Pay close attention so you can follow all this: the Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung has this coverage of a news report from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter about a new entry in the Swedish Donald Duck comic series (he’s called “Kalle Anka” there), published by Egmont Kärnan AB, with an interesting plot-twist. You can even follow all the comic-strip action on the article’s webpage, if you can read Swedish or are just very good at interpreting the pictures. (Just click from cartoon-panels 1 through 4 using the left- and right-arrows you see at the lower-right.) (more…)
Archive for July, 2009
Oh joy! Longer-term €S readers will remember all the way back to May, when I first brought you word in this space about the “Miss Saudi Arabia” pageant. Due to the . . . er . . . somewhat different nature of that extravaganza’s judging-process, it takes rather longer than your average beauty pageant. But now this year’s winner has finally been crowned, and that is eighteen-year-old Aya Ali Mulla. I had not really been on the look-out for any sort of follow-up to May’s story – I promise! – but my RSS feeds nonetheless came up for me big-time and alerted me to recent coverage of that pageant’s outcome from the Czech press, namely from Lidové noviny and Mladá fronta dnes. These articles are (almost) the same, as they both are by-lined to the same Czech press agency piece. For example, they have similar headlines: “Saudi Arabia has new Miss, but no one has seen her” and “Miss Saudi Arabia’s face seen only by female jury-members,” respectively.
Naturally, both Czech papers ultimately refer back to the Saudi press for coverage of this marquee event, but have to report that no Saudi paper was actually able to state what it was about Ms. Mulla* that catapulted her to victory. It was easier just to report what she won: an amount in riyals that, from the Czech-crown equivalent that is cited, seems to be just under €1,000; a pearl necklace; some diamonds (mounted on what, is not revealed); a wristwatch; and a paid vacation to Malaysia, which, although of course another Islamic land, is a pretty nice place to visit, I’ve heard. There’s also further detail here on one of the event’s key competitions, the “How much do you respect your mother?” event: apparently contestants each spend an entire day out “in the country” with their own mother, under the observation of one of the jury-members (wielding a clipboard, no doubt). I say, get coverage of that on the X-Games channel, pronto!
The Czech papers are able to contribute some added detail, perhaps somewhat wistfully, about another beauty pageant held in the Arab world that does actually conform a bit more tightly to what most of the rest of the world understands by the concept, namely the one for Miss Lebanon, where the girls do actually appear in swimsuits (one-piece only, though) and in evening gowns, and are interviewed in front of an audience. In contrast, returning again to Saudi Arabia, the LN article states “Beauty competitions there only have to do with goats, sheep, camels, and other animals” – despite the considerable effort required each year to get the camels into their one-piece bathing-suits!
[Cymbal crash] No, that last part I made up myself . . .
*Quite a suitable name, eh? No, I’m not making it up, click through above to the articles and see for yourself if you want. But don’t be fooled when you see the winner’s last name as “Mullaová”: that last “-ová” part is added routinely in Czech, Slovak, and some other Slavic languages to women’s last names.
The Tour de France rolled on to its final destination at the Champs Élysées in Paris on Sunday, to wind up what for this weblog has frankly been a most disappointing spectacle. Why? Because we have something against Alberto Contador and would rather have seen Lance Armstrong win the thing for the eighth time? Hardly; anyone who has been following coverage of the Tour de France on this weblog knows perfectly well that I do so through one prism only: doping. And – glory be! – it does seem that there was not one kerfluffle involving doping on this year’s Tour. What can that mean?
Fortunately, this is a question that the Dutch Christian newspaper Nederlands Dagblad ((Motto: Don’t try to access us on the Sabbath, we shut the site down”) now addresses: Who knows whether the Tour was clean in 2009. And indeed, we can’t know yet whether that absence of doping incidents this year actually meant that no one was cheating. (“No one was cheating”: that’s a concept rather difficult to wrap your mind around in any case, no?) We can’t know now, but we can get a better idea with the passage of time, because that is what in fact has been the big recent advance in anti-doping techniques according to this article: after-the-fact (or retrospective) analysis. Since 1 January of this year the procedures for conducting that have been set down in an iron-clad legal and procedural framework. (more…)
I was at first going to add this to Hillary Clinton’s dossier of insults to hurl back at the North Korean authorities – but all joking here needs to be put to one side, this is much too serious and horrible. According to reports from escaped North Korean refugees, that totalitarian government actually takes mentally- and physically-handicapped children away from their parents for use as expendable human guinea pigs for testing involving the country’s stock of chemical and biological weapons, including experiments designed to find out how and how long it takes to die from exposure to them.
I first saw word about this from an on-line article of the Czech daily Lidové noviny (North Korea tests weapons on handicapped children, claim refugees), but that article in turn refers to a report by the Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera, which you can read in English here. A quote from one defector: “If you are born mentally or physically deficient, the government says your best contribution to society . . . is as a guinea pig for biological and chemical weapons testing.” As they say, Dulce et decorum est . . .
While I appreciate Petr Pešek’s item there in LN for spreading the word more widely about this – which indeed is my own intended function here, although I daresay my circulation is somewhat smaller than LN’s – I can assure you that it includes little that you can’t read in English over at Al-Jazeera. (All I could find was an additional reference Pešek makes to how it has already been known that North Korea was willing to sacrifice prisoners for these purposes.) Note however that he is notably more journalistically cautious, scattering his piece thickly with “alleged” (údajný) and “it is said” (prý) and pointed references to the Al-Jazeera account.
