Former German president’s wife a prositute; Google it.

Former President Christian Wulff and his wife Bettina Wulff

It’s mind-boggling to think about the power of the Internet and search engines in our present time.  Our world is increasingly moving towards a total “cyber world”. The dependence of the Internet for social, political, cultural, and business news is close to surpassing television and other popular media sources. Any topic you want to know about, you can learn by just typing in keywords in a search engine.

I found it interested that one of the world’s most powerful search engine, Google, influenced former German President Christian Wulff to step down in office because of alleged rumors of his wife, first lady Bettina Wulff, being a prostitute.  Of course I had to try it out for myself.

When you type Bettina Wulff in the Google search engine, Google’s autocomplete comes up with terms such as: Bettina Wulff escort, Bettina Wulff prosituierte, Bettina Wulff rotlicht. Google Trends also provides a graph over the past month in which these terms were search, how many searched it, and in what cities in Germany. It seems as if in the month of January there was a high search of these terms.This just so happen to be around the same time in which President Christian Wulff began his presidential term; a month later he steps down.

This was Google’s response to the situation: the insulting suggestions that come up in relation to Wulff are “the algorithmic result of several objective factors, including the popularity of search terms.”

Google lawyer, Kent Walker admits that Google has the power to prevent terms from showing up in the search engine that fringes on privacy.

Does Google not have control over what can appear in their search engine? Why would this a popular term people were searching around the time of the German elections? Who started this rumor? There are so many unanswered questions with this case, and so much up for interpretation. I see situations similar to this daily about celebrities and gossip. Many occasions Facebook or Twitter make accusations of celebrity deaths and sex scandals. Who has time to start this type of slander?

Bettine Wulff decided to take it to the next level; Sources say she has a lawsuit against Goggle and German TV personality Gunter Jauch, who quoted an article about her describing her past as an escort.

How do you feel about this situation? Is it Googles fault? Do you believe Bettina Wulff is a former prositute? Should former President Christian Wulff stepped down from presidency because of these alleged rumors of his wife?

 

Suburban-French Hip-Hop?

Banlieue, the word seems harmless enough, even pretty, when pronounced. And when looked up in a French-English dictionary it translates most commonly as “suburb.”

Into my head images pop up instantaneously of cookie cutter houses with finely manicured lawns, cars in the driveways, fences securing dogs, and the occasional kid outside hula-hooping while their younger sibling practices writing their name in sidewalk chalk.

But what if I told you that French banlieues do not look quite the same as American suburbs. Imagine this picture instead: tightly scrunched, low income  apartment buildings, run-down government housing, riddled with graffiti, violence, and the more than occasional drug deal.

A photo of a government housing in a crowded, Fench banlieue

 

I will be the first to admit that the term “suburb” in English does not bring me an overwhelming sense of joy, however, I do not associate it with poor living conditions and social unrest.In fact I think of quite the opposite.  So what are banlieues, really, if they are not truly suburbs? It seems that they are more or less ghettos, or areas where North African immigrants are shuttled so as not to disrupt the pristine image of the of French cities. Left on the margins, they are seldom thought of.

Colombe Brossel, a French activist for educational reform who keeps a blog spoke about her discontent for how the balieues are so often ignored in politics. She said that during this past election the word balnlieue diappeared from the French vocabulary altogether and that it “seemed to have become a dirty word that should be avoided when speaking.” She both criticizes and calls to attention the fact that nobody is willing to deal with the banlieues, even though they are in need of urgent attetntion.

A photo that I took from the lookout point described in the video of Lyon, France.

 

Likewise in this video, a man in Lyon points out that on the map of the city, shown at a tourist point that looks over the sprawling urbanization, the banlieues are completely left out from being labeled, even though they are clearly visible from the lookout point.

 

 

While there are few people living outside of the banlieues speaking up about the conditions inside, voices from within the social confines of the benlieue not only speak about their lives, they rap about them. Paradoxically enough while politicians may be trying to muffle the cries of immigrant populations in banlieues, some of the most famous French hip-hop and rap artists have risen to both fame and popularity by reciting lyrics about the realities of their lives.

Hip-hop artists in France are most often find their roots in the Moroccan or Algerian working class population. They see their work as a means of reporting about the seldom-mentioned slums that they once called home growing up, as a way of getting their perspective out to the rest of the francophone world, since the French media often chooses to ignore them.

Since their beginnings, French hip-hop  and rap have been highly controversial. From its rapid popularization in the 1990s it has been both loved by French youth and protested against by French adults. Due to its often  graphic content, the music gets blamed for encouraging violent behavior.

L’espoir des Favelas, the song title of the popular French hip-hop artists of Algerian descent, Rim’K, translates to something like, hope for the slums. In his lyrics Rim’K speaks about the conditions of French Banlieues. He does not refrain from using graphic language or profanities, and while the picture he paints of the slums is not attractive, he does also pose hope that with knowledge and education, one can break free from the cycle of crime in which they were born.

Hip-hop artist, Rim’K, a member of the group Maghreb United

 

A blogger from NationPresse, a blog which supports the conservative, French right-wing, does not like Rim’K, not even a single bit. He says in his post that Rim’K’s music is “racism (against whites) expressed freely on the radio in rap songs that dome intellectuals dare to call ‘music’ or ‘culture.'”

His blog post struck me as funny. How can somebody from the position of white, male privilege, write a racist blog post about the so-called racism that he feels is coming from a French-African, a group notoriously  and often brutally discriminated against in French history? How can you accuse someone of being racist, when you yourself are also racist? While perhaps I could agree  with the author, that violence is never a good answer and I do not really appreciate listening to violence in songs, I found his post to be highly contradictory considering that in his posts, he describes himself as favoring militant action.

