Christmas in Europe

Christmas in Washington DC image from letsgo-dc.com

Christmas is the most festive time in the United States. Christmas trees and Christmas lights are everywhere, and families gather to spend Christmas together. Typically, in the Christmas morning, families open gifts under the tree. Listening to Christmas carols and watching Christmas-themed movies, families have a great time. For Christmas drinks and snacks, you can’t miss eggnog and gingerbread men. Also families enjoy big holiday dinner. If you are in one of the European countries, your Christmas experience would be different. How is it different?

In Italy, having a meatless dinner and attending a midnight mass is a Christmas eve tradition. On Christmas day, people have meat-based dinners. Unlike in the United States, in Italy, children receive gifts on January 6th, which is the 12th day of Christmas. That is because the three Wise Men visited and gave gifts to Jesus. Also, instead of Santa Claus, La Befana leaves gifts in the children’s stockings in Italy.

Dresden Christmas market image from dresden.de

If you are in Germany on Christmas, you will see traditional German Christmas markets. While not many cities have Christmas markets in the United States, most of the towns in Germany hold Christmas markets where you can feel the beautiful Christmas atmosphere. There, you can buy food, drinks, winter items and so on. That’s not all. In many German markets, you can meet people singing, dancing and performing a play about the birth of Jesus. Germany started its Christmas market tradition more than 6 centuries ago. The first market was the Dresden Christmas market. If you want to feel the German Christmas atmosphere, Dresden Christmas market would be one of the best places to be during Christmas season!

(Shades of) Grün – From LA to Gorleben, Germany to Durban, South Africa

While Americans are occupying LA,

Occupy LA

Credit: OccupyLosAngeles.org

German protesters are occupying the street to Gorleben, Germany, which is used to transport nuclear* waste from France to the depository in Gorleben.

Anti-Nuclear Protest

Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

At the same time, in Durban, South Africa, the United Nations climate change conference, is taking place.

Americans are protesting the unsustainable political system. And the grassroot effort is spreading around the world. Alongside, Germany is taking the lead in fighting for environmental sustainability. Political and environmental sustainability are actually entwined. Environmental sustainability is restricted by politics, and changes in environmental policies are part of the structural change.

The Kyoto Protocol, the agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emission, will expire next year.The climate change conference this year is expected to picture the future of world climate change. Representatives from governments and organizations all over the world try to “assess progress in dealing with climate change” and “adopt decisions and resolutions”, according to the Durban conference website. But it doesn’t seem promising.

Before anything else, are we leaving the future generations a clean place to live in? In an interview discussing the Durban conference and Germany’s environmental policies, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen said that “the environmental mountain of debt is a bigger problem” compared to the financial debt,. “When a financial bubble bursts, you can always resort to bailouts and pull back again from the brink. When ecosystems collapse, you can’t just approve a bailout package. Indeed, there is a danger that you can’t return these systems to a healthy state.”

How soon is a global grassroot environmental movement coming? Or shall we just wait for good news from Durban?

*Know more about the nuclear situation in Germany here.

The death of Wikileaks?

Courtesy of Flickr creative commons

The controversial founder of Wikileaks — an organization responsible for releasing several classified documents — has been embroiled in a sexual assault controversy for several months.

The transparent-skinned leader for corporate and government transparency lost his appeal, on Nov. 2, of extradition to Sweden to answer questions about the alleged rape of one woman and the molestation of another in Stockholm last year.

Mastercard, Visa, Paypal and others have blocked support to Wikileaks, and Assange has said himself that it would be impossible for him to run Wikileaks from prison.

So, is Wikileaks toast?

The success of Wikileaks has become both a positive and a negative for the organization. It’s positive because they’ve drawn attention to various issues through people viewing their leaked documents, and it’s negative because with more attention to their illegal activities comes punishment by law; Assange has made a lot of powerful enemies.