More serendipity today, this time in Trouw. Really, though, how could my roving eye not take note of a headline that reads A horn in the crotch? It’s a brief piece, by Wim Boevink, but the five photos are really what it’s all about rather than the text per se. All you animal rights activists out there, come clicking, because here you can behold your ultimate revenge fantasy as, for once, it’s the bull that gets the better of the matador. He calls himself “El Cid,” after Spain’s national hero (the matador does, not the bull), but nonetheless found himself rather unheroically caught by a horn both in the thigh and the “crotch” (Dutch: kruis).
“[T]he humiliation could hardly be greater,” Boevink observes. But then he continues:
Question: with whom should we sympathize the most, the man or the animal? The former was led off wounded, the latter did not survive. When it comes to sympathy we must fear the worst for our Spanish hero, who was wounded in his manhood. But what the bull did was below the belt [onder de gordel].
Oh I don’t know, that strikes me as unseemly favoritism towards the matador, who after all entered the ring voluntarily (while his opponent did not) and was fully aware of the dangers he ran in so doing. How do my esteemed readers vote in the sympathy-stakes here?
The Dutch government managed to save some face over a bit of past high-handed colonial conduct on Thursday with a rather bizarre ceremony in The Hague, reported on by Sacha van der Zande of the newspaper Trouw: Finally Badu Bonsu and his people are at peace. Badu Bonsu II, King of the Ahanta tribe of Ghana, was finally released to go home after being held in containment by the Dutch authorities. But there are two important things to keep in mind:
- He’s dead.
- He’s head.
So it was this particular object that was the subject of Thursday’s ceremony, which included the press as well as leaders from the Ahanta tribe residing both in the Netherlands and Ghana. The latter initially seemed pleased at the Dutch government’s gesture – as one Ahanta representative, Veronica van der Kamp, noted, “This is very important. A person without a head is not complete in the afterlife” – and proceeded with some native funeral rituals that involved gin, both drinking it and spilling it on the floor. Soon, however, spirits instead started to rise dangerously high among some of the assembled Ahanta delegates, including King Bonsu’s great-great-grandson, Joseph Jones Amoah, who began to get the crowd agitated by exclaiming “Why did you have to take his head? I’m am so intensely grief-striken [verdrietig] to see him here like this.”
Luckily, certain others present were able to keep their head while everyone else was losing theirs and moved quickly to restore calm, mainly by herding all official attendees (i.e. minus the press) into a separate room to conclude the formalities. A long-awaited homecoming for King Bonsu should follow shortly, and promises to be truly a capital event.
Goodness, it seems one 54-year-old male resident of Mérignac, a town to the southwest of Limoges in the French Dordogne, recently set off in his car on a rather dastardly mission. He headed for a village about 50 km away called Valeuil, with the intention of stealing whatever he could find of value from the local cemetery there. We can deduce his intentions by the fact that he had a ladder, a hammer, and a chisel in his possession. And we can deduce that he had a ladder, a hammer, and a chisel because those were found right next to his stiff body laid out in the very cemetery he had intended to loot, as Le Point tells in a brief article entitled He dies of a heart-attack . . . in the middle of pillaging a cemetery.
Perhaps his mistake was that he visited the cemetery in broad summer daylight; he apparently figured that it was such a small town that no one would notice him anyway, but he didn’t take into account the effects of the heat. Truly, the shoplifter unexpectedly became a customer, so to speak – I wonder whether somewhere in the afterlife he immediately ran into those whose graves he had despoiled or had intended to despoil.
Memo to Secretary of State Clinton: If you consider your squabble with the North Korean authorities as still unresolved and are just waiting to launch a new salvo, I’m glad to provide you with some more ammunition. According to a new report in the French weekly Le Point, you could accuse them of shelling out government funds for luxury yachts from abroad while their people starve back home. Italian authorities back on May 28 seized two luxury yachts with a combined value of €12.5 million, under construction at Viareggio on the coast of Tuscany. This was at the request of Austrian prosecutors in Vienna, as the order for these, along with several cars, had been placed by an Austrian national who thereupon transferred title to them all to a Chinese company suspected as acting as a front for the North Korean government. Naturally, the shipment of any sort of luxury goods to North Korea is prohibited, specifically by UN Security Council resolution 1718 of October, 2006, passed in the wake of that country’s first nuclear test.
Here’s a serendipitous find from out of today’s wanderings in Die Zeit: Viewers of the new film “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” could find themselves being viewed at certain movie theaters in Germany. “But it’s dark in there during the show!” you might object. No problem: the one or more people down off to the side of the movie-screen (usually private security firm employees) will be using night-vision devices to keep tabs on the audience. It’s not anything like over-passionate canoodling they’re there to stamp out (or for that matter people talking on mobile telephones in the middle of the showing – damn!); it’s those who have brought camcorders or similar devices along and are trying to record the film.
As you could imagine, it’s films that have just been released to theaters that are particular candidates for this treatment, and Die Zeit further notes that this is by no means a new measure, but has been used at least since back in 2005. This time, though, a powerful coalition of Warner Bros., the Society for Prosecuting Copyright Violations (in German, the GVU), the Federation of German Movie Theaters, and the Union of Film Distributors stand behind it; in response to customer complaints, one movie theater-owner could only plead “If we don’t allow it [the night-vision surveillance], we would never get any more films from Warner.” Nonetheless, officials from the Data Privacy Office of Sachsen-Anhalt (one of the federal German states where this practice has been going on) are now investigating whether Warner Bros., by insisting this way, has violated the law.