Something about the French hip-hop scene seems eerily similar to the American hip-hop culture. I wonder, since hip-hop appeals first and primarily to youth, is it creating a future in which people will be more aware of the social disparities that exist in banlieues and will therefore more inclined to take action? Or, are the banlieues being glamorized in their minds, while creating even more tension and amubition for French people to call those living in the banlieues violent and dangerous?

In my opinion, the fact that music has been a platform for a marginalized group of people to share their story is pretty exciting. It is simply my hope that as hip hop and rap artists from banlieues rise to fame, that they would give back to the communities that they came from and act as a positive voice of change.

Writing this post made me reflect on the complicated history of North Africans living in France and this quote from a blogger who writes about the common misconceptions of Islam wrote this about France, which I found to be thoughtful enough to share.

“If the challenge of ‘integrating’ French Muslims appears to be a throwback to the old colonial paradox (to ‘civilize those unable to be civilized’), it is only because people have made it that way themselves by defining France’s ‘integration’ problem as a question of culture and religion rather than social immobility, housing policy and educational inequality. Discussions of the banlieues themselves can also get transformed into complaints about culture (e.g., “speaking in slang”, wearing hats backwards and the like). Until the real issues are addressed, and until we stop framing the discourse on French Muslims as a cosmic clash of religion and secularism, things will only get worse. Perhaps, in time, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

 

 

Germans are the Victim, Not the Villain!

The recent Euro Crisis has many of the region’s countries in economic disorder. Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and several others are floundering financially to stay afloat until the European Central Bank’s recently proposed solution kicks in.

On the other hand, Germany maintains its position as the largest economy in the Euro-zone. Some, namely Angela Merkel, might say that Germany is a flourishing country to be modeled after. One article, published online by The Guardian, discusses Merkel’s reasoning for why she wants to make the rest of Europe more like Germany.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Germany is still looked upon as a hegemony- hungry bully by its neighbors. As a result, the country faces slander and backlash even in its time of vast economic success.

It seems that Germany just can’t catch a break, despite its immense growth economically and morally, since the Potsdam Conference in 1945, which left Germany powerless and at the mercy of the Allied Powers.

Making Germans the villain seems to be an easy blame. It’s obvious in pop culture even today. Comics often depict unfavorable Germans as Nazis, simply because that is the image attached to the country.

Some fellow comic bloggers hold a similar sentiment:

Username, Finfangfool, posted a comment in a Comic Book Resources forum. He writes, “ I’m sick to death of Nazi villains. What more could you do, except to write individual soldiers in the German army during the Nazi’s reign as actual human beings instead of cartoonish caricatures of villainy? It’s also lazy as f**k. Because you can attack them and nobody is going to get offended…”

Below is a comic found in Greek newspapers about the current Euro Crisis, but with Nazi allusions.

More pictures can be seen here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2163159/Euro-2012-Angela-Merkel-cheers-delight-Germany-puts-Greece-Euro.html

You can see the “Euro” sign in the background placed on a red and white banner, as if replacing the Nazi symbol of the swastika. Furthermore, the armed persons in the comic resemble Nazi soldiers with their uniforms and armbands. The masked figure appears menacing and is clearly leading the group in harassing a civilian. This picture confirms that Germans are constantly associated with the dismal past of their country and wrongfully seen as a bully by the rest of Europe, in spite of its apparent progress since those times.

You’ll find that Germans also received the unfavorable end of the Euro Crisis resolution. The ECB and its president, Mario Draghi, supposedly brought the Euro Crisis to a close on September 17 by implementing a bond balancing strategy. Essentially, the ECB will buy more bonds from suffering countries to lower their interest rates, and sell more bonds of stable nations, like Germany, producing the opposite effect: higher interest rates.

Germans have had their fair share of punishment. Can we stop persecuting them for moving on from the past and becoming the successful nation it is, today?

New French Anti-Piracy Initiative Takes Some Heat

Last week the infamous French anti-piracy law known as Hadopi (short for Haute Autorité pour la diffusion des œuvres et la protection des droits sur internet) caught its first victim. However, the alleged offender was not at fault for downloading two Rihanna songs.

According to Ars Technica, Alain Prevost was charged €150 ($194) for failing to secure his Internet connection, even though it was his ex-wife who admitted to downloading the two songs. The law works by sending a warning to file-sharing users. If they don’t stop after three warnings, then there is a possibility  of being prosecuted. Prevost negotiated his fine to its current price, but the actual penalty would be €1500 ($1,940) and the Internet connection would be cut off for a month.

At the moment, there are 14 cases in court. It is worth noting that Hadopi targets the owners of the Internet connection, and Buzz Patrol gives a warning to parents of teenagers who might be at risk for illegal downloading. Unfortunately, Prevost fell prey to this part even though his wife was the offender.

A French graffiti about Hadopi translates to “Hadopi: The French Internet is under control!”

Photo by mathias.

TechMySoul said that Hadopi has done nothing but “punish the technologically ignorant” due to the fact that Prevost did not secure his Wi-Fi. According to the same Ars Technica article Prevost said that police told him to hire a IT group to clean his computer. Prevost thought that the problem would be over after the cleanup, but he was eventually dragged to court.

Hadopi has had critics since its creation, including from government officials. In a January 2012 interview with Le nouvel ObservateurFrench culture minister Aurélie Filippetti said “Hadopi has not fulfilled its mission of developing legal offers. In financial terms, 12 million euros per year and 60 agents, it is expensive to send a million e-mails.” However, Buzz Patrol reports that Hadopi has contacted 1.15 million users with a first warning and 102,854 were given a secondary caution. Only 340 were given the third and final warning.