Wikileaks has been forced into inactivity due to a lack of funding and I think it’s likely to remain that way. However, I think the concept of releasing classified documents as a means to creating transparency is far from toast. There will be another Wikileaks. Whether you think Julian Assange is a dirt bag or you’re against everything Wikileaks stands for, it’s impossible to deny the impact it has had.

Our world culture has shifted to being a more open culture — much of this has to do with the massive popularity of social media. Since people are becoming used to being so open, they are beginning to expect the same openness from their governments and corporations.

If governments and corporations remain resistant to this type of transparency, the concept of Wikileaks will not die. If there’s a demand for another Wikileaks-type website, someone will fill the void — it just might not be Assange.

Marc Jacob Causes a Stir In Great Britain

In a world as hyper-sexualized as ours, it is amazing to think that anything could be risqué enough to be banned. For the last 30 years, advertising has steadily increased our dosage of skin, intimacy and overall sex appeal in everything from food to furniture and all of them have found their inspiration from the biggest industry of them all—the fashion industry.

Model Codie Young for Top Shop

From make-up, to lingerie to shoes, the fashion industry has become synonymous worldwide
with raising eyebrows and pushing the limits with scantily clad women draped across glistening, bare backed men. And although the United States tends to be more conservative with its advertising (relative in terms of what makes it on the air waves and in magazines and not including brands like American Apparel that intentionally push the limit), the rest of the world, specifically Europe, has shown a wider tolerance for sex in its media. Plus, magazines like Vogue, Elle and Glamour have several international publications, so that if they can’t run a “sexy” ad in the US edition, they can certainly run it in their other volumes.

Last year, YouLookFab, a fashion blog based out of the US, chronicled the popularity of nude advertising in Europe with brands using women’s naked bodies to sell everything from menswear to furniture. Author Angie S. says this “…it [nudity] is on public billboards and prime time TV where everyone can see it. The example that always comes to my mind is an ad I saw when we lived in France. Nivea shows a naked woman frolicking through a pretty pasture enjoying her moisturized skin. It’s all quite normal…”
All of this has been proven pretty consistent within the EU. So why then, did Great Britain go to such great lengths to ban a Dakota Fanning, Marc Jacobs Ad? Was it more than just sex? Did it reflect the pedophilic nature of women in advertising? Perhaps.

According to The Guardian and the Daily Gossip, “…The U.K.’s self-regulatory Advertising Standards Authority believes that the ad is “irresponsible” and “likely to cause serious offense”.
This ban has the blogosphere going crazy; blogs on The Gloss as well as Entertainment Weekly all reported on the Ad, just to name a few.

Over the last few years, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been swooping down on the fashion industry for sexually suggestive advertising and ads that promote unhealthy lifestyle. Earlier this month, they criticized London’s own label “Drop Dead”, calling them “socially irresponsible”, after they featured what appeared to be an unhealthily skinny model wearing a bikini, showing off her collarbone, rib cage and other body parts. The ads were then banned along with Marc Jacobs’.

Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs

This brings to the forefront an issue of bigger importance, which is the media’s portrayal of beauty and women. Women are typically the focus of these ads and in an industry so heavily saturated with sex, it’s interesting to see how the government steps in to protect the interests of its citizens. Showing women in childlike advertising is one thing but showing children in hyper-sexual ads is something totally different.

Last year, London’s own Top Shop removed their ads featuring Codie Young, a then 18 year old, size 0 model after several eating disorder support groups raised concern and criticized them for poor social standards.

Drop Dead's Bikini Model. Is this socially irresponsible?

As stated by the Advertising Standards Authority;
“…while we considered the bikini and denim short images might not cause widespread or serious offence, we concluded they were socially irresponsible.”
Regulation is necessary but at what cost? Is fashion a form of art and if so, why are we restricting it? More importantly, is it necessary?

Join the conversation.

Glücksbringer (lucky charms), do they really bring luck?

