removed from Acheson's. "I am very interested in where things are headed," said W.K. who has been closely following the events at the UN. "The idea of a centralized world government, a one world civilization appeals to me."
He said he would like to see people to start identifying by planet rather than nation, pointing to the internet as a place where globalism exists, where people act more as citizens of the world.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
UNESCO is set to decide today on what has become a bitter and controversial election for its new director-general. Irina Gueorguieva Bokova, the Bulgarian ambassador to France, and Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian culture minister, are the two remaining candidates after an inconclusive fifth round of voting yesterday.
Farouk Hosni was the clear leader going into voting last week, but hasn’t been able to cinch the 30 votes from the UNESCO board to win -- probably because UNESCO nations are reluctant to elect someone who said, famously, that he would “burn Israeli books” if he found them in Egyptian libraries. If the vote ties today, it may literally come down to a draw, with the candidates’ names written down and pulled out of a bag -- a little-known UNESCO statute that’s never been put to the test in 64 years.
To read more about the background of the vote, check out Raymond Stock’s article for FP explaining why on earth someone who’s called for the burning of books would even make it as far as culture minister.
Update: In a major upset, Bukova has won becoming UNESCO's first female director general.
In Japan, it's becoming increasingly popular to hire actors to fill out the crowd at events like weddings and funerals:
Agencies such as Hagemashi Tai - which means "I want to cheer you up" - charge around £100 for each "guest". Other services such as giving a speech in praise of a bride or the groom cost extra. [...]
Office Agents, the largest provider of pretend friends, makes sure that its employees have done their homework and know all about the bride or groom before the wedding.
Hiroshi Mizutani, the company's founder, said the fake friends he provides must look happy, be well dressed and look like people with good jobs.
After acquiring a massive following on the Iranian black market though Internet downloads and illegal DVDs, the U.S. sci-fi drama Lost has been approved for official distribution in the Islamic Republic. The Guardian reports:
Other long-running US dramas – including 24, Prison Break and Desperate Housewives – have been widely distributed on Iran's black market, but none has been given official approval.
Granting distribution and broadcasting rights to Lost would mark a policy reversal after officials previously criticised the series and warned media outlets against publicising it.
Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi, recently sacked as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's culture and Islamic guidance minister, lambasted it for displaying "Zionist concepts". However, others insisted the programme was suitable for an Iranian audience because it has "eastern" themes.
"The atmosphere of this story, due to our classic literature, is familiar to Iranian and eastern viewers," Saeed Ghotbizadeh, a TV and cinema critic, told the Tehran-e Emrooz newspaper. "Eastern viewers can understand it better and would naturally like it.
Granted I gave up on watching Lost after about the first season but the themes seemed pretty western to me -- lots of Christian redemption vignettes and characters not-so-subtly named after enlightenment philosophers. Guess I missed something.
The officially distributed Iranian version of the show will be edited to "exclude "un-Islamic" scenes such as those featuring scantily clad women or male-female physical contact" -- so the authorities' decision might be less about exposing Iranian viewers to Lost's exploration of spirituality than preventing them from seeing Evangeline Lilly in a bikini. Somehow I think the bootleggers are going to stay in business.
As a side note, I would love to hear an Iranian viewer's take on 24.
When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi goes on the offensive, great things happen for bloggers. He got worked up after a Spanish reporter asked whether he should resign for the rising scandal over his womanizing, including an escort who says she was paid to spend the night with him. Reuters reports Berlusconi's stunningly candid explanation for why he thinks he should stay:
"I sincerely believe I am by far the best prime minister Italy has had in its 150 year history (since unification in 1861)," Berlusconi said in televised news conference in Sardinia with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Now, though struggling with corruption, Italy is a democracy, but I'm pretty sure that's what Robert Mugabe says too. But back to Berlusconi, it gets better. He has never denied sleeping with the woman accusing him, but forcefully explained why he would never pay for sex:
"Never in my life, not even once, have I had to pay for a sexual encounter," Berlusconi said. "And I'll tell you why: for someone who loves to conquer, the greatest joy is the conquest, so I ask, 'if you pay, what joy can there be?'"
That must make his wife feel even better about her decision to start divorce proceedings. But the press conference still gets better:
When Berlusconi apologized to Zapatero for his lengthy answer, the Spanish leader said there was no need and it was "very interesting."