While it may seem that Hadopi is working well against the flow of file-sharing copyright content, it could be targeting the wrong people. Owners of the connection might not be the ones at fault. Instead it could be friends, family or even strangers that could be using your Internet connection to download material. Securing your connection is a good way to prevent strangers from utilizing your Wi-Fi but you might need to be wary of friends and family who could be exploiting it by downloading pirated content.

While Hadopi has reduced the number of Internet pirates in France, there are still some flaws with the system as evidenced in by Prevost. The only way for Hadopi to fully function is to prosecute those who own the connection even though that person might not have downloaded any illegal content. Their only “crime” was paying a monthly fee for Internet service. There has to be a better way to track down the pirates in a manner that catches the actual offender instead of the connection owner. Do you think that other countries should follow in the footsteps of Hadopi, or is there a better solution to combat internet piracy?

Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec…: A French Director’s Question to Israel

The idea is simple.  Take a camera around Tel Aviv and ask people a very intimate question.  If you were an Israeli Jew it is, “Would you have sex with an Arab?” and if you are Palestinian the question is the opposite.  Then you wait for the response…

Tel Aviv

 

Yolande Zauberman, a French director popular for her eye-opening documentaries, asks the unthinkable in a country where disdain for the “other” ethnicity is seemingly genetic in her recent film, Would You Have Sex with an Arab?  Zauberman, sauntering around bars and nightclubs in Israel’s most populated city, asks Tel Aviv the daunting question that makes people think about their personal opinions and reservations.  As a spectator the range of responses seem confusing, sinister, even backwards perhaps.  From, “If I find some Palestinian girl beautiful, why not?” to “It’s almost a crime to be a mixed couple.”  Sarah Rashidian, a French speaking blogger, comments on the phenomenon that occurs with those who answer in the negative to the title question:  “the viewers face an awkward moment where the interlocutor is torn between the obviousness in which he gives his answer and, at the same time, the lack of suitable explanation or logic that c(h)aracterizes it!”  This film a huge conflict and breaking it down to the individual level, asking a very intimate question, and exploring the root on the answers given.

 

But perhaps latent meanings become overlooked when watching a film in an area reigned by political conflict.  Alongside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there exists, in my opinion, a more universal message: “Could you love someone you aren’t supposed to love?”  Deep into the upbringing of the individual, this question asks a very difficult idea for someone to think about, and essentially Zauberman does it in an area laden with prejudice.  But I honestly believe that a similar question can be posed to any of us and for a lot it would be a question too easily answered.  I do, however, agree with Pierre Haski from Rue89, an online French media website, when he points out that the film isn’t about the “make love, not war” movement of the hippies, but instead is trying to stir up prejudices within individuals that transcend upon the world.  It’s these prejudices that make loving, let alone liking, someone so difficult.

 

But perhaps this question is just over many of our heads because our situation is a bit different for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and therefore the question should only pertain to this area.

 

What do you think?  Should evaluate similar questions in ourselves if we are removed from such an ethnically-contentious environment?  Or do you believe that there are still strong ethnic boundaries to who we love?

My final question is, based off your knowledge of the documentary what is Zauberman trying to accomplish?

 

 

Greece (6-0): Work Days of Employed vs Unemployed

Γεια σας αναγνώστες – Hello readers,

I found this interesting video from CNN about the current employment conditions in Greece. Although you will be surprised because it does not feature the young Greek generation. Although it does include what could be considered a tiny bit of hooliganism (in a protesting sense) and not quite from who you would expect…Take a look.

As you just saw Greek youth have managed to fly under the radar in the media this week, but the older generation certainly did not. If you didn’t watch the video then you may wonder why are they protesting? A leaked email outlines changes being made to begin a 6-DAY WORK WEEK!

(I imagine gasps from the employed and quiet cries from the unemployed).

Created by Matt Barringer, CNN. Content by Irene Chapple, CNN. Sources: Eurostat. Figures accurate as of April 26, 2012

 

It seems like quite a bad situation when the people who are employed don’t like the idea of pulling another day, while there are so many who are completely unemployed.

Now the logic behind what I am about to say could be completely unrealistic but hear me out. If they are considering adding another day to the workweek and the currently employed are not happy then could they cut back their hours to employ younger people for much less?

For example: A new teachers salary (based of my knowledge and it differs depending on where you are) is probably around $26,000 to $34,000 a year. Where as, a veteran teacher who has been teaching for 40 plus years and may have earned more education along the way is probably making AT LEAST double if not triple the new teachers salary. So if your school is in debt and needs to make budget cuts, as we’ve had problems with in the U.S., they turn to cutting programs like art, music and drama. BUT what if they offered veteran teacher(s) an early retirement package and then employ a new teacher for much less. Resulting in less money being taken from the budget to pay for the veteran teacher and keep the programs that are in jeopardy of being cut.

Easier said then done, but if something similar was plausible to help the unemployed then it could be worth a shot. I am in no means saying out with the old and in with the new because those people are extremely wise and knowledgeable, but the young generation needs to be to be able to come in and learn from them. Eventually if the young people are gone and stay wherever they decide to relocate, then who will be there to take on leadership positions when the older generation are ready to retire?

I want hear what you think could fix the 6-day workweek.
Should they cut current hours and bring on new people?
Or force the currently employed to work more? Neither?

And for now I leave you with this…

““Seven Deadly Sins

Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice.”

-Mahatma Gandhi

Canyoning: Experience the Challenge.

Canyoning. What does that even mean? To many it’s known as traveling in canyons using a handful of technique and skill that may include outdoor activities such as scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling, walking, and swimming. Canyoning allows teams to thoroughly explore a canyon through and through. And it’s an experience many don’t want to miss. In fact, 98.3% of the world’s population make take the plunge in Switzerland!