Source: http://www.korencek.com/Korencek09-10/English-deutsch/glucksbringer.html

When we discuss lucky charms in class, the Americans agree that the rabbit’s foot represents good luck in their culture. We Chinese as the descendant of dragons believe that dragon related things can bring us good luck. How about the Germans? How many Glücksbringer, namely German talismans have you heard of? Schornsteinfeger, Glückspfennig, Vierblättriges Kleeblatt, Marienkäfer, Hufeisen, Glücksschwein? Can you recognize them in the pictures above?

Source: http://www.sagen.at/forum/showthread.php?t=514

Vierblättriges Kleeblatt (four leaves clover) might be the most known lucky charm in western culture especially in European culture. Clover with three leaves can be found everywhere. But four-leaf- clovers is very rare. If you’re lucky enough, you might find one among thousands of 3-leaf-clovers.

Source:http://www.pfauenhof-shop.de/Sparschwein-Viel-Glueck-Spardose-Gluecksschwein

In German, there is an expression “Ich habe Schwein gehabt”, which means “I had good luck”. The pig in German culture associates with luck. And the popularity of “Sparschwein” (piggy bank) somehow proves that people might think it’s true. Why piggy bank, why not doggy bank or squirrel bank? Maybe people do think that the piggy bank can keep money better than dogs or squirrels.

Source: miketually @ flicker

Among the talismans in German culture, I think the Hufeisen (horseshoe) is the most interesting. You have to hang it on the door with the ends pointing upwards not downwards. Then it looks like a storage container could store good lucks.

However, do you really believe that luck charms have the magic power and can bring you good luck? Actually, I don’t believe so. We can’t count on these untouchable good lucks. Money is earned but not given by the lucky piggy bank. Bad accidents would also happen even with a horseshoe hanging on the door. Dragons actually don’t exist, nevertheless, I still wear a dragon pedant. It doesn’t hurt to have them around in your life.

Germany Fights for Your Online Rights

Image courtesy of opensourceway on Flickr.

The advent of the internet has been a complex issue for courts and lawmakers. Like any revolutionary innovation, the net has its benefits and its drawbacks and its unintended consequences. It has required new definitions to be made and lines to be drawn in legal areas that have became suddenly grey. We’ve had to think and re-think what free speech means in the digital sphere and accommodate such new problems as “trolls” and cyber-bullying. The courts have had to make rulings on digital libel and piracy, and gradually but surely, like every new frontier, the internet has been boxed in with rules, regulations, and restrictions. But how far is too far?

Recently, ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, has been the talk of the net, and anyone paying attention has seen some serious international discussion. More than 30 nations have been involved in the ACTA negotiations for more than 3 years; included are the United States, Germany, France, and other European and Asian nations. I wish I could tell you exactly what it’s all about, but that’s the problem–no one really knows. The negotiators have thus far refused to release information on what’s been discussed or where it is going, claiming that it is still in too early of stages to do so–although it’s been years and a draft has already been drawn. The secrecy of it all has raised suspicions worldwide, and many have found the little bits of information that have been leaked to be disturbing.

Perhaps the most controversial is a three-strikes-you’re-out provision, which would punish anyone who was caught violating copyright law by illegally downloading or sharing music or other intellectual property more than twice with a loss of internet “privileges.” How would this be done, and on what scale? This is a multi-national effort. Would there be an international blacklist of known internet piraters? Would the federal government dish out the punishment, or would the private internet service providers? Should we be expecting some international internet policing bureau to start calling the shots for the web? We don’t know. And therein lies the reason that individuals and European nations have called for greater transparency in the negotiations: in large part to mitigate the explosion of rumors and speculation that the secrecy has brought.

Image courtesy of opensourceway on Flickr.