Coming up on 9 November of this year is a significant anniversary, namely 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Coupled with that will be all sorts of related 20-year commemorations: of the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, the fall of Ceausescu in Romania, etc., but also the end of West Berlin as a very unique enclosed outpost of the West in the middle of Communist-controlled territory. Writing in Die Zeit, Wolfgang Büscher wonders whether it wasn’t all just some bizarre dream:
Was there really a West Berlin – this walled-in, haunted city? Sunk into the past twenty years ago, she is to us today as distant and fantastic as the Moon.
Nice, but Büscher’s aim is ultimately not to wax lyrical about his forgotten West Berlin, as we can see from his piece’s simple title: “City of Spies.” Or, if you prefer, Operationsgebiet (“operations area”), West Berlin’s designation in the files of the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or Stasi, the infamous East German secret police.
For it turns out that the Operationsgebiet was a veritable playground for the Stasi during the entire period back when there existed ideologically-hostile West and East Berlins. This shouldn’t be so surprising, though, if you think about it. One the one hand, West Berlin was a completely-enclosed area right at hand, in fact right next to what became the East German capital. And on the other, the Stasi was known to be very good at its job. Anyone who knows anything about what the DDR (“German Democratic Republic”) used to be like knows about the 100,000 or so inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (“unofficial co-workers,” or IM) the Stasi managed to plant among the East German population – basically police-spies tasked with reporting on anyone who expressed dissent, seemed planning to flee the country, and the like. This could be your child’s teacher or your neighbor (in fact, it probably was one of your neighbors) – it could even be your husband or wife. (more…)
From the German website Telepolis and blogger Harald Taglinger we get The Internet in figures, a blog entry whose main attraction is its link to a very informative, data-filled (and English-language) map of the world-wide Internet as of last year. I’ll cut out the middleman for you: a thumbnail is below, which you can click to enlarge in a separate window/tab:
Among the points Taglinger picks out for mention in his accompanying text: P2P takes up 25% of global Internet traffic (or did in 2008; it might be an even-higher percentage now); India + Japan + China already make up about one-third of the world’s Internet users; and Portuguese (because of Brazil) is coming on strong as a website-language, already surpassing German and gaining on Japanese.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made use of her recent visit to the ASEAN conference (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in Phuket, Thailand, to put further pressure on North Korea by basically subjecting them to a bit of ridicule from the podium there. She claimed that “[t]hey have no friends left,” and compared them to an unruly child misbehaving just to attract attention.
Some bloggers dismissed Clinton’s remarks as basically just more “ugly American-ism,” but North Korea came right back with a ridiculing statement of its own. The New York Times has a good account of the exchange, in which that North Korean reply included the rather undiplomatic wisecrack “We cannot but regard Mrs .Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”
Oooooh – those Korean Commies hit back low! But there’s more, picked up (oddly enough) by the Danish Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad (but sourced to the Danish news agency Ritzau). According to this report, a North Korean spokesman accused Clinton of supplying “a wave of vulgar remarks that are unbecoming for a person in her position . . . her words suggest that she is in no way intelligent.”
Take that, Hillary! I’m sure she can handle it, though; she’s been called worse (including a murderer, back in the previous decade, you might recall). The fact is, this is probably not unbecoming Secretary Clinton, or anyone else serving in her position, because the situation with North Korea unfortunately calls now for getting nasty with that country, without going so far as war. In such situations, the truly skilled diplomat knows how to get properly un-diplomatic. This is by no means ugly-American-type condescension at all.
Swine flu is coming soon to hit us again, almost anywhere on Earth we might find ourselves. We know that; indeed, some of us possibly intend to seek out one of those swine flu parties to go to, about which I wrote previously in this space, in order to try to gain immunity against the autumn’s follow-up virus.
Of course, normal social intercourse under the shadow of a communicable disease rather demands that individuals take whatever prophylactic measures are necessary to avoid spreading the virus to others, if one has it, or catching it from others if one does not. That’s why illustrations accompanying swine flu news-reports usually show people wearing medical face-masks. Unfortunately, word has now come from the respected Dutch daily Trouw: Face-masks are not the solution.
Says who? Says Louise Knegtel of the BCM Academy (a.k.a. the Business Continuity & Crisis Management Institute), who these days is going around frenetically conducting three or four workshops per day about the “Mexican” (i.e. swine) flu and how businesses should prepare for it. She notes that face-masks will probably be useless because they only work if they are consistently worn, i.e. by everyone and at all times, and humans are simply not made that way. Sure, you can get all draconian and insist upon and enforce the wearing of face-masks by everyone in your firm, but then what about your suppliers? Your customers who come for a consultation/business meeting?
It probably won’t work (and, believe me, that’s not really the Dutch management style in any case). Better to go with other measures like repeatedly cleaning telephones and doorknobs, using the stairs instead of the elevator, and “limiting social contact” within your company, i.e. letting people work from home, holding teleconferences rather than in-person get-togethers, etc. Even this is not enough to make your firm ready for what Ms. Knegtel forecasts could be 50% employee absence if the new flu outbreak gets serious. (Note that a lot of this will likely be the result, not of sick employees per se, but people needing to go home to take care of children whose schools have closed against the illness.) Way before the flu strikes a firm needs to prepare carefully, designating key activities and key personnel, planning how to keep them going even when people go missing, maybe pre-designating a “crisis manager” (presumably one assumed to be least at risk of getting the flu him/herself) to take charge when the problems start.