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
It's cartoon Wednesday here at Passport. Three editors at the Uganda weekly The Independent, including editor-in-chief and FP contributor Andrew Mwenda, were summoned by police over a political cartoon in last week's magazine. The cartoon, seen above, implies that President Yoweri Museveni is beginning a strategy to rig the elections scheduled for early 2011. Uganda is one of the few self-proclaimed democracies to retain criminal libel laws which can be used to prosecute journalists. However, the sedition law is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court and no prosecutions are allowed to move forward. (Freedom House rates Uganda "partly free.")
For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda's Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists...
Officers pressed the trio over the motive and production of an August 21 cartoon spoofing Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission did not adhere to its own rules and allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing, and voter disenfranchisement.
The second spot on the list alludes to the treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was brought to trial in late 2005 at the same time he was the main candidate opposing Museveni's reelection. Olara Otunnu, a former U.N. official is thought to be another possible challenger in 2011.
The third item, Kiboko squads, refers to violent groups of men that attacked anti-government protesters in 2007 and were since linked to Museveni's government by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.
Museveni is expected to face a serious challenge in the 2011 elections if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate. My sources in Uganda say he personally was very angry about the cartoon, leading to the questioning.
But still, a cartoon?
Press intimidation is fairly frequent in Uganda, but most international donors tend to look the other way as Uganda is relatively stable overall.
But seditious cartoons? Really? That can't be good for aid dollars.
Full disclosure: I know all three editors well and worked at The Independent in 2008. Shortly before I arrived, a more dramatic incident occurred with government forces actually arresting several journalists at the magazine, raiding the office and seizing files and disks alleged to contain "seditious materials." No charges were filed.
The Independent, Uganda
Iraqi intelligence officials in the Prime Minister's office quickly took action when they learned a man was trying to sell a painting he claimed was a Picasso looted from Kuwait in the 1990 invasion. Unfortunately, as the London Times' Oliver August reports from Baghdad, the painting is probably not authentic:
Was it the strange proportions, the outsize legs? Was it the tag on the back that read “the Louvre; to the museum of kuwait”, even though the Louvre has never had a Picasso in its collection and would not, a spokesman said, have sold one if it did?
The reality took the gloss off what was otherwise a brilliant operation. The would-be seller, named as Maitham al-Issawi, 33, was given it by his father, a former army officer, just before he died. He had asked for a “down payment” of $450,000.
A security official told The Times: “Two weeks ago we were informed by an intelligence department at the Prime Minister’s office about this matter. The painting was seized along with the suspect and both were taken to the provincial police command.
“The painting was originally inside a house but we didn’t like the idea of a raid because we feared the suspect might burn the painting. An ambush was set up outside and he was lured into the city where he was arrested in the middle of the road."
Regardless of this painting's authenticity, the Iraqi government intends to continue going after stolen art and cultural items. It is looking not only for items from Kuwait but also many looted from Saddam's palaces in 2003. August reports:
The official hinted that the Prime Minister’s office had more information on looted artwork and that it could swoop again soon.
The band, that is. Thanks to a government decree today, Muslims in Malaysia will not be allowed to attend the group's concert next month. The policy, as told to the AP goes like this: "Muslims cannot attend. Non-Muslims can go and have fun."
So... Where is the Love? It's not the hip-hoppers that Malaysia is concerned about; it's the event's sponsor, Guinness. It's part of a bid to crack down on alcohol use among the Muslim majority. On top of this incident, liquor sales are being watched more closely, and sharia courts -- set up for the civil cases of Muslim adherents -- are taking the laws seriously, granting rough penalties for infractions.
Not everyone is happy about all this, and not just because they will miss a rockin show. The country's minority Indian, Chinese, and other ethnic populations have often chafed against the government's pro-Malay (and hence pro-Muslim) politics. In regional elections earlier this year, ethnic and religion tensions came to fever pitch. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim led a multiethnic coalition that came the closest in memory to actually challenging years of pro-Malay rule by the United Malays National Organization and its partners.
So why did Malaysia give this concert a go-ahead in the first place? Tourism revenue, it seems. But there's more Humps on the road to winning Black Eyed Peas cash than it seemed.
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
German Judge Albert Bartz has taken issue with laws that ban drivers from talking on handsets while driving but do not address many other potentially more distracting activities, including sexual activity.
