November 11th at 11:11 in Cologne

Photo Credit: Rolf Hahn

If you are looking for something to celebrate and are in Europe, look no further, because Carnival is celebrated in many countries abroad.

Even though the actual festivities typically start before lent, the month of February is marked as the main event.  So, depending where you are during all of this excitement, you are very likely to find a country in Europe where celebrating takes place. Costumes, parades, and fireworks are “must haves” in countries-from Belgium to Spain.

In Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, the celebrating is alike in many ways.  “Am Elften Elften um Elf Uhr Elf“, the individuals  in Germany start their partying.  This phrase is well known, and translated it means “On November 11th, at 11:11.”

There are distinctions between the celebrations in German speaking countries.  One area celebrates the Rheinish carnival and the other celebrates the Swabian-Alemannic carnival.

The Swabian-Alemannic carnival is also known as Fastnacht.  It takes place in Western Austria and Southwest Germany.  This carnival “traditionally represents the time of year when the reign of the cold, grim winter spirits is over and these spirits are being hunted down and expelled.”

The Rheinish Carnival is celebrated in North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, and Rhineland Palatinate.  It includes parades, floats, and costume balls.  Even though many cities take part in the celebration, the biggest and most famous one is always in Cologne.  During this time, people are greeted by saying “Kölle Alaaf” which means “Cologne above all.”

Since it is a celebration that lasts longer than a day, people sometime refer to carnival as “the crazy days”.  This week “takes place between the Fat Thursday (Weiberfastnacht)and ends on Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch).  The highlight of the carnival is Rose Monday (Rosenmontag), two days before Ash Wednesday.”

Photo Credit: Entdecke-Deutschland.Diplo.De

When I was in Germany in the 90s, I actually got to participate in a carnival. We decorated the float weeks before, which took a lot of time and preparation.  The day of the carnival, we dressed up and painted our faces.  During the float, people cheered and we threw candy off of it.  It was definitely a great experience and I would love to do it again one day.  I also suggest that if anyone is in any country at anytime that celebrates carnival, go!

Here is a picture of my float.  If you look closely, I am the little girl leaning on the right side.  This was in Jüchen, Germany (about 40 minutes away from Cologne).

And finally, if you are for any reason not convinced that carnival is a great celebration, you can watch this Youtube video. Enjoy!

Anon & Iran Mixing With Tor vs. the Panopticon:: Interesting Implications

18th century England,  through its social theorist Jeremy Bentham , manifested the European notion of the Panopticon.

The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The design comprises a circular structure with an “inspection house” at its centre, from which the managers or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter.”

–comment from Wikipedia’s Panopticon Article

Now take a jump from the 18th century to current times.  If we were to take a look at current European censorship laws would find that there is a long history dealing with the idea of limited information and now-a-days we find that the UK itself is counted amoung the strictest censorship laws (being centered upon the ideas of censorship of motion pictures, video games and Internet sites).

The hope is that you the readers, will help to insist that strong safeguards for the privacy of the individual are implemented, especially in these times of increased alert over possible terrorist or criminal activity. If the systems which should help to protect us can be easily abused to suppress our freedoms, then the terrorists will have won.”

–Courtesy of the UK based SpyBlog

It was once written that…

Any fair-minded person with journalistic experience will admit that during this war official censorship has not been particularly irksome. We have not been subjected to the kind of totalitarian ‘co-ordination’ that it might have been reasonable to expect. The press has some justified grievances, but on the whole the Government has behaved well and has been surprisingly tolerant of minority opinions. The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary.”

-– George Orwell

This notion of the panopticon has steadily taken effect and is being realized as we speak through the use of the internet, credit cards, and other such ventures.  With sites such as Facebook monitoring all our likes and dislikes, what we do and who we do it with are being cataloged by programs trying to discern patterns out of human lives. We are essentially facing the idea of a virtual prison where we must always assume we are being watched.  This is not something we should condition ourselves with, and programs like Tor are helping stem the pan-optical growth, but without a mass of individuals fighting against this injustice cohesively freedom and privacy  will eventually be filtered out of the human experience.  There is a global understanding that people in this society are feeling powerless and trapped within the developing internet panopticon and a call is being made for the need of the…

“assistance of external, detailed, informed, public scrutiny to help them to resist deliberate or unthinking policies, which erode our freedoms and liberties.”