Whoa, then: all talk of “Kiss me, you swine!” aside, it looks like experts are taking the prospect of a serious swine/Mexican flu epidemic in the fall quite seriously. This point is reinforced by an article in Le Monde of a couple of days ago, Europe: Authorities prepare to confront the virus, a brief, collective effort by Le Monde’s correspondents in the major European capitals (including Paris, bien sûr) to summarize preparations country-by-country. The common pattern emerges of governments having placed huge orders with the relevant pharmacy companies (Sanofi, GSK, Novartis) for flu vaccines and established plans for prioritized vaccinations for if/when the more serious H1N1 flu comes. That is, as large as the orders have been, there is still not enough vaccine for everyone, so public workers, people already in vulnerable states of health, etc. get it first. (Also interesting is that the French name for this disease seems to be “the flu A(H1N1)”; we may need to compile a lexicon if different countries/languages persist in using their own, idiosyncratic swine-flu names like this.)
OK – so that headline is not precisely accurate. I meant it more as a striking analogy to the sports phenomenon reported today by the German newsmagazine Focus. Everyone can now rest assured that professional bicycle-racing is now an ultra-clean sport in which nobody would think of cheating – so declared infamous doper Jan Ullrich today in an interview on the “Eurosport” TV channel.
“Cycling is one of the cleanest sports,” Ullrich declared to his interviewer, “because there are so many checks/inspections [Ger. Kontrollen].” Why, his German colleague Andreas Klöden, now riding in the Tour de France, told him about being subjected already to no less than eight checks – and at this point the 2009 Tour still has four stages to go! Ullrich:
The guys are thrown out of bed at six-thirty in the morning, an inspector comes in the room and stays with them the entire time . . . always at your side, at the toilet, in the shower, as you brush your teeth, to take blood from you at any time. You can go too far with it.
I would wager that it is rather Ullrich who is going rather too far with his description. Just to remind readers who do not follow cycling closely, Ullrich was disqualified from participating in the 2006 Tour de France one day before it was supposed to start because evidence emerged linking him with “Operación Puerto,” a blood-doping sting operation undertaken by the Spanish authorities. Ullrich vehemently denied having anything to do with the doping operations by a certain Dr. Eufamiano Fuentes uncovered by “Operación Puerto,” but months later a sample of his blood did match the DNA of the blood seized in that investigation.
Upon announcing his retirement from cycling in Hamburg in February of 2007, Ullrich maintained that “I never once cheated as a cyclist.” On the other hand, don’t forget that embedded YouTube video I have at the end of my post on the Tour de France of earlier this month, showing Ullrich bicycling up a mountain in 1997 exhibiting an output of power – an estmated 480 watts – itself way outside the range which even doped Olympic sprinters find possible.
Happy fortieth Man-on-the-Moon anniversary! Did you celebrate yesterday, maybe take your very own “one small step for man”? Let me tell you, the Europeans are still jealous! Why else would an editorial appear in Le Monde, that pillar of the French media establishment, whose very title declares Forty years after Armstrong, Europe should affirm its space ambition?
As the article’s author reminds us straight off the bat, using the words of John F. Kennedy, “It’s not just one man who will go to the Moon, it’s the entire country. Because each of us must mobilize to send him there.” Still, although they have yet sent no one there yet, Europe has been fairly active in space for quite a while. By now they have the powerful Ariane 5 rocket to their credit, which at the beginning of this month launched into orbit the world’s largest commercial satellite, a communications satellite weighing more than 7 tons. The European Space Agency has also made certain major contributions to the International Space Station, including delivering to it last year the first Automated Transfer Vehicle, an unmanned craft designed for resupply trips back-and-forth. Oh, and Europe’s space effort definitely means jobs, as this writer shrewdly points out: 40,000 directly employed in 2008, with around 250,000 further secondary jobs. (more…)
Tech-followers the world over – but owners of Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader in particular – got a nasty shock last week when Amazon switched into reverse the “Whispernet” wireless network it uses to sell e-books directly to the Kindle devices, instead plucking away e-copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm that people had thought they had bought, because of a rights dispute. For more details, the New York Times’ coverage is here; do note how carefully Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener chooses his words, promising that “in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances” (emphasis added; why were those last three words necessary?).
This bizarre episode promptly elicited on-line comment about how strange it was to suddenly find missing something that you thought you had bought, and how appropriate it was that the works in question originated from the author famous for “Big Brother.” Among the more in-depth remarks I have run across, however, must be included reaction from a German-based Kindle-owner (who therefore still has his e-book Orwell, if he bought it in the first place – Amazon’s “Whispernet” network extends only to the US) by the name of Peter Sennhauser, who writes on the site Netzwertig.com (Orwellian DRM Fall-of-Man; yes, it’s an awkward title in English, but less so in German). His lede: “Amazon has erased-over-distance customers’ books on the Kindle e-book reader. Jeff Bezos is about to stomp out his e-book sparks.” (more…)
The biggest news reverberating around Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) these days is that of an open letter recently made public, addressed to President Obama and issued in the name of 22 notable political figures from countries of that region, including many ex-presidents and even one Nobel Prize winner (Lech Wałęsa). Nobody who signed this missive currently occupies any actual governmental position, however, but that is perfectly logical in view of its polite but urgent message that any current official would have to be too diplomatic to deliver: America is neglecting NATO in general and the CEE lands in particular.