"The police have no legal basis for taking action against a driver who is, for example, letting their left hand dangle out of the open car window while they use their right hand to work on a laptop that's sitting on the passenger's seat and steer the car with their thighs," Bartz said. "In my opinion, the current legislation is outdated."
The judge considered the law while handling the case of a man who appealed his fine for talking while driving. Bartz insists however that he does not have personal motivation for his legal position.
Bartz emphasized that he has never been caught using his mobile phone in the car and that he also avoids other risky activities while driving. As he told the mass circulation daily Bild: "Sex at the steering wheel is strictly off-limits for me."
Bartz forwarded the statute on to Germany's highest court, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, for further review.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The Moscow Times reports that Russia has issued new guidlelines to law enforcement officials about how to define extremism:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Winnie the Pooh share a dubious honor: Anyone who depicts either of them with a swastika can be punished under the law.
The Justice Ministry published the latest — and biggest — update to its list of extremist materials on its web site this week, and many of the 414 new entries are so vague or controversial that analysts say they threaten to discredit the list all together.
The list is important because police officers and other law enforcement officials use it in street checks, apartment searches and criminal cases.
Among the new entries, extremist material is identified as “a picture of Winnie the Pooh wearing a swastika,” “a self-made template for a future newspaper, comic or other print materials,” and “a flag with a cross.”
And just when you thought that was all:
A closer look at the list brings other surprises. For example, item No. 402 is the LiveJournal blog Reinform.livejournal.com.
The blog has not been suspended by LiveJournal’s abuse team and is being updated almost daily. Its owner wrote on its front page that he had opened the blog after seeing prosecutors mistakenly name the then-nonexistent blog as extremist.
MJ Kim/Getty Images
RFE/RL reports that an Azerbaijani music fan was questioned by his country's National Security Ministry after voting for rival Armenia's entry in this year's Eurovision song contest:
"They wanted an explanation for why I voted for Armenia. They said it was a matter of national security,” Nasirli said. “They were trying to put psychological pressure on me, saying things like, 'You have no sense of ethnic pride. How come you voted for Armenia?' They made me write out an explanation, and then they let me go."
A total of 43 Azeris voted for the Armenian duo Inga and Anush, and their song, "Jan-Jan."
Nasirli, like others, used his mobile phone to send a text message expressing his preference, little imagining his vote would eventually result in a summons from national security officials. (By contrast, 1,065 Armenians voted for the Azerbaijani team, apparently without consequence.)
The funny thing is, Nasirli's motives were actually patriotic:
Nasirli said he preferred the Armenian entry because it sounded "more Azeri" than his country's own submission, a duet featuring Arash, a pop superstar born in Iran and based in Sweden:
"I voted for Armenia to protest the fact that Arash was representing Azerbaijan. Also, the Armenian song was closer to Azerbaijani style than Arash's song,” Nasirli said.
Here are the two entries so you can judge for yourself.
In the Guardian, Jonathan Franklin provides a first-hand look at "cocaine tourism" in Bolivia:
"Tonight we have two types of cocaine; normal for 100 Bolivianos a gram, and strong cocaine for 150 [Bolivianos] a gram." The waiter has just finished taking our drink order of two rum-and-Cokes here in La Paz, Bolivia, and as everybody in this bar knows, he is now offering the main course. The bottled water is on the house.The waiter arrives at the table, lowers the tray and places an empty black CD case in the middle of the table. Next to the CD case are two straws and two little black packets. He is so casual he might as well be delivering a sandwich and fries. And he has seen it all. "We had some Australians; they stayed here for four days. They would take turns sleeping and the only time they left was to go to the ATM," says Roberto, who has worked at Route 36 (in its various locations) for the last six months.
Franklin reports that in addition to the low prices a number of reasons conspire to make Bolivia the perfect location:
This new trend of 'cocaine tourism' can be put down to a combination of Bolivia's notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic "anything goes" attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower.
While the rest of the article is great, I'm not sure about the "national example" factor of Morales. I'm pretty sure the president is not selling his crops for processed cocaine. Morales did want to destigmatize coca crops when he won the presidency, but it was to restore the leaf's role in Bolivia's cultural heritage, not to give the thumbs up to full scale cocaine production.
