But I'll be damned if I'm going to let him get away with referring to Dublin born-and-bred U2 as a "UK" band in his post on the lack of great European rock bands. If that's what passes for realism these days, I want no part of it. (He's technically right about Belfast's Van Morrison, though some of my relatives probably feel differently.)
Richard Dawkins -- famed evolutionary biologist, bestselling atheist, and delightful interviewee -- has launched a new campaign in Britain to get atheists to "come out." All over central London, the tube, and on the sides of buses will be the following slogan:
There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life"
Don't you feel better already?
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
A wealthy Bangladeshi filmmaker is spending about $60 million to build an exact replica of India's Taj Mahal 20 miles from Dhaka:
Construction work began five years ago, but Mr Moni says that he came up with the idea in 1980 when he first visited the real Taj in Agra, northern India.
He said that his homage had been built because most people living in Bangladesh - where nearly half of the population exist below the poverty line - cannot afford to travel to India to see the real thing.
“Everyone dreams about seeing the Taj Mahal but very few Bangladeshis can make the trip because it's too expensive for them,” he said.
Indian diplomats are not happy about the plan and are currently "investigating" the matter. Though one admits, “A copy is a form of flattery, I suppose.”
Bangladesh clearly has a taste for monumentally ambitious construction projects. Their stunning Louis Kahn-designed parliament building took two decades to construct and, I would think, would be more a source of pride than an exact copy of India's most famous building.
Photo: Munir UZ-ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
Readers, which "we never realized this would offend anybody" statement do you find less convincing:
Busta Rhymes not realizing Muslims might be offended by his Koran-sampling song "Arab Money," in which the rapper boasts of getting "oil-well money" and "gambling with Arafat?
Or, Playboy not realizing that Catholics might be offended by its Mexican edition depicting a nude model as the Virgin Mary on its cover?
I vote for the second one.
I doubt this is true, but it is funny:
The subdued Ms Merkel, who loathes Mr Sarkozy's bravura, has been watching videos of the late Louis de Funès, a manic comic actor and Gallic institution, for clues to understanding the ever-agitated President.
Here's a representative sample of M. De Funès's work:
The AP reports on a new campaign by musicians, including Rage Against the Machine and Massive Attack, to ban the practice of using loud heavy metal, hip-hop, and even children's songs to psychologically break down detainees for interrogation. Apparently, not every band has a problem with the practice, though.
Bassist Steve Benton of Drowning Pool, whose 2001 hit "Bodies" is a particular favorite of interrogators, had this to say:
"People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down," he told Spin magazine. "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."
Having only a vague recollection of these guys, I looked up Drowning Pool's entry on AllMusic.com, which features a picture of the band posing with Barack Obama. I'm guessing that was a very weird meeting.
Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images
Proposition 8's defeat in California isn't the only thing making headlines for the gay rights movement as of late. According to the Washington Post, gay Mexican citizens who seek asylum in the United States are facing an increasingly uphill battle. Changes to the general asylum policy and a few rejected cases have resulted in what many fear is the end of a practice that provided safety for dozens since the mid-1990s.
Persecution based on sexuality, in a country where machismo and conservative Catholic ideals run deep, once made a strong enough case for gay Mexicans seeking refuge up north. But liberalized laws on homosexuality and an increase in gay pride efforts have made the case a harder sell. Mexico City now recognizes civil unions, and the city's gay pride parade draws more than a million people each year.
So why should the United States leave open the possibility of asylum? Despite the gains, negative attitudes in Mexico about homosexuality persist, leading to workplace discrimination and brutality against gays. Between 1995 and 2006, more than 1,200 Mexicans were killed because of their sexual orientation. And for all the good they might have done for the country's gay rights movement, liberalized laws have provoked a backlash from homophobic parts of society -- including some members of the Mexican police force.
Another reason to leave the asylum option? Consider the impact these homophobic attitudes and actions have on the spread of HIV/AIDS. Men who have sex with men in Mexico are over 100 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population. Says Martin Martinez Sanchez, a Mexico City hospital employee, of gay men in the capital city:
They have sexual encounters in clandestine areas, and in parts of the city that are just horrible and dangerous... Later they go home and have unprotected sex with their wives. Many gays feel they have to have a wife for appearances."