As vacation season here on the European continent starts to shift into high gear, it’s difficult for any mere man-made initiative like this (as opposed to, say, a natural catastrophe) to create much of a sensation, but the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza at least considered this news so important that it issued two slightly-different articles about it (here and here) from its Washington correspondent, Marcin Bosacki, who notes that there’s never been any sort of letter like this sent since 1989. Also, that newspaper also published on-line the complete letter in its English translation, including a table at the bottom explaining who all those 22 signatories are. (more…)
Good news from the German pressetext website: On-line addiction – China stops electro-shock therapy. The Chinese (meaning, of course, from the People’s Republic) have for a while now been alarmed at the epidemic of Internet-addiction that has been plaguing their citizens, which scourge should be no surprise in view of the fact that the number of Chinese Internet users now exceeds even the total US population. As you might imagine, this overwhelmingly afflicts the young, and yes, the Chinese authorities’ solution has mainly been some electro-shock therapy, which to this observer does seem both rather harsh and questionable on sheer grounds of effectiveness (unless it’s just a matter of pure deterrence: “We catch you playing World of Warcraft again and its the electrodes for you!”). Indeed, according to this report the Chinese take this method one step further: “patients” must also get on their knees before their parents for “therapy” and are allowed to speak of nothing else other than their determination to beat their addiction.
Now the Health Ministry has announce this sort of “treatment” will be stopped. Ironically enough (and, frankly, also implausibly), it is supposedly doing so due to a huge wave of protest against the practice that has welled up over the Internet, of which a crucial component is expressions of doubts from actual psychology experts that such extreme methods really work at all. That’s also the opinion here of Bernd Dillinger, who is involved with an Austrian anti-Internet-addiction treatment site, the Institute for the Prevention of Online Addiction, who states “That they try in China to cure online-addicts with electro-shocks is completely incomprehensible to me personally. Such a procedure is in fact only possible in totalitarian states, among us it would be unthinkable.”
So what is appropriate treatment? Well, they’re still trying to come up with one that can be generally accepted, but at this point experts can already agree that the problem should be treated in a “value-less” way, i.e. assigning no blame, and that attractive alternative activities should be brought forward to engage the patient’s leisure-time. Naturally, this is not only a problem among the Chinese; estimates of how many Internet-addicts there are in German-speaking countries are still imprecise, but Dillinger assesses the total at around 1.5% to 3% of all Internet users.
UPDATE: Here’s a new report from the AP: yes, they’ve stopped the electro-shock therapy to treat Internet addiction in China, but people are dying at their “boot camp”-style treatment camps nonetheless!
You’ve noticed all the hype these days about the first manned landing on the moon, the Apollo 11 mission, forty years ago this month, right? Newspaper articles, radio programs, “Where were you then?” requests for viewer/listener feedback, etc. . . . Unfortunately, yesterday NASA had to put out word that might dampen the celebratory mood somewhat, as the Flemish newspaper De Standaard reports: Original video-pictures of the first moon-landing lost. Specifically, the space agency can’t find any of the 45 (!) tapes of the videos made on the moon of the first “moonwalk” (not involving Michael Jackson in any way, but rather Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) on what back on Earth was the night of 20-21 July 1969. It’s not that they haven’t tried to find them: in fact, spokesman Dick Nafzger claimed they have been looking for three whole years, after first discovering that they were missing in 2005(!).
Bummer. A full investigation is planned, you’ll be pleased to hear. And there’s plenty of other moon-landing commemorative material out there on the Net, anyway, as you can see from this link-collection Kai Biermann has put together for Die Zeit. You’re right, that’s in German; for those for whom that presents something of a barrier, let me just recommend from among those NASA’s entertaining and informative animated comic, an image-gallery of pictures that the astronauts themselves took on the Moon, and Google’s own moon-map where you can specifically see where the Apollo 11 astronauts (as well as those of other Apollo missions) did their thing.
The De Standaard article also mentions that, as a way to reclaim those lost videos to a certain extent, video-recordings of the moonwalks taken at the time off of television back on Earth will be “cleaned up” to make them more viewable by a California firm specializing in that sort of thing called Lowry Digital. Actually, Lowry Digital is based in Hollywood – another unpleasant surprise to NASA executives, who fear that this “cleaning up” of those substitute tapes will only reinforce the suspicions of a cover-up by those who believe that this “moon landing” was never anything more than a Hollywood production designed to fool the world.
Tomorrow shapes up as a very important day for the on-going internal conflict in Iran, as Friday prayers will be delivered by none other than Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who generally has aligned himself throughout the crisis on the reformers’ side and has spent much of the period since the election on June 12 in the holy city of Qom, supposedly trying to mobilize opinion among the Assembly of Experts (of which he is the Chairman) against Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and supporter of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad. Time Magazine’s Joe Klein gave us the heads-up yesterday in a post on his “Swampland” blog.
The Berlin newspaper Die Tageszeitung also released a Friday-preview piece yesterday (End-Time scenarios in Iran), which generally agrees with Klein’s evaluation, going on to provide additional supporting details. For one thing, Rafsanjani’s speech is to be televised on Iranian State Television; for another, both the main putative loser of that June 12 election, Mir-Hossein Moussavi, and another high-placed ayatollah who has been supportive of him (as well as formerly serving Iran’s president himself), Mohammad Khatami, will be sitting there in the first row, as we learn from Moussavi’s Facebook page. (more…)
That’s right: someone has publicly put Twitter forward as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing the impact of its supposed assistance to the protest movement in Iran against the results of the 12 June national elections. That someone is Mark Pfeifle, formerly Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor to George W. Bush, and he does so in an opinion-piece in the Christian Science Monitor (in English, of course). Although I have dealt with questions of Twitter here recently, I was unaware of this editorial until I was informed of it today by this German website intern.de. (And how did I find out about intern.de? Hey, you’ve got to let me have a few professional secrets!)