Due to the topographic geography, canyons that are ideal for this adventure are mostly cut into bedrock stone. These cuts form narrow gorges with many drops, beautiful sculpted walls, and amazing waterfalls. Most canyons are developed within limestone, sandstone, granite or basalt. Emphasis in the sport is mostly found with its aesthetics and fun instead of actual difficulty. A wide variety of canyoning routes are found all over the world and can be enjoyed by all ages and skill levels.

Want to jump into it yet? If so, bring your equipment. You’ll need hefty ropes, climbing hardware, helmets, and wetsuits in order to stay warm. Though many canyoners have used and adapted climbing, hiking and river running gear over time, more and more specialized gear is inverted and manufactured as the sport popularity continues to increase.

Whether the time of year is summer or winter, in the snow, through the air, or on the ground Interlaken acts as the ideal playground for those in Central Switzerland. According to their website, “Outdoor-Interlaken” displays the region as a playground to Europe.

TourRadar.com, an online tour ranking system, named Interlaken the 2012 Most Amazing Day Tour. For many, it’s the best of the best. Interlaken takes canyoning to the next level.

This crevice in the earth allows teams lead by a guide to discover, challenge each other, and enjoy high rapids, big jumps and fast slides.

But before you take the plunge, make sure you know what you’re plunging into.

As with any extreme sporting, Canyoning can be very dangerous. Should a dangerous situation evolve, one may not have much an opportunity to climb out the sides, but to last until the end of the waterflow. Of the many hazards with canyoning one may experience high water flow as waterways become treacherous and require special roping techniques devised by most tour guides for safe travel. Flash flooding may also occur if large amounts of precipitation falls into drainage basins, especially those that drain large areas.

ally, hypothermia and hyperthermia may occur within the depths of frigid waters. The solution to avoid such problems is to wear a wetsuit. Wetsuits and drysuits can mitigate dangers to a large degree. “Look out below” especially for potholes. These holes are carved out by filling water at the bottom of a drop with courses and are circular pits often containing water too deep to stand in.

Narrow slots may also present dangers. Obstacles narrower than a human may also present a difficult situation. Failure to complete special maneuvering might result in being trapped within a canyon.

For those that might want to learn more about safely descending into canyons, there are several reputable organizations that offer classes to the public ranging from three to four skill sets.

The First level usually involves basic repelling  roping, navigation, identification of gear, and basic setups. The second level involves anchor building and strategies on how to descend various types of canyons. Third levels deal with rescue situations of one’s self and groups of people. Optional courses involve swift water training as well.

Ready for exhilaration? Despite safety measures, she’ll take the plunge.

Will you?

 

Russia’s Will May be Healthy, but its Lungs Are Black as Night

I was impressed when the hookah-addicted caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland blew smoke rings and letters into the air. But if someone could blow smoke rings in the shape of R-U-S-S-I-A for me, that would be more unsurprising than anything.

Unlike Alice in Wonderland‘s chillest character, many Russian smokers get their kicks from plain old tobacco cigarettes. Russia’s tobacco market is second only to China’s.

My lungs hurt just typing this, but 39% of Russians are habitual smokers. The majority–yeah, over 50%–of men smoke, and 2.5% of the country’s GDP is directed towards the Tobacco industry each year (Bloomberg BusinessWeek).

Keep those statistics in mind, when I tell you that Russia banned all TV and radio tobacco ads in 1996, nixed all outdoor advertising for tobacco products in 11 years later ( Ria Novosti), ratified the anti-tobacco convention of the World Health Organization four years ago and signed the Government Concept for Restriction of Tobacco Consumption just two years ago (The Telegraph).

It sure looks like progress, until you look back at how little effect these measures have had.

The Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation made another move against tobacco at the very end of August., publishing a bill proposal to outlaw cigarette advertising immediately within the country and ban kiosk sale of cigarettes and smoking in public building by the beginning of 2015 (Bloomberg BusinessWeek).

Other countries in Europe have taken an effective – key word, there – stand against tobacco. Last week, Russian news was full of stories about the new Ukrainian ban on all advertising of tobacco products, which just went into effect Sept. 16 (Ukrainian News).

Belarus and Kazakhstan’s complete ban on tobacco advertising as well. Daria Khalturina, who is the co-chairman for the Russian Coalition for Tobacco Control, wrote an article for RBC Daily. She thinks this type of measure ought to be enacted in Russia.

She said, “It did not destroy the advertising industry, not shake their economies and cause civil unrest” (roughly translated).

Khalturina is just one of 82.5% of Russians who support this type of ban. Also among supporters is Russian blogger Alexander Polishchuck, who began smoking as a teenager. He was influenced by images of celebrities like actress Audrey Hepburn and musician Viktor Tsoi, who were constantly taking a drag from a coffin nail. For him and many others, it was easier to go with the tide than against it.

On his site, Pulp Fiction, Polishchuck said he doesn’t want his 10-year-0ld daughter to fall into the same sort of media trap. He revieved over 1,000 comments on his blog post and encouraged readers to sign a petition against tobacco advertising in Russia.

On the other hand, citizens like Russian blogger Mary Butin suggest a ban on smoking only on state, regional and municipal property so as not to infringe upon property rights–a valid point that has been completely disregarded in other countries. Regardless of the degree of enforcement, most Russians agree that their country needs to kick it’s tobacco habit.

I believe that Russia has the heart to get rid of its worst addiction. But as matters stand now, smoking is likely to carry over into the next generation. I guess we’ll see if the political actors in Russia have the willpower to take an action against the big tobacco companies. Anyone want to take bets?

The World’s Most Expensive City: Zurich

The Swiss Economy has been one of the most resilient economies in Europe, and has been able to succeed even in this current euro-crisis. They are one of the wealthiest countries in the entire world, and rank highly is nearly every single economic category.