For many, asylum might not just mean escaping discrimination -- it can mean a lifeline to better care. Mexico's routine medication shortages mean inconsistent treatment for the disease, which usually requires daily pill dosages. As long as prevention and treatment measures for AIDS lag, the United States ought to think twice before closing its doors.
Miriam Makeba, a giant of world music and symbolic voice of the anti-apartheid movement, passed away Sunday night at the age of 76. Makeba was forced into exile from South Africa over 30 years after speaking out against apartheid while on tour in the United States.
Makeba remained politically active until the very end of her life. On the night of her death, she performed at a benefit concert in Italy for journalist Roberto Saviano, who has received death threats for writing about the mafia.
Nelson Mandela writes of Makeba:
Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. She was South Africa’s first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours."
Via Oliver Wang, here's Makeba in 1979, performing her biggest international hit. The young girl at the end of the clip is her granddaughter:
The Wall Street Journal reports today that Miss Vietnam 2008, 18-year-old Trãn Thi Thuý Dung, was stripped of her crown after officials discovered she hadn't completed high school. The scandal puts Vietnam in a tough spot, as it might not have a viable contestant to send to the Miss World competition on Nov. 15th.
Vietnam -- a country that's taking the bad news very seriously -- has an interesting history when it comes to beauty competitions. After the country's first national pageant in 1988, the grand prize, a bike, was stolen from the winner. Last July, Vietnam played host to the Miss Universe contest, with Jerry Springer and Scary Spice hosting the awards ceremony.
And yet, there is no formal requirement that contestants must complete a certain level of education before entering, a fact that Vietnam's contest organizers concede. The reaction over Thuý Dung's lost title has thus been mixed and the public has rallied to her defense.
Although other national pageants don't have such stringent rules (the United States gives its contestant winners a six-month window to complete high school), Le Ngoc Cuong, a spokesman for the contest, views a high-school diploma as vital. Otherwise, "lots of girls would drop out of school to focus on beauty pageants," he said.
As for Thuý Dung, crown or not, she's behaving like a true queen, sending a healthy message to young ladies of the world: She's going back to school, and says, "I wish Vietnam can still find the right candidate to send to Miss World, even if it isn't me."
As Japan's population ages, the country is facing the new and unexpected problem of senior crime:
The number of people aged 65 or older arrested for crimes other than traffic violations totaled 48,605 last year, up from 24,247 in 2002, the Justice Ministry said in an annual crime report. Elderly crimes rose 4.2 percent in 2007 from a year earlier, though the total number of people arrested fell 4.8 percent to 366,002.
Thefts, such as shoplifting and pick-pocketing, were the most common crimes committed by older people, the report said, citing low income, declining health and a sense of isolation as the main causes of the trend. Serious crimes such as murder and robbery were less prevalent among seniors than younger people.
The report said elderly crime is growing at a much faster pace than the population of senior citizens.
The rise in elderly crime has also forced many prisons to renovate their facilities and provide nursing care.
I shudder to think what this will mean for the next generation of yakuza movies.
A musical based on Barack Obama's life will open on Sunday in Nairobi, Kenya:
The play tells the story of Mr Obama's life.
It begins with his father's move to America to study and his meeting with Barack Obama's mother, before covering the events of the young Obama's life.
Mr Orido says he came up with the idea of the play three years ago, as Mr Obama rose to prominence.
"Music is the universal language and Obama is a universal figure," he said. "If you want to tell his story, you have to tell it in a universal language so that everyone can understand." [...]
The play ends with an enactment of Mr Obama's acceptance of the Democratic nomination, shying away from predictions about who will emerge victorious after the 4 November elections.
The play's author hasn't ruled out a sequel, but I suppose that depends on what happens tonight.
(Hat tip: Chris Blattman)
Acrobats from the Jiangxi Acrobatic Troupe of China perform 'Candle Contortionists' at the 8th China Wuhan International Acrobatics Art Festival on Oct. 28, 2008, in Wuhan of Hubei province, China. The festival, one of the major acrobatics events in the country, attracts performers from more than 12 countries and regions.