Naturally, I leave it to you, dear reader, to examine Pfeifle’s article itself as you may wish. Intern.de, though, has some reservations about it, like Pfeifle’s assertion that Twitter was mainly responsible for the emergence of the story of the assassination of Neda (Neda Agha-Soltan), who basically became the lead-martyr for the Iranian opposition’s cause. I also rather believe that it was YouTube, if anything, that figured most largely in spreading the news and horror of her killing. Pfeifle also conveniently ignores the very substantial defects to Twitter that emerged during those days of Tehran street-demonstrations, such as the sheer volume of “tweets” to be digested (221,000 per hour at their height, it says here) and the related problem of a high “noise-to-signal ratio” (i.e. it was difficult to glean out useful information – much less anything that could be verified – from that flood), as the audience for the “#iranelection” hash-tag eventually was even treated to tweet-advertising piggybacking on that tag from a UK furniture company! The intern.de blogger also detects a high level of sheer PR content in Pfeifle’s piece, whether it’s trying to spin for Twitter or for Mark Pfeifle himself. I agree, but again, you can go off to the Christian Science Monitor site and judge for yourself.
Caroline Grimberghs of Belgium’s French-language daily La Libre Belgique gives notice today of what at first glance seems a rather strange new phenomenon: “swine flu parties” (“Flu evenings” for voluntary contamination – although she repeatedly misspells the event as “swin flu parties” in her text). Yep, these are supposed to be social occasions for which the guests of honor, so to speak, are people known already to be suffering from the “H1N1 pandemic flu,” better known as swine flu. The idea is for everyone else in attendance to do their darndest to catch the disease themselves, thereby gaining at the cost of a little discomfort for a while some bodily immunity against a second wave of H1N1 that is supposed to hit in the fall and be rather more deadly. (For now, national health authorities describe swine flu’s symptoms as basically indistinguishable from your garden-variety – why don’t we just call it “kosher”? – influenza.)
To be sure, Grimberghs does not claim this new wrinkle in festive occasions (could we call it a “cough-y klatch”?) is yet to be found in Belgium, just mainly in the US and the UK so far. But that may only be due to some lack of Belgian imagination: she also notes that her country recently had to switch from the “blocking phase” of health policy (i.e. trying to keep H1N1 out entirely) to the “attenuation phase” where authorities can only try to the limit the damage, and the total of Belgian swine flu-sufferers now stands at 126, although with no deaths (yet). Meanwhile, a vaccine against it is still only under development, while medication to counteract it (I assume she means Tamiflu here) is in short supply and thus allocated only to those most seriously at risk.
So indeed, why not go try and get it to give yourself the immunity? Studies of the great 1918 Spanish flu epidemic seem to indicate that those who came down with that early had much greater survival rates. And while “swine flu” does seem an intriguing new idea for a party-theme, I have to wonder just what sort of activities that is supposed to mean – what’s the protocol? “Get down, get funky, get infected”? Do you serve drinks in dirty glasses? What specific sort of physical person-to-person interaction is envisioned here? Does everyone sit on the living-room floor and play “spin-the-medicine-bottle”?
On top of that, we learn from the Washington Post that US summer camps are closing down out of fear for the H1N1 virus. Frankly, to me this signals a fading of the traditional American entrepreneurial spirit that may offer a clue to the US’ current economic troubles. No, you don’t cancel summer camps – in fact, you quickly set up and advertise new “swine flu camps” where parents can handily send their children both to ensure that they get the immunity and that others – medical professionals, optimally – have to put up with the kids during that messy, cranky period when they are sick. I can imagine it now: “Good afternoon, boys and girls, I’m pleased to welcome all 110 of you to Porky’s H1N1 Holiday Camp! As you know, we have 55 sleeping bags available to accommodate you – please submit your choice of “sleep buddy” to your assigned counselor . . . ”
UPDATE: Uh oh, don’t get confused: word from the other side of the Belgian cultural divide, i.e. from the Flemings, is that they like to refer to the H1N1 virus in Dutch as the “Mexican flu” instead. Kiss me, Julio!
Now that the question of reforming the US health care system is high on the agenda of the Congress and the President, it is quite appropriate that people are researching the medical establishments in other countries to gain insights and try to determine “best practice.” But there is one such establishment – built entirely from the ground up, in fact, over the past few years – that seems to have fallen between the analytical cracks, despite its quite unique characteristics. For one thing, it’s run entirely by third parties from outside the country; for another, it’s even financed entirely by outside parties as well.
OK, so on second thought maybe the example of Afghanistan has little to teach the US in the realm of health care after all. Indeed, the Americans (along with the Europeans, and the World Bank) are in fact the country’s medical paymasters. Nonetheless, an inspection may still be in order (to the extent hostile conditions within the country allow) of this nascent health structure that some do regard as “a minor miracle” because of the progress it has made. Reporter Rob Vreeken of the Netherlands’ De Volkskrant has taken on the challenge, in an account he entitles Come now, this isn’t Switzerland. (more…)
You knew it was just a matter of time: From Johannes of the German readers-blog lesen.net we get word of a Kindle-clone out of China. It’s called the “Wefound”; it was first displayed to the public recently at some Japanese publishing-industry convention; and the organization behind it is the Founder Group of Peking University, which is bad news since that company is already famous for its hardware prowess, employs around 30,000 and has a yearly turnover of $6 million.