Obviously more coca crops make more cocaine much easier, but I wouldn't quite say Morales is explicilty in approval.
AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images
Bollywood fans in India's northern city of Allahabad burned a U.S. flag and shouted anti-American slogans to protest treatment of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan (seen at right). Khan was stopped and held for questioning as he entered the U.S. in Newark, NJ.
U.S. customs officials say that the questioning was standard procedure, that the delay lasted only 66 minutes and that it was made worse by the fact that the actor's bag was lost by the airline. In India, however, the perceived offense was much greater, the AP reports:
"Shocking, disturbing n downright disgraceful. It's such behavior that fuels hatred and racism. SRK's a world figure for God's sake. Get real!" actress Priyanka Chopra said on her Twitter feed.
The federal information minister, Ambika Soni, angrily suggested that India adopt a similar policy toward Americans traveling to India.
Khan, visiting the U.S. to celebrate Indian Independence day at a parade in Chicago, is also working on a new film called "My Name is Khan" about racial profiling of Indian muslims in the U.S. as potential terrorists.
Perhaps grateful for the unexpected marketing boost, Khan later said he did not want an apology. But he added that his patience with American customs was wearing thin (he said this is not the first time something similar has happened) and that he might seek to spend more time in countries that know their Bollywood stars on sight:
"Post-9/11, one could understand and one did not complain. But this time it was a bit too much. I have travelled to other countries. I never faced any problem in the UK where I am treated like a state guest. They escort me to the car."
Nepal has to get some credit for creativity with its public policy.
Following an official's recent suggestion of pocketless pants as a method to reduce airport corruption, the Nepalese government has a new plan. To keep widows integrated into society the government will provide a $650 grant to men who marry them.
The government says that "single women," as widows are known in Nepal, are often neglected by society, particularly in rural communities. The subsidy is supposed to help by reducing the stigma attached to widows, who traditionally lose their status when their husband dies.
Widows and women's groups however, were less than thrilled, and around 200 marched in protest yesterday in Kathmandu (pictured at left) telling the government to reverse its decision.
Women chanting slogans and waving placards that read "We don't want government dowries" and "Don't put a price on your mother" marched to the government's headquarters to hand over a letter of protest.
The BBC coverage a few weeks ago helps explain the widows' point of view:
Widows like 29-year-old Nisha Swar, whose husband was killed by Maoist fighters six years ago, say the policy of offering payment for remarriage could lead to discrimination.
"Men could want to be with us for the sake of getting the 50,000 rupees. It is like putting a price tag on our head and we are very humiliated by this," she says.
Her friend, 30-year-old widow Poonam Pathak, agrees.
"I feel embarrassed because now anybody walking on the road could say, look, there's a widow! I could get 50,000 rupees if I married her," she says.
So far, the government has defended its decision, but even if it is overturned the publicity is a good sign: at least Nepal is concerned about improving the status of widows.
PRADEEP SHRESTHA/AFP/Getty Images
FP's own Marc Lynch got a ton of attention (and rightly so!) in the blogosphere and the MSM for his brilliant post on what the beef between Jay-Z and The Game can teach us about American hegemony. It was only a matter of time before the participants themselves weighed in. (This is The Game we're talking about.)
A reporter in New Zealand asked the L.A. rapper, currently on tour, to respond to Marc's post:
In a recent Foreign Policy article, George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch, likened the feud to the battle of global hegemony -- with Jay Z in the role of the United States, and The Game as the "erratic wildcard": Iran and North Korea.
The Game asks for an explanation of why that's not a favourable comparison, before likening Lynch to Greenland -- isolated from the top writers in the world -- and Jay Z to Iceland "coz he's gone cold".
The Game is treating a reconcilable as an irreconcilable. He's like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi! Marc Lynch is a middle-class, fence-sitting Sunni Iraqi -- surely an academic -- in Diyala or Anbar or Baghdad, judiciously able to see both sides of the U.S. and AQI feud and not particularly inclined to throw his lot in decisively with one or the other. And here's The Game, trying to humiliate Marc in public for apostasy or cut his fingers off because he enjoys a cigarette. Defeat sets in right there. Soon will begin Marc Lynch's Awakening. Which is a good name for a mixtape.
Like I said, Abu Aardvark rolls deep.
Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images
The Wall Street Journal's Sky Canaves reports on some of the festivities in store as China gets ready to celebrate the current government's founding:
As part of the myriad activities planned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, the normally staid National Bureau of Statistics is letting its hair down a bit.The NBS has launched a call for submissions of writings celebrating the PRC’s big birthday as part of campaign called “Statistical Feelings: Together We Go – Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of New China.” The campaign is intended to boost the patriotic feelings and confidence of statisticians in their work, according to the bureau’s Web site.
Excited yet? Canaves and the WSJ team translate and provide a look inside the minds and patriotism of Chinese statisticians:
So far, about a dozen entries have been posted, encompassing the genres of prose, poetry and song. One essay, submitted by an employee of the NBS industrial division, is titled “I Am Proud to Be a Brick in the Statistics Building of the PRC,” and reads like a prose poem, each paragraph leading with the title’s refrain.
A poem, “Love the Homeland, Love Statistics,” includes the following stanza:
Some mock me for doing statistics
Some loathe me and statistics
Some don’t understand what statistics are
Why is it that statistics
Put a calm smile on my face?
Because of statistics
I can solve the deepest mysteries
Because of statistics
I will not be lonely again, playing in the data
Because of statistics
I can rearrange the stars in the skies above
Because of statistics
My life is different, more meaningful
I love my life, my statistics
I have a sudden thirst for data.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
In 1972, the number one priority of new King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan was the country's Happiness. It reads like the beginning of a children's story, but it's a real quantifiable concept. A measure of overall personal satisfaction weighed against detrimental factors such as stress and depression, Gross National Happiness remains the pride of this Himalayan state today, considered even more important than the Gross National Product.
Recently, however, its high GNH has been called into question with an inexplicable surge in the suicide rate. Kuensel, the country's main newspaper, investigated and found some shocking numbers. BBC News elaborates:
'In some villages, committing suicide has almost become a norm," [Kuensel] says.
Official figures show that the highest number of suicides was in 2001, when 58 people killed themselves. The lowest number was in 2006, when 34 people committed suicide. Bhutan's population is 682,000 people.
The figures have concerned the government- which is expanding a counselling service in schools to help teenagers who feel depressed.
Correspondents say that the figures are surprising, especially when the country's two main religions- Hinduism and Buddism- believe that a person who commits suicide will not be reborn as human being."
Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission Karma Tsheetem concludes, "It means there has to be a better balance between spiritual and the material." Hopefully this balance will be restored and we'll see a spike in the GNH soon.
Britney Spears could be returning to film for the first time since "Crossroads" in 2002, for which she was given a Golden Raspberry award for worst actress of the year. She is said to be reviewing the script for "The Yellow Star of Sophia and Eton" a romantic tragedy partially set in the Holocaust.
As Der Spiegel reports, not everyone is thrilled about the potential casting choice:
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has said she is horrified..."In films that deal with the Holocaust, the script should be carefully chosen and the cast picked with care," Knobloch told the German tabloid Bild. "It is reprehensible to combine the issue of the Holocaust with Britney Spears in an attempt to secure financing for the film 'The Yellow Star of Sophia and Eton.' Ethical considerations should have priority."
More on the film from Haaretz:
If she accepts the role, Spears will be taking on the title role of Sophia LaMont, a woman who invents a time machine and succeeds in traveling to the time of the Second World War. According to the script, LaMont ends up at a concentration camp and falls in love with a Jewish prisoner named Eton. However, the budding love story is cut short when both are killed by the Nazis.
Britney, time-travel, Nazis. What could they be worried about?
The blog Art We Love has a great post on Mir Hossein Mousavi's art career, as well as that of his (better known in this respect) wife Zahra Rahnavard:
A believer that art plays a secondary role to political engagement, Mousavi once wrote that “the paint brush will never take the place of the communal struggle for freedom. It must be said that the expressive work of any painter or artist will not minimize the need to perform his social responsibilities. Yet it is within the scope of these responsibilities that his art can provide a vision for a way of living in an alternative future.” A press release for one of Mousavi's exhibitions in Tehran described his work as an "exploration in designs, motifs and a kind of dreamlike intuition of lines, volumes and ascending forms on the context of an Oriental and poetic aesthetic.... The paintings have both the touch of primordial memories and look upon modern milieus and innovative experiences."
