Racism continues to dog European football

Photo via UK Daily Mail — Anton Ferdinand (left) and John Terry (right) face off

Chelsea captain John Terry was caught on tape yelling what appeared to be racist remarks at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a Barclay’s Premier League match on October 23.

John Terry made the following statement about the accusations against him:

“I thought Anton was accusing me of using a racist slur against him. I responded aggressively, saying that I never used that term,” he said. “I’ve seen that there’s a lot of comments on the internet with regards to some video footage of me during the game. I’m disappointed that people have leapt to the wrong conclusions about the context of what I was seen to be saying to Anton Ferdinand. I would never say such a thing and I’m saddened that people would think so.”

Well John, the video bellow would prove otherwise:

Video via the Guardian.

Anton Ferdinand, who frankly doesn’t need to prove anything here because the video says it all, made the following statement:

“I have very strong feelings on the matter but in the interests of fairness and not wishing to prejudice what I am sure will be a very thorough inquiry by the FA, this will be my last comment on the subject until the inquiry is concluded.”

This kind of behavior is far too common in European football, but usually the racial slurs come from unruly fans. Incidents include racist chants and signs in Spain while Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o played for Barcelona and in Italy at Mario Balotelli (of Ghanian descent).

As an American, I believe the fact that there was never an equivalent movement in Europe to the Civil Rights movement in America, that there are still so many Europeans who consider screaming racial slurs acceptable behavior in their culture.

I don’t feel like I’m taking an unreasonable stance when I believe there needs to be harsher punishment against racist behavior in European football. The culture needs to change.

The president of FIFA (football’s governing body) Sepp Blatter said that on-pitch incidents should be solved on the pitch.

“There is no racism [on the field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct,” Blatter told CNN. “The one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.”

Blatter has since apologized for his statement, but what an idiotic thing for Football’s most powerful leader to say. Clearly he meant it, and subsequently backtracked after he took heat from the like of David Beckham, Sol Campbell, Arsene Wenger and other prominent figures in the footballing world.

Thankfully, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are reviewing the incident (we’ll see if this take forever even though the video evidence is right in front of them). There needs to be an incentive that makes using racial slurs culturally unacceptable in Europe. If that means making an example of John Terry, then so be it.

France at The Oscars

There’s no bigger red-carpet event than The Oscars. The celebrities, the paparazzi, the gowns – it is the annual apex of all things Hollywood. However, this year, Hollywood should brace itself for a bit of a French invasion because some of the biggest films of 2011 feature this other red, white and blue country. Although the official nominees won’t be announced until January 24 (the Oscar ceremony is on February 26), the following four films are giving France a leading role on the predicted playbill.

The Artist Although the beautiful, black and white film is set in old Hollywood, the  star French director and actors are making this film one of the most talked about films of the year both in France and the U.S. Jean DuJardin (who is NOT dead, as rumors earlier this year suggested) won Best Actor at Cannes for his leading male role in the film, and the director, Michel Hazanavius, is married to the leading lady, Berenice Bejo. The film is about the decline of male film star in light of a rising actress, and even though it is silent, tout le monde is talking about The Artist.

Hugo Who would have thought that Martin Scorsese, the film king of intensely human drama, would ever produce something in animation? Well, he did, 3D and all, and it’s causing quite a stir. Based on Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the action-packed, fantastical film follows a young boy’s adventures through a train station in Paris in the 1930s. Big-name stars such as Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen have lent their voices to the project, and despite its PG, takeyourkidstothismovie rating, it has received rave reviews. The New York Times said, “There is something poignant and paradoxical about Mr. Scorsese’s honoring a film pioneer in digital (and in 3-D, no less), yet these moving pictures belong to the same land of dreams that Méliès once explored, left for a time and entered once again through the love of the audience.” Looks like Scorsese added another masterpiece to his list.

War Horse In Steven Spielberg’s newest flick, he combines a few of the most popular movie categories – horse movie, war drama and love story – into one super-film of epic proportions. A young man’s horse gets shipped to France in WWI, so he hops across the pond and enters the war-stricken territory, too. Apparently, it’s an incredibly compelling tale; you won’t be able to judge for yourself until the film hits theaters on Christmas Day.

Midnight in Paris Woody Allen likes to travel. He’s recently branched away from his usual setting of NYC and made films in Barcelona and London, but in his latest – and one of his all-time greatest – films, he focuses his lenses on the streets of Paris. With an all-star cast of Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kurt Fuller, the film jumps tirelessly between modern day Paris and the city as it was in the roaring 20s. The likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway come to life for Owen Wilson’s quirky, confused character, as he time travels back to the dimly lit bars and glamorous dance halls of Montmarte in its bohemian glory. As humorous as it is visually captivating, Paris has never performed better than under the direction of Woody.

Here’s a question to ponder: after all of the ill-feelings the U.S. has had toward France in recent years (for instance, the “Freedom Fries” debacle), what does it say about our culture that France is now making a big splash in one of our most popular forms of entertainment? Is popular culture becoming a means of diplomacy? Will Americans be forever fascinated by French culture?

Here’s a less thought-provoking question: which French-centric flick is worthy of a trophy? Only time will time. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy some of France’s finest on the big screen.

Having a ball at Fasching

Photo Credit: FestivalsInVienna.BlogSpot.Com

In an earlier post, I wrote about how carnival starts on November 11th, at 11:11 am. During Fasching, it is also ball season in Austria. This tradition dates back through Austrian History and the first ball, the Imperial Ball, takes place on New Years Eve at Hofburg Palace in Vienna.  There are hundreds of  glorious balls to choose from and to attend.  However, the end of February or beginning of March typically mark the end of the official season. A few balls are continued when the season is over, and the last ones are typically carnival balls.

The balls are usually opened by a Polonaise (a slow stately dance of Polish origin) and punctuated by speeches, a midnight Quadrille (a square dance performed by couples) and the crowning of the “belle of the ball.”

A very well known ball that takes place after the Imperial Ball is the Pharmacists’ ball, which is located at the same venue.  This ball is on January 21st this year and is sponsored by professionals.  According to Austria Information, other popular balls are also “held by professional groups, ranging from  confectioners, hunters and pharmacists to coffee house owners and engineers.”

A ball that may be appealing to college students is the Rudolfina Redoute.  It is a masquerade ball, where the participants wear a mask through the night in order to keep things interesting. This ball is held by a student fraternity and is also a ball that dates back to the very beginning of the ball tradition.

Photo Credit: MyMasqueradeBallMasks

If you are serious about attending a ball, you should take a few dance classes before hand.  The Walz is the most common dance for these events.  I would also suggest to book in advance, as tickets are bought on a frequent basis.

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.