This “Wefound” should come out on the market by the end of this year and cost €150. As Johannes remarks, you’d have to think that the Founder Group will at least steer clear of the American market, where Amazon already has gained a patent on the “Kindle-Look,” for the thing is awfully similar to your standard Kindle 2: the same 6-inch “e-Ink” display, the same QWERTY keyboard, the same paging buttons – and even a digital publishing house lined up to sell content, called Apabi.
It’s not quite yet summer vacation-time for President Obama, so the world media’s attention continues to track his activities in detail as he undertakes his trips to Europe and Africa and deals back home with important issues like the economy and health care. Presumably once he does take his family off for a spell at Martha’s Vineyard the press will issue their usual analyses of the deeper implications of where specifically he chooses to stay while there, whom he’ll specifically be spending time with, his choice of pastimes, etc., and then maybe back off and leave him alone for the rest of his visit.
Until then, his actions are out there, free to analyze according to whatever ideological leanings one might hold. Those of the Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad, for example, are clear: Denmark and Christianity (especially the Danish flavor of state-Lutheranism). Obama has had little to do with Denmark lately, but the question of which church he intends to make his and his family’s own during their four-/eight-year stay in Washington is still open, and so it is to this subject that that newspaper’s correspondent Marie Louise Bruun Jørgensen recently turned (Obama considers various churches).
“We are still figuring out how to approach the choice of a church for when we are here in Washington, D.C.” is what Obama said while meeting with Catholic journalists just prior to his overseas trip last week, which of course included an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. (He more-or-less said that: keep in mind that that is my own translation back into English of Obama’s original remarks which were translated into Danish for the KD’s readers.) An early favorite, though, seems to be Evergreen Chapel, which is not in Washington at all but rather in the vicinity of the Camp David presidential retreat, where he was impressed by the the sermon he heard while on a visit there. Of course, Evergreen’s true appeal might lie closer to that characteristic marketing textbooks always define as the most vital for retail success: “Location, location, location!”
This also raises the prospect, however, that the President is contemplating spending most of his free weekends over at that Maryland-mountains retreat. People can evaluate whether that would be a good thing or not – and they will, in print, on the air, etc. – but that is also not yet a firm decision, so that Washington churches are still in the running. “And I believe that we’ll come to a decision in the course of the fall or winter,” Obama further informed the journalists. “Maybe we’ll choose to attend several different churches rather than choose one single one.”
UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Justin Webb is unequivocal on this subject: “THE MAN IS A QUAKER” – he just doesn’t know it yet. Okaaay . . . well, Webb might conceivably know what he is talking about, after all for years he has been “North America editor” for the BBC.
For all of the 60+ years since 1945, diplomatic relations between Germany and the State of Israel have been very ticklish, and they will no doubt continue to be that way for at least another 60 years – and if you don’t immediately realize why, then you are simply unaware of some rather basic history, involving figures like “6 million.” (OK, actually up until 1990 it was West German – Israeli relations that were ticklish, not East German, because the latter Soviet client-state had no patience with any concept of guilt from the Nazi-times, preferring to view itself as a victim of the fascists, and never established diplomatic relations with the Jewish State.)
That hardly means that German government officials are not welcome to conduct official visits to Israel, of course, and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier did that earlier this week on Monday. Because Steinmeier is at the same time SPD candidate for Chancellor in the upcoming September elections, this was probably the last time he is to visit Israel (and Syria, and Lebanon) in that capacity. Still, in retrospect, the timing for the visit seems most unfortunate: on the one hand the topics for discussion could not help but include Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank, which the US and Europe want Israel to put a much-tighter leash on (and that for starters), while on the other Netanyahu has lately been acting like the pressure is really getting to be too much for him – for example, as recounted in a report picked up on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish, calling both Rahm Emanuel (President Obama’s chief-of-staff) and David Axelrod (his senior political adviser) “self-hating Jews.”
Sure enough, as we learn in an account in Der Spiegel by Yassin Musharbash (How Netanyahu startled Steinmeyer with a Nazi concept), the explosion duly arrived. (more…)
. . . Hallelujah
Halle . . . oh, STOP already!
That’s also the attitude now of the artist who originally came up with that (admittedly beautiful and profound) ballad, as we read in the Dutch De Volkskrant: Leonard Cohen: Stop covering Hallelujah! “It’s a good song,” as he’s quoted in the article’s first paragraph from last week, “but too many people sing it.”
Cohen goes on: “I read a review of the film Watchmen where Hallelujah is used and the reviewer said ‘Can we please get a ban on the use of Hallelujah in films and TV shows?’ and I think about it a bit the same way.” Then again, he can”t resist adding “The Sony record company didn’t want to issue the album that Hallelujah was on. [That was his Various Positions album, issued instead in 1984 by Passport Records.] They didn’t find it good enough.”
Even if you don’t read Dutch, you might want to click through to this piece anyway for, in good twenty-first century multi-media style, the YouTube videos of five different treatments of “Hallelujah” are embedded at the bottom: Cohen himself (of course), Jeff Buckley, John Cale, k.d. lang – and Lisa Hordijk (known simply as “Lisa”), recent winner of the Dutch “X Factor” and whose own treatment of “Hallelujah” spent eight weeks in the upper reaches of the Dutch pop charts this past spring. But this could also make you stop and ponder: Why did the Volkskrant editors include these? Did they do it without thinking – in effect, unwittingly substantiating Cohen’s complaint – or in defiance of his wishes, or what?