Opensource.com has an interesting take on copyright protection issues–it operates on the belief that society would be better off without copyrights and patents at all. At the very least, they want to let people know that patents and copyrights are not the only way to do things, and they promote their open-source model. In their own words, “The term open source began as a way to describe software source code and the collaborative model for how it’s developed. Red Hat used this model for developing technology and built a business model around open source and its principles: Openness. Transparency. Collaboration. Diversity. Rapid prototyping.” Wikipedia is a great example of an open-source platform; the information isn’t owned or protected, anyone can view, add, or modify content that is open to peer-review. Opensource.com envisions a world where information, software, and other forms of development are free and collaborative.

What SOPA Would Do

Infographic courtesy of AmericanCensorship.org

In a move that would even further regulate online content, the United States faces the potential passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would grant the government vastly more power than it has ever had to censor and shut down websites, including the authority to shut down a site like Flickr or Youtube for copyright infringement, even if it’s only in user-generated content. Thus, at the same time that it would give the government discretion for determining web content, it would put impossible pressure on private website owners to police and censor their user’s content. As one blogger on the Washington Post put it: “Imagine a country where the government is able to shut down Web sites at the slightest provocation, where elected representatives invoke fears of ‘overseas pirates’ to defend the interests of domestic industries, and where Internet companies like Google must cave in to the demands of government censors or risk being shut down.”

Although Germany has been a part of the ACTA negotiations, it has not condoned its secrecy or all of the draft agreement. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who has represented Germany in the ACTA talks, clarified that Germany would not implement any law or accept any treaty that would block internet access from the people. “The refusal to implement Internet bans is a conviction shared by the entire government,” she said, “In our government coalition agreement, we stated we would not resort to initiatives for the blocking of Internet access.”

The Piraten Party, which has built a strong platform on supporting internet freedom, unsurprisingly strongly opposes the treaty. Blogs like Stopp-ACTA have also sprung up in defense of online freedom, increasing awareness about the negotiations, urging others to spread the word, and circulating an online petition. This video, a sort of online PSA about ACTA, has been circulating the web as well:

The EU Friends of Transparency group, which has 14 member nations including Germany, Britain, France, and Italy, have written an appeal to the negotiators to disclose the text of the draft agreement, but their request has not yet been met. Schnarrenberger has also expressed the need for transparency, stating that “the draft negotiating texts should be published as soon as possible.” The appeal from the Friends of Transparency also asks that the EU presidency and the European Parliament “strongly pursue the position that the consolidated draft negotiating text should be made public as soon as possible.” It is most disturbing to some that the European Parliament and other officials have been refused information on the negotiations while media corporations not only have access to the information, but have been included in the negotiating process since the beginning.

What is your opinion? Would you support a three-strikes copyright-violation punishment? Would you support an international treaty like this at all? Why might the negotiators want to keep it such a secret? I’d love to know what you think in a comment below!

Relax and enjoy the Hungarian culture

Images of Széchenyi fürdő from www.budapestgyogyfurdoi.hu

Traveling around different countries is one of the most exciting things that we can do in our lives. However, most travelers tend to forget to rest because there are so many things to enjoy in a short period of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you can experience a new culture and be relaxed at the same time while traveling? If you nodded your heads, Hungarian spa experience will fulfill your desire to do so.

Hot spring culture in Hungary started around 4000 years ago when the Romans started to bathe there. And at the end of the 19th century, people started to use hot springs for medical reasons in Hungary.

Hungary has more than 1000 hot springs. Budapest, which is called a city of spas, has around 100 thermal springs. Interestingly, it seems that hot springs will not only reduce stress and improve skin conditions, but also have a medical power. Since Hungary is famous for its medicinal thermal water, many people around the world visit Hungary to enjoy baths. Among those visitors, a lot of them have a purpose of curing illnesses by bathing or drinking medical water.


Among those many thermal springs, Széchenyi fürdő is the most famous spa in Hungary. The spa was built beautifully in Neo-baroque style. Széchenyi fürdő is the largest spa in Budapest, and it’s one of the biggest spas in Europe. The spa has 3 pools, 12 thermal bath sections and 8 saunas. Its water containing a great amount of several minerals is effective to cure degenerative illnesses of joints, arthritis and post-injury treatments. Every year, there are around 3,000,000 users in Széchenyi fürdő. More than a half of them are visitors from all around the world.