Switzerland boasts two of the world’s top three most expensive cities. Zurich ranks as the most expensive city in the world, and following close behind at #3, split only by Tokyo, is Geneva. To put this in perspective for us Americans, New York City ranks #47, as no North American city even cracked the top 10 on that list. Zurich is about 66% more expensive to live in than New York City.

This is the first time in nearly two decades that Zurich has taken the top spot in this list. Part of the reason for their ascent to the top is the surge in the Swiss franc over the past couple of years. With the franc still growing we can only expect Zurich and Geneva to continue to be among the most expensive cities to live in.

However, until that point comes let me clarify for you a little better just how expensive things can get for the Swiss. In Switzerland it costs on average about $150 (USD) to fill your car, hair cut would cost around $93 (USD), and around $14 (USD) for a medium meal from McDonald’s which would only cost around $5 in the US.

Prices like that are what make Switzerland a class ahead of its following countries.  While it keeps Switzerland a class ahead of other countries, some Swiss must learn the art of budgeting and bargain hunting.

High prices in Switzerland lead to a few, yet very noticeable differences in how some things are done. The first is tickets. It seems in Switzerland they have a ticket for everything imaginable, and it is inevitable that at some point you will receive a ticket. Second, many things are machine operated, as the cost of labor in Switzerland is higher than that of the US. Finally, theft seems to be a growing issue in Geneva. With easily accessible borders and a very high rate of wealth, the Swiss have been the victims of much theft. All of this causes the crime rate in Geneva to rise, but Geneva is still considered to be the sixth safest city in the world.

While high prices and wealth seem to cause a few headaches or problems, this extravagant economy still keeps Switzerland beautiful, and for the most part safe. I can only expect the Swiss to stay among the top for years to come, but I wonder how long it will be until cities, such as Sydney and Singapore, catch up or surpass Zurich and Geneva.

Russian Bathrooms For Dummies

I’ll go straight to the point: most Russian bathrooms require special talents to be used. This talent is merely innate in the citizens of former Soviet Union, but it is definitely something completely foreign to most of Americans.

As I was browsing the web to come up with ideas for comparing and contrasting the interior design of bathrooms (as promised from my last post), I actually came across a “how-to” website for Russian bathrooms!!! And although I won’t be going into much detail, it is definitely a page worth reading (so if you have 3 extra minutes of your time, come entertain and educate yourself at this website: http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/russia/p/russiantoilets.htm).

For those of you who just came back from that website: NO, it is NOT a joke! Yes, that is EXACTLY how Russian bathrooms function. For those of you too lazy to waste an extra mouse click (such as myself) I will summarize it for you:

Russian public (and some private) toilets are scary, have sandpaper for your hygiene needs, are dirty, can consist of simple holes in the ground, sometimes will not have enough water and power to flush the above mentioned sandpaper (so don’t throw your toilet paper in the toilet), some don’t flush at all, and….. get ready for this…. Best of all….. drum roll…. you might have to PAY to enjoy the experience of a Russian bathroom (small print: payment must be made in form of cash; no checks or major credit cards accepted).

In all seriousness, and all that set aside, let me take a step back and actually introduce you to our best friend: the bathroom.

Bathrooms in Russia have evolved from out-houses and баня (“steam baths”) to contemporary works of art.  Baths and bathrooms have always been taken seriously in that country and have been playing an important role in making history; it is not only where Russians have been bathing for centuries, but these “steam baths” have been used for religious ceremonies, healing of the sick, birth deliveries, and served many more functions (including the entertainment of the average American that might come across this post out of sheer boredom). To read a little more about the history of Russian baths, I will provide you with a couple websites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banya_(sauna) ,  http://russian-bath.com/), but I’m not here to teach a history lesson!

The very first website I gave provided a very valid and interesting point. Today, most toilets in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe are actually placed in their own, separate room. These rooms do not have a bath or a sink since those two items are located in yet another entirely different room. Both of those rooms generally follow the same design pattern: same color tile on floors and walls and same shade of ceramic used for the appliances. Once again, I’m being absolutely serious. Even in tiny apartments where a family can barely breathe without bursting someone’s bubble, there are two seperate rooms for what Americans generally just use one room and call it “the bathroom”.

Now that I’ve scared everyone away from traveling to Russia anytime soon, we can sit back and enjoy some lovely pictures of Russian bathrooms and some of their newly renovated and contemporary bathing rooms.

*The scary toilets (I’ll only torture you with two of those:) )

Russian bathroom graffiti

*Classic Russian bath and toilet rooms

http://go.mail.ru/search_video?q=%D0%94%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BD%20%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B9%20#s=mailru&i=mail/ademiadai/646/733&d=1576962581&sig=c869cbef01

*BBC reporter Jonathan Dimbleby visits a traditional bath house in Russia. WARNING: some nudity may be present.

*A couple different color schemes for bathrooms. All from the Дом Декора (House of Decor) blog.

 

 

Warm green walls are complemented by warm shades of purple. The freshly cut flowers give the bathroom a rejuvenating feel.

Белая ванная комната

White is the color of wealth and cleanliness. Using a fold-able chair and wooden foot stand instead of a carpet or an area rug adds a rustic feel to this simple, yet functional, bathing room.Черная ванная

Using bright green tile to contrast a white sink and tub adds class and value to any restroom. Hanging a mirror in the shower is a modern twist and is found quite useful by some. Note that dark colors do make it hard to see any dirt and might make it easier to overlook some dirty spots every now and then.Ванная комната

This spacious bathroom shows the use of yet another two warm and contrasting colors: blue and yellow. Very simple and easy on the eyes, this room differs from some other bathrooms by using laminate for the floors. When doing this, make sure to use flooring appropriate for use in bathrooms. It is very important to remember this in order to avoid dealing with mold and other similar problems down the line. 