Another thing: You’ll find that the YouTube videos are arranged vertically, with at the very bottom the version of Cohen – The Master – and at the top (i.e. accessible with the least scrolling) . . . yes, Lisa. I guess here in the Netherlands we’re sometimes just . . . well, a bit provincial (we’ve got twelve of ’em, in fact).
My apologies: another brief Michael Jackson bit here. (No, interest in the “King of Pop” shows no sign of dying away yet in Europe, either.) Perhaps you caught this on CNN, but Denmark’s Jyllandsposten also has an interesting piece: Jackson’s glove hid skin disease. Yes, this word comes from noted Afro-American actress and FOJ (friend-of-Jacko) Cicely Tyson : “The glove was used to hide the vitiligo. That is why the glove saw the light of day. I was there when he [speaking of the glove’s fashion-designer, whose services Tyson shared with Jackson] designed it.”
And “vitiligo“? That’s the skin disease where you start to lose pigment, i.e. you start to turn white(r). Consistent with what we know about Jackson’s later ever-changing physiognomy, all that makes perfect sense.
Naturally, those single-gloves are now collectors items. The article tells of one used in a 1984 concert tour that sold at auction for 320,000 Danish kroner (although surely the auction was conducted in some other currency; that’s the equivalent today of $60,000/€43,000). If you’re really into this, you can even click here to watch a brief video of an auction-expert stating (in English) that such a glove would now likely attract that price again, or even more.
If you’re into peer-to-peer downloading of large files (e.g. movies, music) from the Internet, you know already know all about it; if you’re not, here’s a quick summary. The most popular program for doing so is called BitTorrent, and for quite some time The Pirate Bay, a site based in Sweden, was the most popular place to go to get the files you might be interested in (you know, like Hollywood movies still in general public release – or even yet to embark upon public release). Naturally, The Pirate Bay came under some considerable legal pressure for its activities, until this past spring the main personnel behind it were sentenced to jail and to the payment of a hefty SEK 30 million fine. (They are appealing the verdict.) In the meantime, the Swedish advertising company Global Gaming Factory X AB has announced its intention to buy The Pirate Bay next month and give it a “new business model” that makes the site’s activities strictly legal. In the meantime, though, some of the people behind The Pirate Bay have formed The Pirate Party – with chapters not just in Sweden but other countries as well – to advance their free-file-sharing political views, which already won one seat in the European Parliament in the early-June elections.
The (eventual) metamorphosis of The Pirate Bay to legality is especially good news for the French government, which has been busy since the beginning of the year trying to come up with legal measures to pass to outlaw the sort of free downloading of copyrighted commercial material that The Pirate Bay did so much to facilitate. After modifying their legislation to meet the objections from France’s Constitutional Court, which had first thrown it out, the French Senate has recently passed it, so that it is close to becoming law. It would empower a state agency – called Hadopi – to detect this sort of activity and, if two warnings to desist are ignored, pass on to French judges information about the offense for them to assign penalties, including fines, jail, and disconnection from the Net.
Ah, but can anyone ever stop truly determined Internet “pirates”? Le Monde reporter Maël Inizan now reports on another site now arising like a phoenix from The Pirate Bay’s ashes to save the cause of free downloading (Illegal downloading: a new site takes up the torch of The Pirate Bay). (more…)
Pangnirtung: ever heard of it? The Wikipedia article claims it is known as the “Switzerland of the Arctic”; its mayor goes by the marvelous name of “Mosesee Qappik.” For our purposes here, though, all we need to know – besides the comforting fact that it’s OK just to call it “Pang” – is that it’s an Inuit town located on the Arctic Circle, on Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut – and one that finds itself on the front line of world climate change. Le Monde correspondent Martine Jacot recently paid a visit to Pang to write about what is going on there (In the Arctic, the Inuits dread the network-effects of climate change); as world leaders haggle at the G8 in Italy over ceilings for temperature-rises and quotas for greenhouse gas emissions, it might be handy to consider for a bit what these people are going through already.
“Here as elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic,” states Ron Mongeau, a local government administrator, “climatic warming is not an illusion or a threat. Every day, it affects those who live there, who are dependent on hunting and fishing.” The average temperature there has indeed gone up by 1.4 degrees (that must be ºC) since the nineties, and the summer temperature has exceeded what used to be the hottest measurement on record (22ºC) five years in a row now.
OK OK, but what does that really mean on the ground – where the caribou’s hoof hits the road, so to speak? Well, speaking of, the caribou are all messed up about what is happening: during their autumn migrations they now find too many rivers not yet frozen-over, as they expect them to be from the past, and so have had to take wide detours. As for the humans living in the area (keep in mind, though, that they’re certainly outnumbered by the caribou), it seems everything they thought they knew about how their weather was supposed to be, year-round, has gone out the window. This past winter was somehow the coldest that anyone could remember; spring of 2008, however, was much warmer than usual, something that resulted in a “wall of water” flood hitting the town in June, after which the inhabitants had to live for months with potable water only available from trucks. Instances have now multiplied of snowmobiles traversing areas of snow and ice that turn out to be much softer than expected, so that both machine and rider get entrapped and have to be rescued, and everyone is afraid that the warmed-up soil will weaken the foundations of their buildings.
On the bright side, at least the Pangnirtung Fjord upon which the town is situated is now always ice-free in the summer, so that cruise ships have now made the place a regular stop on their itinerary. Many of those rich tourists like to visit in the first place to fish for the Arctic char (related to the salmon, and whose red/pink flesh is a rare delicacy), but the char population has noticeably thinned out lately because the warmer waters are no longer so suitable for the Arctic shrimp upon which they feed.