I had a very busy and tiring week. I wish I could jump into one of the hot springs in Hungary right now. Since I can’t, I think I need to be just satisfied by watching this video.

Puttin’ Off The Ritz

The Ritz, 1948, photo courtesy of Getty Images

Est-que vous irez bientôt à Paris? Book a room. Not at the Ritz.

Pourquoi? Beginning in early summer 2012, the famed luxury hotel located on Paris’ Place Vendome will be closing its doors. It will undergo a 27-month renovation to become, well, ritzier.

Recently, the hotel that has been both a historical landmark and a watering hole for the glamorous faces of the world has been showing signs of age, just like its blue blood patrons. Originally built in 1898, its last facelift was in 1979, and it’s showing. Last May, the French Tourism Ministry excluded the Ritz from its annual list of “palaces” – five-star hotels of exceeding character – for the first time ever. In the past, it was not only taken for granted that the Ritz would be on this list, but the hotel was thought to define it. The list is important not only for reputation but for attracting clientele as well. Quelle horreur!

Modern day celebrities such as George Clooney as well as old-school figures such as Marcel Proust have walked the halls. Coco Chanel once lived there, and F. Scott Fitzgerald titled his novella “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” after it. It houses some of the top cultural destinations in the world – the Hemingway Bar, the restaurant L’Espadon.

The Hemingway Bar, photo courtesy of RitzParis.com

But history can only account for so many frayed napkins and scratches on the marble floors. Newer, more modern luxury hotels are becoming the new living quarters of the rich and famous while the Ritz is falling into the tired trap of being une attraction touristique. While the recession hardly applies to the hotel’s elite clientele, and thus they have pas de probleme paying the hefty bills, the competition in Paris’ hospitality market is surging. New hotels are being built, old hotels are being rebuilt – the Ritz needs to ensure that the rich and famous keep paying their bills rather than others’.

The renovation itself is being kept hush-hush. There are rumors of bathtubs that will fill in 10 seconds, the Vendome Bar will be re-roofed with glass and new suites will have terraces overlooking the garden. But the rest? Personne n’en est certain. What we do know is that it has to compete with the 10,000 square-foot spa of the newly opened Mandarin Oriental, the Louis Vuitton store in the soon-to-open Cheval Blanc, and the art gallery and cinema housed in the newly renovated Le Royal Monceau (all Parisian hotels). Oh mon dieu!

A lavish suite inside the Ritz, photo courtesy of Forbes.com

And the curtains aren’t the only things that need replacing. The Ritz currently has 500 employees. All but 30 will be laid off. C’est necessaire, but it’s not going to help France’s unemployment rate of 10%. Quel dommage!

C’est triste that the Ritz is no longer the place it once was. C’est triste that it will be closed for so long. C’est triste that it will be more difficult to track down George Clooney during his Parisian escapades. But when it re-opens its doors, it’s sure to be more glamorous than ever, meilleur que jamais. Just think of it this way: in order to remain the definition of hotel fashion, the Ritz is briefly going behind closed doors and puttin’ on the Ritz.

Krampus On Campus

Throughout America, there are small sects of fans of almost any concept, person, place, or thing you can think of.  Among German students, particularly at the college level, you can’t escape the scattered fandom of Krampus.  In sight of the holiday season, Krampus name-dropping becomes more and more evident and the legend goes a little something like this:

Krampus is a mythical being, recognized in the Alpine area, including south Germany.  Supposedly, when Saint Nicholas comes around to fill stockings of good little boys and girls, Krampus accompanies him to take care of the bad ones.  Now, in Germany, if you’ve been good, you will receive gifts of toys, chocolates, sugar, spice and everything nice.  However, if you’ve been bad, a much more horrible fate awaits you in the form of a visit from Krampus.  As a naughty one, you’ll see Krampus drudging towards you, black rags flying in the wind around his demon-like face.  He throws chains in your way and swings his stick or switch, giving you forewarning of what’s to come once you get home. When it comes time for him to visit your sleeping self on the night of December 6th with Saint Nicholas, if you have been bad, instead of receiving gifts, Krampus will take all of what you could have had and bag you up with it, taking you away to be beaten somewhere.