Дизайн ванной комнаты

Rich colors add class to this bathroom. The deep shades of the walls and the floor put the focus on the toilet and the sink. However, due to the lack of a contrasting color, such a design might get boring and hard to decorate after a while.  Интерьер ванной комнаты

Plain, simple, effective, elegant. Placing the sink in a corner saves room and looks great!

 Дизайн ванны

The color blue’s association with water makes it very popular for baths and bathrooms. This shade is very relaxing and will help anyone feel restored and revitalized after just one dip in this bath.

Some of the above photos came from a couple other blogs from people visiting Russia and sharing their experiences/opinions, all extremely interesting and worth checking out. They can be found by either clicking on the photos themselves or on the links below (note that these are both in English!!!):

http://jtenman.blogspot.com/2009/05/russia-living-space.html

http://loymm.blogspot.com/2007/12/russia-infocentre.html

 

If you are still not satisfied with the amount of information provided, feel free to visit the following:

http://englishrussia.com/2006/11/19/moscow-toilets/

Maybe next time I’ll examine the Russian Orthodox Churches! Much more refreshing and definitely not as disturbing 🙂

Across Borders: A Parkour Generation

MontrealPK-Oct02-2005033

Human motion need not be delimited by carefully-set sidewalks nor inhibited by obstacles. Leap over walls, swing from the rafters to get to your next destination via le method naturelle. The spectacle often leaves average pedestrians awestruck in the dust. Parkour enthusiasts, called traceurs, draw unique lines of approach to this sport of urban free-running and develop their philosophies from the spirit of it. The movements evoke practitioners’ primitive sides while the discipline places them vis-à-vis with moments of fear and truth about the psychological and physical limits. The conceptualization of parkour breaks down ideas of spatial and social confinement, which have restricted our harmony with our environment. As one enthusiast put it, “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”

Nicola

The community’s consensus is that this adrenaline-pumped martial art was born in Lisses, France, where modern legends-in-the-making like Sébastien Foucan and Jérôme Ben Aoues expressed their free-flow style by jumping, flipping, scaling, leaping along their own paths with exceptionally acrobatic, and distinctly defiant, French flair since the 1990s. Here, skateboarding was not allowed and public playgrounds had rules against this type of play. They developed a sport that complemented surrounding architecture in creating alternate, and often impressive, routes of transit for the nonconformist traveler. The style quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Americas. Parkour Generations America started in 2005 with a runabout rendezvous – here is their showreel: http://youtu.be/lD3_Fn0erPw

 

The most spectacular stunts are done among rooftops, but fundamentals should be learned at ground level. Today, online organizations like ParkourGenerations.com and Monkeyspirit.org seek to inspire young French traceurs by providing tips, tricks, and testimonials from those who have become proficient in the art of creative movement. The masters teach use of fundamental and natural motions, mental rehearsal, and hard work to become fluid in the art of manipulating your horizon, because after all, “the art of moving is about hard training.” Exercise regimes challenge cardiovascular systems, build core strength and improve muscular endurance. The essence is in the footwork, the hand placement, the unique flow of the individual in their route and how they assess obstacles. Uncontested sensei Sébastien Foucan explains that, in his experience, “practice is best done alone…to be focused in yourself. When you are alone you’re a little bit afraid and you need to find why and the solution.” And Monkeyspirit.org urges hopefuls in its introduction not to put the cart before the horse. “The flow comes from years of hard work. Even apes and monkeys practice all the day long during their childhood learning from their parents.”
IMG_9454

 

Groups like UrbanFreeFlow and Freemouv display skill at international competitions, most recently this July in the French Alps and in August in Wisconsin, USA. Their talents have also been displayed in such recent films as 007 James Bond: Casino Royale and Jump Britain. Foucan recently helped K-Swiss develop the Ariake, the first freerunning and parkour shoe. Nikon and GoPro have contests to sponsor amateurs in creating parkour videos for the web.

To date, the writer has personally adopted many movements of Animal Planet in conquest of free-running basics. Visualize me at 25, meditating at dawn and practicing throughout Missouri’s karst landscape during my frequent hiking trips. I still get the urge to climb to the top of the playground tower and every other imposing structure I come across. As a novice, I hurt my ankle while leaping between platforms last month and haven’t been as spry since. I should have been wary of encouraging instructions that included the phrase, “various opportunities to jump off the roof.”

 

Ultimately, parkour is for hard-chargers, fast runners, young kung fu masters, trapeze artists, and those kids who grew up having the most fun on the school playground. It continues to be rapidly embraced by a generation of unprecedented physicality and philosophy: a parkour generation.

parkour9.JPG

The Age of the Internet and Illegal Downloading is Affecting Germany Music industry.

Another year will past and the annual music festival, Popkomm, is cancelled and will never return years to come. It was suppose to take place this week, but the people of German seem not to care about the postponed event.   Popkomm is music event that takes place once every year in Berlin in various locations; it is a time in with people of the music and entertainment industry comes together and talks industry politics, culture, issues, and developments.

Popkomm Trailer 2011

Over the years, Popkomm grew into an international music event that brings musicians, record labels, artists, distributors, and publishers from all over the globe in one place to discuss and debate current trends and issues in the industry. Berlin Music Scene Sheds No Tears for Popkomm Ironically, it seems that the debated issues and trends that recently occurred in the industry led to the cancellation of the Popkomm festival.

The Berlin music industry is calling it quits after years in decrease attendance  Popkomm Shuts Down…. This is not the first time in which Popkomm cancelled; in 2009 the same resulted because of low sales of the event.

People are not interested in the international music event anymore. Why wouldn’t music lovers want to purchase a week of music entertainment that offers the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the music industry, and share their opinions?