–(comment courtesy of spyblog.org.uk)

Coupling this notion with the example of political instability of Iran, there should be no question that the government or other governing systems rule the media.  For example, in a country such as Iran the media can only report what their superiors let them report. With this in mind, here is some information on the Inform Iran movement and the projects that they are pursuing along with some insights pertaining to new character archetypes developing in this global world such as that of the new archetypal figure of “Anon.”

For one thing, Iranian people and their supporters are using a computer program dubbed the Tor Project. This is essentially how they have been communicating and connecting to rally those who are unhappy with the current regime of government. Imagine if you would, a secondary layer of internet that is secure and can go past sites that have censors on them. With a simple installation of Tor, your computer becomes part of a greater internet consciousness allowing this new layer more bandwidth by sharing your own. This project is a node of connection that allows more and more information to flow in and out of different revolutionary groups. All you have to do is essentially set the program up and keep it on or in hibernate mode and you will be doing your part in helping such political reactionary groups or simply being anonymous in your own internet dealings. So if you have ever felt the need to have privacy on the internet, downloading programs such as Tor or freegate this is step one.

An interesting implication to the idea of a Tor network is that it works based of creating different connected nodes which spread the overall network out in a free and without corporate sponsorship, internet connection. Why might people not want such a thing? For starters it would take money away from the corporations selling internet as a resource. We must ask ourselves in such unique times, why is free information being sold, and why haven’t we been just doing this ourselves? With a constant bridge between each computer that is on, we could have global internet for free.

Another funny idea that comes along with the advent of a global, free internet is the idea of the anonymous character archetype. The virtual bully, the villain without a form to attack. We see such identities on websites that have been censored such as 4chan with their /b (or random channel) which is made of individual beings that come together to form the idea of Anon. The anonymous god of the internet, blessing those it chooses to with information, while at the time time tearing down religious groups such as Scientology.

–image via Flickr

With these thoughts in mind we must ask ourselves how we feel about the fact that there are anonymous presences on the internet, actively working in real life to overthrow governments, or simply just to have privacy.  In a day and age where privacy has succumbed to the vast machine’s virtual panopticon (the grid), shall we do our part to ensure ourselves privacy?  OR is all information simply there to be filtered through by programs and people alike, searching for your patterns and your essential identity?

Just things to think about.

Genetic Engineering Blues

GM Corn with Scary Faces

Image courtesy of Greenpeace International

The debate over genetically modified (GM) food has been carrying on in nations around the world for the past decade, and Germany has taken a particularly cautious approach to scientifically engineered crops.

To start with, the European Union has only authorized two genetically modified crops to be grown in it’s nations, feed Maize for animals and the Amflora potato used in paper-making. Their concerns lie in protecting natural resources for future generations, and with balancing the benefits of GM crops and their potential hazards. In Germany, only the GM potato is authorized to be grown.

In stark contrast, the United States’ use of genetically engineered crops has steadily increased over the years. For example, 93% of soybean crops are genetically altered to be herbicide resistant.

GM CropsTable

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Further restrictions came with the Genetic Engineering Act passed in Germany in 2004, which required “buffer zones” between GM crops and other crops—the goal being to prevent cross-contamination between “risky” GM food and natural crops. The protective buffer is set at 150 meters between GM crops and standard farmland, and 300 meters from organic farms. Further, GM fields must be registered so that any cross-contamination that might still occur can be tracked and the owners of the contaminating crops held responsible, even if they were compliant with all laws and regulations.

The debate has entered the field of the environmental and clean food movement, and organizations like Greenpeace International have taken a stance against genetically modified foods. In the United States, a movement has begun from people who believe GM foods sold commercially should be required to be labeled as genetically modified.

Robert Kloos, state secretary at the Agricultural Ministry in Germany, believes the law “protects the population and the environment and allows for responsible use of GMOs.” However, the German Farmer’s Association said the liability brings “incalculable and uninsurable risks” to farmers who would grow GM crops, as the law allows for the possibility that even many farmers in an entire region could be forced to share liability for cross-contamination if a single source of the contamination can not be found.

The Land Saxony-Anhalt has already brought a suit before the government over the Genetic Engineering Act’s restrictions, on the grounds that “the rules on liability and on the public GMO location register violated the right to occupational freedom… the fundamental right to property and the principle of equality before the law.” In 2010 the court dismissed the action, however, with the justification that “the state of scientific knowledge has not yet been finally established when assessing the long-term consequences of the use of genetic engineering.”