Photo: China Photos/Getty Images
This autumn, an ancient trade route that crosses the disputed Kashmiri border between India and Pakistan opened after being closed 61 years ago, when the two countries broke free of the British Empire. Many hope the opening of the trade route, in a bitterly disputed Himalayan region, will boost the economy on both sides of the “Line of Control” that divides the territory. In the photo above, the first truck carrying goods from the Pakistani side rumbles across the bridge to the Indian side.
For Kashmir's artisans, famed for their rugs, copper bowls, and other handicrafts, the opening of the trade route is a sign of hope. Check out some of their beautiful creations and learn more about the trade route in this week's photo essay, "Making Peace, One Trinket at a Time."
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
Sign of the times? The Bravo network is said to be planning a "docusoap reality show" set in Dubai:
[Dubai Project] will track a group of American and British expatriates, along with their entourages, as they work and play, pursuing the American dream in an Arab emirate. The potential series will track its cast members throughout all parts of Dubai, from its manmade beaches to its modern skyscrapers and nightclubs.
The new project is said to be close in tone to Bravo's upcoming docusoap "Miami Social," which follows a group of young professionals living in Florida.
Let's hope it covers court cases, too.
In Azerbaijan's breakaway majority-Armenian province of Nagorno-Karabakh, 700 ethnic-Armenian couples were wed in a mass ceremony on Oct. 16. Anahit Hayrapetyan reports for Eurasianet:
Russian-Armenian businessman Levon Hairapetian, a native of the Karabakh village of Vank, financed the ceremonies. Each couple received a payment of $2,000; newlyweds living in villages received a cow. That financial support will continue with each child born: couples will receive $2,000 for their first child, $3,000 for a second child, and increasing sums up to $100,000 for a seventh child.
The ultimate aim of the event was to stimulate a baby boom in the territory. A 2005 census put Karabakh's predominantly ethnic Armenian population at just over 145,000.
It's certainly a novel nation-building strategy, though I'm not sure a few thousand more babies is really going to turn Nagorno-Karabakh into the next Kosovo. Then again, it is one of the former Soviet Union's more obscure frozen conflicts, so I guess anything that gets a bit of press is at least a small victory.
Check out the rest of Hayrapetyan's photo essay here.
Anahit Hayrapetyan for Eurasianet.
Afghans are about to get a path to riches that has nothing to do with poppy fields. A Kabul-based production company has just bought the rights to produce an Afghan version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
A run of 52 episodes is slated to start filming next month. The winnings won't be quite seven figures; the main prize will be 1 million Afghanis, or about $21,000. Given the country's woeful literacy rates, I'm curious to see what types of questions they'll develop, but I have no doubt the show could catch the attention of a large number of Afghans, who have embraced television in droves since the fall of the Taliban.
I just can't wait to see who the Afghan Regis will be.
The party's over. As the economy fizzled out and the housing bubble burst, champagne sales fell 2.6 percent in the first half of this year, compared with last year. It's the first time sales of bubbly have declined since 2000, according to the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne. In the United States, sales fell 22 percent in the first half of 2008.
There are at least a couple of places where people are still heartily toasting success, however: Russia, where champagne sales increased 158 percent last year, and China, which had a 74 percent increase amid the growing popularity of wine there.
Colin Powell appears to have traded statecraft for stagecraft. The former Secretary of State hopped on stage with the Nigerian hip-hop group Olu Maintain last night at the Africa Rising Festival at London's Royal Albert Hall. Powell danced to the group's song, "Yahoozee," and even took the microphone to sing a few lines. The song celebrates "Yahoozee," a term used for those who defraud people using the Internet, a booming industry in Nigeria. Whether Powell knew the subject matter of the song remains a mystery.
More disturbingly, Powell's performance continues a worrying trend of international statesman trying to branch out into hip-hop careers. The world had only recently recovered from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's rap tribute to Jay-Z when it was hit with Powell's bombshell. Who's next, Robert Gates?
Voting is currently under way on the English Channel island of Jersey on a referendum to switch from Greenwich Mean Time to Europe Central Time. Jersey is closer to France than Britain and some residents feel closer ties to their continental neighbor:
We have historical connections with France. Our streets have French names. The prayers in our parliament are in French,'' he told the BBC. "A continental lifestyle is desirable - we'd have the opportunity to spend longer out in the evenings. It's something that Jersey could market and promote for tourists as well as enjoy for itself."