I feel the same trend that seems to occur in American has affected the Berlin music scene. The Internet has changed the music industry, as we first knew it. In the old days people who support their favorite musicians and artist by purchasing their albums in store, and attending events in which they could see them perform.  This is a moment in which fans and the musician could interact and share a connection, and the moment was magical. This bought so much revenue into the music industry. Everyone was happy and getting paid. Now with technology advancements and the Internet, people are able to download their favorite artist music for free and watch concert performances at the comfort of their home. The personal connection between the musician and artist is all done via social media and is physically gone.

“But how many breaks does Popkomm really need to take to re-conceptualize itself and how long can it get away with that before people lose interest in it entirely?” —Blogger Gavin Blackburn

It just might be too late to save Popkomm, but there is great opportunity for a re-birth of something new.  Berlin Music Week and many other festivals till go on. What are they doing right, and what went wrong with Popkomm?

More of this article on topic can be found:

Popkomm’s Blog

Popkomm Twitter

Popkomm Facebook

Russian Premier League Primer

Champions: Zenit (via Yahoo! Sports)

    The largely popular video game FIFA Soccer comes out soon and the demo for the game drops today. Now, why am I talking about a video game? The sales from the game broke records for fastest and best-selling sports video game of all-time. FIFA broke sales records last year set by the ultra-popular Madden and NCAA Football. This is especially impressive because in the U.S. the main connoisseurs of sports video games are young males – which in America are forced to watch almost exclusively football highlights during the fall (American football, that is) on sports shows.

            So what does mean and what am I talking about? I’m saying that soccer is penetrating young American sports society, which is exciting for the U.S. to finally join the rest of the world in enjoying the sport. For those in the U.S. who are familiar with European football, many people can recognize players and teams from the top leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga (Spain), Seria A (Italy), the Bundesliga (Germany) and Ligue 1 (France). These are the top 5 leagues in the world according to the UEFA coefficient (a mathematical formula that ranks soccer teams and leagues based on on-the-field success).

My job is to introduce you to the culture and trends of football in another major European country: Russia. This Russian Premier League introduction will briefly prime you on top teams and players, along with the trends going on in Russian football.

Here are the contending teams:

Zenit St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg

Zenit is the 2-time defending Russian champ and one of the richest teams in all of Euro football. Zenit flexed its muscles by just spending 80 million Euro on Brazilian star Hulk and young Belgian star Axel Witsel. Zenit is in the Champions League and believe they have what it takes to win the Champions League within the next few years.

Star Players: Hulk , ST (Brazil). Danny, MF (Portugal). Alexander Kerzhakov, ST (Russia).

CSKA Moskva – Moscow

CSKA is historically the Russian Red Army team in all sports. After a Top 16 showing in Champions League last year, CSKA qualified only for Europa League this season and has already been knocked out by AIK (a Swedish team). CSKA is known for its strong offensive play and the leadership of its goalie Igor Akinfeev and Russian hero defender Sergei Ignashevich. CSKA did not spend much money this year, and could possibly be passed up by richer team Anzhi Makhachkala if they are not careful.

Star Players: Igor Akinfeev, GK (Russia). Seydou Doumbia ST, (Cote D’Ivore). Keisuke Honda, MF (Japan). Sergei Ignashevich, DF (Russia).

Anzhi Makhachkala – Makhachkala

No one had ever heard of Anzhi Makhachkala when they signed Cameroonian superstar Samuel Eto’o away from Champions League winner Inter Milan a year ago. After years of complete oblivion, people actually know who Anzhi is and recognize several players on what used to be a completely unknown team. Anzhi was bought buy natural gas billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and quickly vaulted into contention. The team is filled with international players from Brazil, Morocco, and a couple more Africans. Anzhi is considered the richest team in the Russian premier league and will compete in the Europa League this season.

Star Players: Samuel Eto’o, ST (Cameroon), Mbark Boussoufa, MF (Morocco), Yuri Zhirkov, MF (Russia).

Spartak Moskva – Moscow

Spartak made a splash a few years ago with the signing of Irish player Aiden McGeady to their already international front line of Brazilians Welliton and Ari. Spartak has hung around near the top of the RPL, but has yet to top Zenit in the past couple of years. Spartak is again near the top of the RPL this season, but has already been blown out by Zenit. Some things seem to never change. Spartak is currently competing in the Champions league, but are in the same group as powerhouse Barcelona.

Star Players: Aiden McGeady, MF (Ireland), Welliton, ST (Brazil), Dmitri Kombarov, MF (Russia)

Rubin Kazan – Kazan

Kazan was top dog as recently as 2007-2008, but finished a disappointing 6th last season, but qualified for Europa with a big win the Russian Cup. The team has been passed up by free-spending Anzhi Makhachkala and still has to compete Zenit and the two tough Moscow teams. Kazan has a shot to prove itself in Europa, but will face Inter Milan in its grouping.

Star Players: Gokhan Tore, MF (Turkey). Gokdeniz Kardeniz, MF (Turkey). Obafemi Martins, ST (Nigeria).

Lokomotiv Moskva – Moscow

The third Moscow team is often forgotten behind oft-champions Spartak and CSKA, but Lokomotiv has a solid team and some interesting players. “Loko” has young up-and-coming Brazilian striker Maicon and can pair him with new signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, a former star for Tottenham. Loko also boasts Brazilian keeper Guilherme and new veteran Croatian defender Vedran Corluka. Corluka joins Roman Shishkin to form a solid defense for Loko. Loko is sticking around the top 5 and has a shot to make Europa this year.

Star Players: Vedran Corluka, DF (Croatia), Roman Pavlyuchenko, ST (Russia), Felipe Caicedo, ST (Ecuador).