Now, Krampus appears different ways in different Alpine countries.  In Germany and Austria, he usually appears as a goat-like demon creature who roams the street looking for bad children to hit with his switch.  In Croatia, he appears as a devil wearing nothing but a cloth sack and chains around his arms, neck and waist.  In Hungary, Krampus takes on a more mischievious over evil demeanor.

Krampus is a sort of pre-christian concept that stems from the southern part of west europe, and in some parts northern Germany, is not even heard of or known.  I was shocked to find out upon traveling to Giessen, a smaller city near Frankfurt, that my friends in Germany hard never heard of Krampus.  Even the ones who knew most other traditional German folk lore!  I had learned about Krampus in German class after German class throughout middle school and high school.  By the time I reached college, Krampus was something of a legend, and other people I knew who liked German and its traditions as much as I did held “Krampus on East Campus” christmas-themed parties.  Little to say, I was shocked upon finding out this culture difference in an area I thought would be more than knowledgeable about the subject.

The lore for me has always been so beautifully, traditionally, stereotypically German, which is what attracted me to it so strongly in the first place.  The idea of rewards for good children, and not only punishments, but also straight evil, cruelty, and brutality for bad ones is so typical of a German fairy-tale-like story.  The concept of Krampus is TERRIFYING, and so deeply, German-ly cool.  Germans seem to think Krampus is more of “an Austria thing,” but as an American who always learned about him in the context of German culture, is their claim correct?

So, Alpine-minded readers, have you heard of Krampus?  I’d be curious to know.

Facebook “Likes” Their New Location

A drawing of the server. Image from Google.

Facebook is putting their first server outside the United States in, of all places, Lulea, Sweden.  Why?  They are hoping it doesn’t explode.  The server is scheduled to be placed at the edge of the Arctic Circle in 2014.  Facebook flirted with several possible locations, but the Arctic Circle was determined to be prime real estate.  This goal of this bold move is to improve the performance of Facebook for European users (and to not blow up the server).

However, according to Sweden’s Pirate Party , a group that embraces people’s right to privacy, placing the server in that specific location will induce eavesdropping from Sweden’s National Defense Radio Establishment.  Referred to as the FRA, the National Defense Radio Establishment supports government authorities regarding technological threats.  The FRA conducts telephone and data traffic surveillance in effort to fight border terrorism and other crimes.

According to Jan Fredriksson, a spokesman for Facebook in Sweden, the telephone and data traffic surveillance will only affect users “who are strongly suspected of terrorism.”

There have been several privacy concerns with Facebook in Europe in regards to how long Facebook keeps its users’ personal information.  Anna Troberg, the leader of Sweden’s Pirate Party, “Facebook isn’t famous for caring about its users integrity, so they didn’t care about it in this case either.”  The European Commission is “planning a legal change…that may prompt U.S. Web giants like Google and Facebook to rethink how they store and process consumer data”, according to this New York Times article.

Facebook has received a lot of criticism over the implemented privacy policies, and will be making an effort to change some things.  A new

Photo from Google Images.

policy is in the midst of being approved.  It would enable users to “opt-in” to strangers accessing their personal information.  This means that users can change their privacy settings so that only their “friends” can view the information on their profiles.  If, however, the user sets their privacy settings to “everyone”, then anyone on Facebook can see their profile regardless of being the user’s friend or not.

I think it’s great that Facebook is putting a server outside the United States.  This will enable the more than 800 million users to expand even more.  Who knows, maybe Facebook will make it to one billion users.