The business community is largely against the switch, since it would make it more difficult to do business with the U.K., Jersey's largest commercial partner. In my opinion, it won't really matter that much as long as everyone can keep track of what time it is. As Hugo Chávez learned last year, this is harder than you'd think.
Without taking anything away from former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize today for his work as an “outstanding international mediator” in conflicts from Indonesia to Northern Ireland, the entire institution of the Nobel Committee has grown so self-important that this is a worthwhile opportunity to question its judgment and ultimately its usefulness.
Peace Prize, awarded to then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and
Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho for their role in the Paris Peace Accords,
remains a head-scratcher. Kissinger played a major role in expanding the U.S.
bombing campaign across Vietnam,
The Nobel Prize in Literature also has been guilty of sins of omission. Many of the last century’s most celebrated writers, such as Leo Tolstoy, Graham Greene, Vladimir Nabokov, Mario Vargas Llosa and Philip Roth, have been ignored by the Committee. Greene and Nabokov were considered in 1974, but eventually lost out to Swedes Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson -- who just happened to be Nobel judges themselves.
The Literature Prize is awarded by a committee selected by the Academy, founded by the Swedish King Gustav III in 1786, while the Peace Prize is awarded by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament. In any other context, the idiosyncratic tastes and political beliefs of these elite Scandinavians don't exactly make headlines. Why the entire world pauses to honor the selections of an otherwise unknown group of people remains a mystery.
In the end, the Nobel Prize reveals more about society's collective obsession with honorifics than it does about the world's great leaders and writers.
For Paris's dreary, far-flung suburbs, a little star power is on the way:
A film crew will arrive next week in a filthy, semi-derelict, graffiti-strewn housing estate on the north-eastern extremity of Paris. Among the actors will be one of the best-known faces in world cinema: John Travolta. The name of the movie's location has become almost equally famous, or infamous. Les Bosquets ("the groves") is one of the twin estates at the border of Montfermeil and Clichy-sous-Bois which were the flashpoint, for riots which spread to the poor multi-racial suburbs of almost every large town in France in October 2005. ... Most of the movie, which has nothing to do with the problems of the "banlieues" or suburban estates, will be filmed in central Paris and elsewhere.
French Director Luc Besson is out to boost the economy and "tap the talent" of the down-and-out suburbs. At least a few scenes of his film From Paris with Love, an English-language spy thriller, will be filmed in Les Bosquets. But once the camera dollies get taken apart and the aura of celebrity moves on to its next port of call, doesn't everything return to normal? Even that shiny €100 bill for a hard day of "pretending" to be a local denizen can't last long.
It will be a real spectacle, but the suburban dwellers of Paris would probably appreciate more attention from the folks in the Élysée Palace, and not just Hollywood royalty.
Lebanon plans to charge Israel with violating a food copyright by marketing provisions such as hummus and falafel as Israeli, Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association announced Monday. Abboud contends that these foods are historically Lebanese, and that Israel's appropriation of them has cost the Levantine country profits "estimated at tens of millions of dollars annually."
Lebanon's case will likely rely on "the feta precedent," said Abboud. Six years ago, Greece was able to win a monopoly on the production of feta cheese from the European Parliament by proving that the cheese and had been produced in Greece under that name for several millennia.
The origins of hummus remain shrouded in mystery, but attempts to claim the food as a "national dish" remain a reliable way to start nationalistic squabbles across the region. Bringing this case to the courts, however, is unlikely to win the Lebanese government points even with a domestic audience. Most likely, it will simply reinforce the belief that while Hezbollah readies its rockets against Israel, all the Lebanese state can muster is frivolous lawsuits.
In Iran, health experts have issued warnings on TV and radio discouraging people from overeating during the holy month of Ramadan.
They are right to worry. Some Iranians actually gain weight during this time because they overindulge at iftar, the evening feast when Muslims break their daily fasts, National Geographic News reports:
U.S. artist Jeff Koons opened a controversial show in Paris this week at the Hercules salon in the Château de Versailles. From a gargantuan balloon dog to his famous porcelain statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Koons "redecorated" Louis XIV's former hunting lodge inside and out. He even filled Marie Antoinette's room with vacuum cleaners. Of course, as NPR reports, some in France were not amused:
Koons' sculpted rabbits and dogs "don't belong at the palace of Versailles, they belong at Disneyland," said journalist and radio host Anne Brassie.
Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky, the president of a writers' union, agreed. "This exhibit is sacrilegious and insulting to the symbols of the Republic and its art," he said, wearing a velvet-and-gold-colored crown at the protest.
Here are some more unbelievable shots from the show:
The Dante Alighieri Society -- the Italian equivalent of the supremely uptight Academie Francaise -- has produced a list of the ugliest anglicisms that have infected Italian speech in recent years:
The results judge the ugliest imports to be 'weekend', 'welfare' and 'OK', followed by 'briefing', 'mission', 'know how', 'shampoo' and 'cool'.
The worlds of business and politics contribute many of the alien words, from 'question time' to 'premier' and 'bipartisan'.
Apparently this trend has become quite a problem:
Italians increasingly sprinkle their conversations with English terms, some of them comically mangled and bizarre sounding to a native English speaker.
'Baby parking', for example, is a strange conflation which means child care centre or nursery. A 'baby gang', on the other hand, is a more sinister construct. It means a group of young criminals or hoodlums.
As with the French and their use of Franglais, Italians sometimes throw in English words to appear worldly and cosmopolitan, and at other times to describe things slightly alien to the Italian mindset, from 'il fitness' to 'il full immersion training'.
I don't speak Italian but I can imagine that "il fitness" would be pretty grating. My favorite anglicism from my admittedly limited language study has to be the Russian word "biznismen" and its even weirder feminine version, "biznismenka".
But is "weekend" really that bad? It was good enough for Jean-Luc Godard, after all.
If no one in Venezuela noticed that the Olympics were over, it was because there is yet a bigger, more strategic game to be won. Care to guess? A soccer match? A local election? President Hugo Chávez trying out for American Idol?
Nice try. As defending champion of the Miss Universe competition, the country is going all out to defend its title.
At the Miss Venezuela pageant, step one toward Miss Universe victory, stakes are high and the training is brutal. The competition's Wikipedia entry claims that preparation for finalists can last up to six months. Rough, says one participant:
"It's like a military school, it is really tough...Apart from the exercise there is the diet, chicken and salad, chicken and salad."
The pageant is a culture, a phenomenon, and a highly rated TV program watched nationwide.
And even for those uninterested in such vain displays, there's politics to boot. The country must have been glowing with pride when neighbor -- and often rival -- Colombia took 2nd place to Venezuela in Miss Universe last year. Rumor also has it that the Colombians have sent pageant candidates to be trained in Venezuela's academies in the past.
The country's newest Miss Venezuela -- upon whose shoulders the dreams of beauty domination will ride -- is set to be crowned next week.
If you've ever had a burning desire to have your voice projected through a megaphone in Norway, today is your last chance.
This summer, a group of artists erected a 23-foot-tall, wind-powered "telemegaphone" on top of a mountain in western Norway that overlooks the village of Dale and a scenic fjord. Dial 47 90 369389, and your voice will be projected through the telemegaphone and across the scenic Nordic landscape. Sing, yell, yodel, pontificate. Better yet, play a concerto.
Today's the last day, however. Tomorrow, Sept. 6, the telemegaphone is being turned off -- deer season is commencing.
"Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history – not to mention Britain's remarkable geography – at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day," she said. "We're in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique; giving us a feel for a place even if we've never been there."
No disrespect to Spence but this is luddite nonsense. The Internet is about the best thing to happen to geography nerds since the sextant and anyone who's ever wasted hours flying around the world on Google Earth did so specifically to get a feel for a place they've never been.
As readers of this blog know from our weekly "Tuesday Map" feature, computer graphics and the interactivity of the Internet are allowing people to do new and fascinating things with maps every day. How could any development that lets cycling fans take a virtual Tour de France from their desks or allows activists to publicize a Tiananmen massacre map of Beijing possibly be negative? These posts are typically among our most popular so I'm not too worried about the public losing interest in cartography.
This is one aspect of modern life that I'm more than happy to see googlized.
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