With every blog post, there will be an update of the Russian Table:

Table courtesy ESPN.com and @ESPNFC

CLUB P W D L GD PTS
Zenit 7 5 1 1 13 16
Terek Grozny 7 5 1 1 1 16
CSKA Moscow 7 5 0 2 5 15
Anzhi Makhac 7 4 2 1 4 14
Loko Moscow 7 4 1 2 3 13
Kuban Krasno 7 4 0 3 4 12
Rubin Kazan 7 4 0 3 3 12
Spart Moscow 7 4 0 3 0 12
Amkar 7 2 3 2 1 9
Alania Vladi 7 2 2 3 1 8
Krasnodar 7 2 2 3 0 8
Kryliya Sove 7 2 1 4 -6 7
Rostov 7 1 3 3 -3 6
Mordovia Saransk 7 1 1 5 -7 4
Volga Nizhny 7 1 1 5 -9 4
Din Moscow 7 1 0 6 -10 3

 

A Punk Band’s Prayer – Deliver Us from Putin

“Open all the doors, tear off your epaulets

Come, taste freedom with us.“

Pussy Riot

Russia’s literature and music has always had a political connotation to it. With no outlet to vent their frustrations, Russia’s artists, writers and poets have been some of their country’s greatest patriots and also its biggest critics. The recent controversy over the state’s punishment of a punk bands “concert” has ignited the passions of Russia’s youth about the issue of free speech. The band Pussy Riot performed a controversial anti-Kremlin concert in a Moscow cathedral to the delight of their fans and to the disgust of the authorities all the way up to Putin himself.

Hooliganism is an official charge that can carry a sentence anywhere between 3 to 8 years in prison and it’s the state’s official charge brought upon the bands member. It’s also likely to stick. This is Russia – and sometimes it shows just how different it can be.

 

What drives these young women’s hearts? Nadezhda Tolokonnikova explains in her closing statements.

“We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [holy foolishness] of punk. Passion, total honesty, and naivete are superior to the hypocrisy, mendacity, and false modesty that are used to disguise crime. The so-called leading figures of our state stand in the Cathedral with righteous faces on, but, in their cunning, their sin is greater than our own ” – Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

 

The road to free speech in Russia has long known the heavy hand of the state. Demonstrations have historically been met with riot police, tanks, tear gas and paramilitary police forces. Yet today’s tech-savvy generation has given dissidents a new voice through social media. With the ability to organize protests through online services like Facebook and Twitter, Russian authorities have a hard time in reacting to the growth of such gatherings. Pussy Riots lyric’s might be considered crude by some but they deliver a powerful message of dissent that Dostoevsky would be proud of.

In a way, the band’s usage of Orthodox imagery signals a return to a kind of pure spiritualism that was pervasive amongst Russian literary legends. The nihilistic search for truth, a kind of purity and transparency guides the band’s political and spiritual goals.

“It was our search for truth that led us to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I think that Christianity, as I understood it while studying the Old and especially the New Testament, supports the search for truth and a constant overcoming of oneself, the overcoming of what you were earlier.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Pussy Riot’s case is easy to categorize as a simple matter of state vs. free speech, however Vadim Nikitin, a contributor to The New York Times in his article “The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot” points out that the band had a bad tendency to actually incite riots. Despite the apparent “Kangaroo Court” put on by the state, the band does have some legitimate criminal offenses to answer for. Nadezhda’s moving words in her closing statements seems to be an effective smoke screen for her participation in a public orgy – while pregnant as a form of protest – (Nadezhda’s profile). Vadim says,

“The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.”source.

He may have a point as the bands message promotes rebellion against all state organizations not just corrupt ones.

-source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ

An American expatriate blogger in Russia, Почемучка aka “Pochemuchka” (the one who asks a lot of questions) disagrees. The bands more racy activism is irrelevant in the context of their message. She points out that the sheer bravery to stand up so defiantly to the government and corrupt church officials is the real message that needs to be taken away from this case:

“Almost every Russian will tell you outright that the democracy of their country is a farce. But many also support sending these women to prison. In my opinion, seeing these two things as solid opposites prevents any kind of cultural analysis. However, “it’s part of their culture, so it’s okay” is a statement that disregards any universality amongst human beings–like the idea of “basic human rights”… my opinion on the Pussy Riot case is that the sentence these women received for what I see as a logistically simple act of civil disobedience far outweighed the physical damage actually incurred against the church.

This case gives a very exciting perspective into the younger Russian activists and the culture that they are promoting. Despite obvious flaws in their incendiary approach, their message remains the important takeaway. That voice of dissent – delivered through, somewhat unorthodox means was heard loud and clear in the Kremlin. It is interesting to see a new generation of Russia’s warrior poets and their influence on Russia’s historically closed off society.  The question remains to be seen whether this unique approach to activism will lead to any changes in the Russian state’s attitude toward free speech and lend encouragement to others to voice their dissent.

 

Or will their efforts just promote a government crackdown while alienating themselves from the rest of Russia’s citizens?

Please comment and let us know what your views are on the subject. Is this type of behavior justified in the pursuit of free speech and how are these women punk rock activists unique amongst their community? Would this even be an issue in the United States or other countries?

Thanks

– Dima

Interesting links regarding this topic:

Pussy Riot’s Twitter page

Pussy Riot’s Closing Statements

The Pochyemuchka Diaries – American Expat in Moscow

The Wrong Reasons to Back Pussy Riot – Vadim Nikitin’s Op-Ed in The New York Times

Punk Punishment: Pussy Riot’s ‘unholy prayer’ splits society – RussiaToday

Pussy Riot profile: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova – The Guardian’s story on the Pussy Riot’s “Evil Genius”