Russia Hosts Ballroom Dance Championships

The World Latin Dance Championships and Supadance Proessional Standard Championships for the Kremlin Cup were held in Moscow, Russia at the Kremlin Palace on Oct. 22nd. Professional ballroom dancers from all over the world came to compete at the annual competition.

World Latin Professional Champions Yulia and Riccardo. Courtesy of Dancesport.

Ballroom dancing has always been a big part of Russian culture. Dancing in general, including ballet and ballroom, are very popular among men and women in Russia. The dancing might be just for fun, but usually, it is highly-competitive.

The Kremlin Cup is one of the biggest professional ballroom competitions in Europe. The Kremlin Cup has two sections, one for Latin Ballroom and one for Standard Ballrom.  The Latin ballroom dances include samba, cha cha, rumba, jive, and paso double. Standard includes waltz, Viennese waltz, tango, quickstep, and foxtrot. Other major professional ballroom competitions are held in Germany, England, and Sweden.

This year at the Kremlin Cup, Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko of the U.S. took first place for World Latin Championships. Zagoruychenko was born in Russia, but she moved to the U.S. to dance with Cocchi, who is originally from Italy. They were followed by Surgey Surkov and Agnieshka Melnicka of Russia and Andrej Skufca and Melinda Torokgyorgy of Slovenia who took third. A total of 26 couples competed at the Kremlin Cup. You can see Cocchi and Zagoruychenko dancing samba for the Kremlin Cup below:

The Russian couple, Valerio Colantoni and Yulia Spesivtseva, took first place in the Supadance Professional Standard Championships at the Kremlin World Cup. The top five spots at Supadance were all taken by Russian couples. Colatoni and Spesivtseva are the #1 couple in Russia and ranked #10 in the world for Standard. You can see them dancing in the waltz finals at Supadance below:

Latvia also hosted the World Dancesport Federation (WDSF) International Standard Dancesport Competition on Nov. 5th for the European Ten Cup. The Glory to Russia Competition was also in Moscow on Oct. 29th for the WDSF World Championship Standard. Upcoming professional competitions include the 2011 European Championship in Bonn, Germany and World Dance Council World Championship in Kazhan, Russia.

(Shades of) Grün – Turning the Page of Nuclear Power

While the nuclear disaster in Japan acted like a wake-up call to the world’s growing dependence on nuclear energy, Germany is “the only country to abandon the technology to date.”

Germany announced earlier this year that it is phasing out nuclear power. In June, Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, passed the plan of decommissioning nuclear power and shutting down all nuclear plants in Germany by 2022. So far, eight out of Germany’s seventeen nuclear plants have been shut down, and the deadline for the remaining nine is within eleven years. Germany’s energy revolution also sets the goal of having at least 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Germany Nuclear Power Plants Map

Credit: Spiegel Online

The unprecedented decision makes Germany the leader of the world seeking the best energy resolution, but Germany’s decision also leaves itself with all sorts of obstacles and challenges.

Being the first nation in the world to discontinue nuclear energy production, Germany still faces the risks from nuclear reactors of its neighbours. Its neighbour France, for example, uses nuclear energy to meet 75 percent of its energy needs. People in Germany are still under threat at a time when the impact of a reactor catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan could reach the U.S..

Before Germany started to close down nuclear plants, nuclear power accounted for 23 percent of its energy needs. The pullout from nuclear power is disastrous for the nuclear industry and major energy companies. The energy company Vatterfall is planning to sue the German government because of the damage that the government’s decision has brought to the company.

Another critical question that is being asked is where to store the radioactive nuclear waste. Finland is building the world’s first repository of nuclear waste, the Onkalo. It is featured in the documentary Into Eternity. The Onkalo must remain undisturbed for 100,000 years to keep the waste from harming the earth.