(Hat tip: Marginal Revolution)
Trust The Nation's "Deadline Poet" Calvin Trillin to find it:
The Private Thoughts of a TV Anchor as He Observes the Iranian Election
A president like Moussavi
Would fill me to the brim with glee:
For anchors not completely lame,
It's easy to pronounce his name.
But this was not to be. Oh, God--
I'm stuck with Ahmadinejad.
In a surprising capitulation to Iranian tyranny, Newsweek (who recently redesigned the interior of the magazine) boldly and officially renamed their magazine NewsAyatollahs, starting with the cover of the June 29th issue.
With crafty image editing, Dernavich decides to rename several magazines in a similar fashion and to create his own. The images are a must see. My favorite is Ayatollahs Illustrated.
Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times reported Tuesday on some, uh, innovative crime fighting techniques of Russian police in St. Petersburg. To catch a man seeking to kill his boss, police faked the murder in public, all the way down to staged blood and media reports, and arrested the culprit when he delivered money to an undercover officer for the completed hit.
As Schwirtz highlights, this could be why so few Russians trust the media or the police.
Such elaborate sting operations are not uncommon in Russia, where the police routinely manipulate the news media in criminal investigations, said Yevgeny Vyshenkov, a former police detective here who is now the deputy director of a St. Petersburg Internet news agency, fontanka.ru. In his previous career, Mr. Vyshenkov said, he once had a journalist agree to publish a fake article to coax a suspect to divulge information about accomplices.
Another question: where was all this creative crimefighting after the broad daylight murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya? On Monday, the Russian Union of Journalists released a report condemning Russian authorities for failing to protect journalists.
The Organization of American States welcomes Cuba back into the fold:
Foreign ministers of the Organization of American States have voted to lift the suspension of Cuba, apparently paving the way for it to rejoin.
Revolutionary Cuba was suspended from the Washington-based organisation in 1962 over its 'incompatible' adherence to Marxism-Leninism."
Though former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was said to be uninterested by the development, the lifting of the ban is another signal that relations are improving between the Caribbean state and its neighbors.
For those who're counting, the embargo is 47 years old.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
The past suggestions have ranged from the highbrow to the lowbrow, the obscure to the obvious, Children of Men to Duck Soup. Boonstra's addition? The show that took hijinks, mashed them with the teenage detective and paranormal mystery genres (yes, both of them), added in a dash of Timothy Leary and the Mamas and the Papas, and baked it all together in an irresistible biscuit: Scooby-Doo.
Consider the Scooby Doo villains as rudimentary terrorists. They dress up as scary monsters, terrify the local population, and chase Shaggy and Scooby through endless halls and mismatched doorways. That they wear masks, and often are after financial gain, may make them seem to resemble old-school bank robbers, but the crux of their power is the terror they invoke in residents.
The mysteries are inevitably solved by the members of the team -- Fred, Daphne, and Velma -- who remain relatively calm and treat the monsters as criminals -- not, say, "enemy combatants" of the beleaguered town. This is despite the fact that they are impersonating what is, in terms of fear-inducing presence, essentially a child's equivalent of a bomb-laden terrorist.
But no lockdowns are conducted, there is no torture for information on the monster's identity, and no pre-emptive strikes. (The only "operations" are limited to Rube Goldberg-esque traps that are conducted only once the team has accumulated enough evidence to identify the villain, who, naturally, "would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you lousy kids!") The culprit is then arrested by the local police, and, instead of bundling him in the Mystery Machine and sending him/her to Guantanamo, s/he is presumably headed for a normal civilian jail.
I'm charmed by the comparison, but I'm not sure it holds up. The Scooby Doo villains were hardly conventionally motivated terrorists, striking fear into civilian populations to attempt societal revolution; they were always after cold-hard cash. (Often from empty bed and breakfasts located in swamps. Weirdly.)
If anything, I think of the Scooby Doo Five as a decent analog for the United Nations weapons inspectors: mobile and peripatetic, spooked by the astral, often kicked out of the amusement park, much derided but really fairly decent at digging out the truth.
So what cartoons do explain the foreign policy world? I'm going to do a little reading of Louis Menand and will get back to you -- the ones springing to mind (Darkwing Duck? Jem?) don't seem very relevant. Pinky and the Brain perhaps. And maybe more on The Smurfs later.
Photo: Flickr user MagnusK
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