So far there have been few actual cases of genetically modified crops causing any damage, but many think that powerful scientific tools like genetic tampering must be approached with the utmost caution. The cases of harms caused by GM crops were that GM corn caused high rates of mortality in monarch butterfly caterpillars in laboratory conditions, and cases of weeds and insects developing herbicide and pesticide resistance–although these resistances can form in response to ordinary herbicides and pesticides, not just from crops with engineered herbicide and pesticide resistance.

I’ll let you make up your own mind; are the benefits worth the risks?

Benefits:

  • Pest Resistance
  • Herbicide Tolerance
  • Disease Resistance
  • Cold Tolerance

Risks:

  • Unintended Harm to Other Organisms
  • Pest insects developing immunity to pesticides
  • Gene transfer to non-target species
How to GM

Image courtesy of odec.ca

Things you want to take home with you from Poland

Whenever I go to foreign countries, I want to get something that I can only get there. Even after several years, those souvenirs remind me of the beautiful memories. So, before traveling to a different country, I research what would be a good souvenir that represents the culture. For those of you who want to travel to Poland later, here are three things that you might want to take home from Poland as souvenirs.

Image from kopalnia.pl

1. Bath salt from salt mine in Krakow

The first thing that I recommend is bath salt from Wieliczka salt mine in Krakow. Wieliczka salt mine is one of the oldest salt mines in the world, which has operated since the 13th century. It has 9 floors and it’s 300m deep and 300km long. There are a lot of art pieces made of salt including history statues, salt crystal chandeliers and salt wall carving.

In this historical salt mine, which is an UNESCO world heritage site, you can get a lot of souvenirs made of salt, such as table salt, salt lamps and salt beads. One of them is bath salt, which will not only improve your bath time, but also remind you of your beautiful time in Poland.

There are flower, fruit, forest and lemon scent. After you put some salt in your bath water at 40oC (104oF), your stress will be reduced, and your skin will get softer.

Image from shop.nationalgeographic.com

2. Amber jewelry

Another great souvenir is amber jewelry. Amber is a native gemstone of Poland. You can easily see that a lot of vendors and shops carry silver and gold amber jewelry in most cities in Poland.

Ambermart in Gdansk, a northern city of Poland, is famous for an amber market. Also, Krawkow is a great place to buy good quality amber jewelry for a good price.

It is believed that amber brings good luck to people. The ancient Greek and Roman people thought that amber’s electrostatic energy brings good luck and draw bad luck away. You can also find chess sets and sculptures made of amber in Poland.

3. Wooden box

Image from boxestrends.purecraftarts.com/

The third thing that I recommend is handcrafted wooden boxes. All the traditional wooden boxes are carved, painted and stained by hand. Box making is Polish tradition which started in the Tatra mountains. Traditionally, farming families handcrafted wooden boxes during winter time.

Wooden boxes are not only decorative, but also functional. You can use these boxes as jewelry boxes, card boxes or cigar boxes.

Other than bath salt, amber jewelry and wooden boxes, you will find many other things once you go to Poland. You can check out these souvenir stores in Warsaw and specialty food shops in Warsaw to get more ideas about souvenirs from Poland.

Terrorism in Germany

German investigators analyze an area in Berlin's Hauptbahnhof in which explosive devices were found.

A mere two weeks ago, Germany’s transit system in and around Berlin was attacked by what is supposed to be an extreme leftist terrorist group, sparking a debate over “leftist terrorism” throughout the country.  Nearly 20 incendiary attack devices were discovered on, in, and around Berlin train stations, posing the questions, who? Why?  And most importantly, will there be more?

As a country that has experienced terror from both the left and right in the past decade alone, there is much confusion over which side, so to say, this plot stemmed from.  Due to the most recent attacks having been in the late 1970s and early 1980s from the Red Army Faction (an radical leftist group), many citizens are concerned they could be witnessing the beginning of a second wave of terror from the left.  This camp includes one of Germany’s two chiefs of police, Rainer Wendt, who mentioned the concept of a “renaissance of the Red Army Faction.”  Many of Germany’s head officials, learned in the history of terrorism in Germany, have led on that they suspect this to be a momento reminiscent of the days of rampant leftist terror, however definitive proof is yet to be found linking the incendiary devices found in Berlin to any specific group, political or not.