It has also been said that the phase-out of nuclear power will cost the people. Individuals in Germany are having higher electricity bills. However, are Germans’ bills before the phase-out or our nuclear-generated electricity bills really lower? The hidden cost, including environmental cost, health cost and social cost, is not figured into the calculation. How much are people in Japan paying for the nuclear disaster?

Germany is not alone in the energy battle. The world needs an energy revolution. While Belgium is likely to join Germany to phase out nuclear power by 2025, the U.S., who is the largest producer of nuclear power, has got a plan to build new nuclear plants. The world’s 14 percent of power supply comes from nuclear energy. Should we build more Onkalos to sustain the 14 percent of our power supply, or should we follow Germany’s step to turn to the next page?

Fraternity Versus Studentenverbindung

German "fraternity" members of different stages and ages

American all-men fraternities, often associated with a college or university, have the reputation for service, friendship and often, partying.  Well, German fraternities, sometimes called Studentenverbindung, add sports and otherwise don’t seem to be drastically different.  Some German fraternities practice academic fencing.  This is kind of like normal fencing; however, in this type of fencing, a person cannot move and the sword may only hit your opponent’s head.  Long ago, fraternity members could be picked out of a crowd because of their head scars from this “academic” sport.  Thankfully, today the Germans don’t seem to be scarring their members, probably because it seems relatively insane to practice such a violent, possibly concussion-inducing sport.  Moreover, I would think that this practice would inhibit recruitment of new members.  Who really wants to be voluntarily hit on the head?

German academic fencers

Germans and Americans believe that the friends they make through their fraternity type organization are life-long. Although American fraternities are often associated with Greek letters, German fraternities are usually named after geographical areas or rivers like, Danubia.  There is no German hazing ritual, unless you count academic fencing (which, to me, seems like hazing and thus, should be illegal), as what is thought to happen in America.  American hazing is illegal and laws are enforced against fraternities in America caught hazing.

The first fraternities in Germany were founded nearly 200 years ago and many were forbidden during World War II, because they were thought to have Nazi association.  After the war, many of the fraternities reopened and continued their organizations.  Their links with Nazis have rightfully scarred their reputations. However, the organizations admit fault and have since attempted to make morally righteous decisions. These organizations are thriving in both the United States and Germany, as students like to find a way to make lifelong connections with other students and alumni who have the same interests and values.

Is 7 Billion People in the World Enough?

Guess what? The 7 billionth person was just born. Just after midnight on October 31st , the 7 billionth child was born in Kalingrad, Russia according to Der Spiegel. This, of course, is a rough estimate seeing as there is no way to know exactly how many people are currently alive in the world. The child was given a certificate, a play rug from the government and a package with a number of practical items from the mayor.

Recently, the UN decided to leave it up to each country to decide what they wanted to do to commemorate this momentous occasion. The Russian government decided to not only make it the specific number but a specific child. They chose this particular child to “draw on the countries demographic problems,” Alexander Mordovin says. He points out the problem that Russia’s birthrate is the lowest it’s been in history. It’s predicted that in 40 years, Russia’s population will fall from 142 million people to under 100 million people. This is exactly what the UN wants.

Image Taken from Google Images

Recently, the UN released a report that urged the countries within the UN to start decreasing their birthrates before we breed ourselves out of survival. In Europe, however, the average birthrate per country is 1.6 children per woman. This means that the population of Europe is actually shrinking, which, because of the rising hunger rates around the world, and the rising cost of living, I believe is good.

I was reading an article on the British Red Cross blog about how at the current projected birthrate of the world we will run out of food and natural resources very quickly. In fact by 2050 we will have 2 billion more mouths to feed, meaning we will have to increase our food production by over 75%. This will put a strain on an already strained world food supply.

I strongly agree with the UN’s stance. I believe that if we keep with the current birthrate around the world then we will breed ourselves into extinction. Thus, we will have more people than we can efficiently support. Unless the governments of the world don’t step in and stop the overpopulation, we WILL run out of food and we WILL end up causing our own demise.

For more information watch this video.