A terrorist group by the name of Hekla has both claimed and profusely denied involvement with the attack, first saying they plotted the attack, but then retracting their statement on a leftist website, saying that the devices were never meant to cause harm or terror, but instead were meant to disrupt the flow of every day life, cease signal and data communication, and in so few words, make people operate outside their boxes.  Whoever was behind the attacks in Berlin remains a foggy, unclear mystery.

The Red Army Faction, known as highly romanticised and visually appealing

While the debate rages on, some German politicos demand restraint in reaction.  Members of both Germany’s green party and Christian Democrats have called for a swift investigation opposed to a drawn out debate on the matter of where the attacks stemmed from.  Even further than that, many left-wing political radicals have sort of scoffed at the attack, sort of ridiculing whoever the perpetrator is and vehemently denying claim to what they consider to be an unorganized, petty plan.

The reason this seemingly small attack (only two incendiary devices detonated and no one was injured or killed) is soimportant is, if the cause does come down to leftist terrorism, there very well could be a renaissance of the era of the RAF.  It could signal the beginning of an era of guerrilla terror. The RAF wasn’t officially disbanded until 1998 after claiming over 30 lives and having made multiple attacks throughout Germany. The presence of such an influential and revolutionary group in a country like Germany could very well inspire similar groups in countries across Europe and into the U.S.  These attacks in Berlin have spurred the anarchist torching of hundreds of expensive vehicles at random throughout the rest of Germany.

Berlin's fastest and busiest high-speed ICE track was one of the 17 areas affected by the attack.

Many parallels allow themselves to be drawn between the foundation of the RAF and the terror happening today in Germany, which in correspondance to Occupy Wall Street’s spread across the globe could lead to a more radical sense of overhaul.  It is unfair to claim that what is happening now is any sort of definitely organized terror movement, but alertness should not be disregarded. A decentralized movement of terror could be the future of this paradigm, and without preparedness for such an option, the western world could witness a radical change in perspective in the upcoming decades.

(Shades of) Grün – Firsthand Info on Recycling

I didn’t feel that I could keep talking about sustainability in Germany without some insights from the insiders. So I asked my German friend Klaus from Osnabrück, a city in Northwesten Germany, if he had anything to say about Germany’s “Shades of Grün.” He started right off talking about – RECYCLING.

I know that the word may not sound novel at all. You might be persistent in recycling, or you might sometimes get too lazy to separate your trash and recyclable items, or you might even give it up simply because you can’t figure out which types of plastic are recyclable in your community. Whatever recycling mood you are in now, I would like to share with you what Klaus said about how people do it in Germany and how they do it differently.

The most common and well-known way of recycling in Germany is to sort waste in households into four color-coded waste bins: plastic, paper, the everything else except glass, and biodegradable waste. Klaus said that glass is taken directly to containers standing at a central place. You can find a picture of these recycling bins in my older post (Shades of) Grün-1. Because Klaus lives in the countryside, he makes his own compost and doesn’t have to have a bin for biodegradable waste.

But he added, “You have to prove to the community that you do make compost.”

In comparison, recycling in the U.S. is more voluntary. Though there are variations in local recycling policies, there is no national law mandating recycling.

An alternative way of recycling in some large communities in Germany is through compost and recycling factories. These factories process and separate the waste instead of people having to do it themselves at home. This kind of recycling system is being called “single-stream recycling“, or “fully commingled recycling”.

Waste Treatment Plant

A waste treatment plant in Osnabrück.

So our life is made easier. Again. We invented all sorts of containers to make our lives easier, which unfortunately has made our environment uneasy. That’s why we started recycling. Now we are still trapped in the same cycle. With factories doing the sorting, would people start to care less when we just started to care about our environment more? Is it sending the signal that no matter how much waste we generate, there will always be factories that could manage it all for us? Is our life really being made easier?

Presidenti”ELLE” 2012

Elle is the worlds’ #1 Fashion Magazine for a reason. Aside from giving each individual market a special flare, ELLE Magazine is focused around their audience–Women. And not just the super fashion-y women but the women who are artistic and creative, political and sassy or just plain and simple. Even after leaving HFMUS and moving to Hearst, ELLE’s visionary genius of an interactive magazine has still prevailed, making its readers the first to experience the content tease from iPad to iPhone to the magazine to the web as a fusion of ideas, inspiration and high fashion.

That’s why the launch of http://presidentielle2012.elle.fr/blog/ is such an amazing idea–it adds yet another layer to the ELLE powerhouse that reaches their readers on a level beyond the runway and introduces  the fashion savvy to the politically engaged.

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with the french political circut or the upcoming elections, here’s a bit of background.

Unlike the US Political System, Europe has several different party families that represent different interests and political ideologies. France will be holding their presidential elections on April 22, 2012, during which several candidates (all chosen by their respective parties) will be running against current president Nicolas Sarkozy. The French have a long history of its very interesting and public political banter and with the EU in such mayhem, the next president will be an important figure for not only France, but the the EU as well.

ELLE  France took their amazing team of editors and writers to birth a blog dedicated to current, up to date information about canidates and news sourounding the election.

What I love about this blog is the integration with ELLE France’s website and the well organized tags that allow readers to pin point specific issues, people, parties and social issues.

Here in America, we are obsessed with campaign season. We are the only country (democracy or otherwise ) that begin campaigning years before a presidential election. Our candidates start laying out their campaign platforms nearly 10 months before any voting will take place. And this huge window of time turns into an even bigger window of oppurtunity for  tons of news programs  talk shows and networks (CNN, Jon Stewart, Colbert, The View to name a few) to spew out opinions, allow saucy open forums and even interview candiates in effort to influence public opinion and inform the masses.

I think France is catching on. Media wins elections. Obama was the first presidential canidate to do 3 late night talk shows during his campaign as well as a host of appearances on TV and radio that appealed to younger audiences. Plus, he is the face of the most influential work of pop art since Andy Warhol’s Marilyn.

Whatever the cultural assumption, in the midst of a Euro Crisis, Occupy Protests’ across the globe and the possibility of even more turmoil in future with the passing of religiously interloerant  laws, one thing is for sure–the next face of France will need the support of the people.

Even the fashion-y kind.

Let’s start things earlier, in Europe.


Photo Credit: Timebooth

Every year we are changing our clocks, either “springing forward” or “falling back” into time.  We synchronize our clocks either to save some daylight (Daylight Saving) or to return back to our standard time.

For this year, in the United States, Daylight Saving began on Sunday, March 13, 2011 and will end shortly on November 6, 2011. This change occurs each year in order to save one hour of daylight in the afternoon and have one less hour in the morning. But why does this happen, and since when?

George Vernon Hudson, a well known astronomer and entomologist, thought of this concept in 1895.  Since World War I, it has been used by most European countries and the United States. Germany and Austria started this in “an effort to conserve fuel needed to produce electric power.” Other countries started adapting this immediately.

The United States actually passed a law in 1918, known as “An Act to preserve daylight and provide standard time for the United States.” If one wants to read more about the law, click here.

Adding an extra hour of daylight adds a lot time for various activities.  This is beneficial for individuals who partake in outdoor activities, as in George Hudson’s case. Not everyone is in favor of this change because it does cause problems for individuals where daylight is a part of their occupation, like farmers, for example.  Other problems and challenges also arise when it disrupts our sleep schedule, cause changes in flights and meetings, and it can also effect our record keeping.  However, drawbacks and benefits vary from person to person.

Photo Credit: Tuftsjournal

As I was sitting in my living room talking to my dad about how the time change is approaching, he informed me that the time has already changed in Europe.

Europe has an EU-Rule, which has to be followed by all countries in the Union, that tells individuals when the time change occurs.  Other countries in Europe, that are not part of the Union, have simply adapted to this rule for their own benefit. The United States, however, has not been as consistent as Europe in the past.  In the “early 1960s, observance of Daylight Saving Time was quite inconsistent, with a hodgepodge of time observances, and no agreement about when to change clocks.” Now, the entire country changes the time consistently and accordingly.

In Europe, the time change begins at 1:00 am on the last Sunday of March and ends at 1:00 am on the last Sunday of October.  In the United States, the time change begins at 2:00 am on the Second Sunday in March and ends at 2:00 am on the First Sunday of November.

Time changes vary according to the continent, country, and state.  Europe countries change their time before the United States, but Hawaii and Arizona, for instance, never change to daylight savings.  Other territories like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also keep their time as is.

How do you feel about the time change? Is it beneficial for you, or does it affect you in a negative way?