Global News Blog
Despite a rise in religiously-motivated violence at home, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono addressed a wealthy crowd at New York’s Pierre hotel on Thursday night and accepted an award from an interfaith group for his work promoting religious freedom and human rights.
The award came from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith group founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier that aims to “promote peace, tolerance, and ethnic conflict resolution.” Past recipients include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who handed the award to Yudhoyono on Thursday.
But human rights groups say the award sends the wrong message: That all is well in Indonesia, a majority-Muslim democracy long viewed as a model of religious tolerance that has faltered of late.
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In recent years Islamic hardliners belonging to Indonesia’s Sunni majority have attacked Christians, Shiites, and the Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect persecuted globally for beliefs that diverge from the mainstream.
More than 430 churches have been attacked since 2004, and at least 30 Ahmadiyah mosques have been shuttered since 2008. The Jakarta-based Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, reported 264 cases of attacks on religious minorities in 2012, up from 216 in 2010.
Human rights groups say the authorities have stood idle when such violence occurs, sometimes even offering tacit or open support of laws that curb the freedom to worship.
In 2006 the government passed a ministerial decree that has prevented Christian groups from opening churches. An anti-Ahmadiyah decree passed in 2008 prohibits the Ahmadiyah from propagating their faith on pain of a five-year prison term. Local governments have interpreted the decree as a ban on the Ahmadiyah’s activities.
And while Indonesia’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of religion, the government only legally recognizes six faiths – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
The Appeal of Conscience Foundation has not addressed the protests, but at the dinner on Thursday Schneier acknowledged that Yudhoyono’s work was “not complete.” The president, too, acknowledged that Indonesia still has problems with intolerance, but said his country served as a strong voice for moderation.
“Indonesia is an example to the world that democracy, Islam, and modernity can live in positive symbiosis,” Yudhoyono said, according to a tweet from Indonesian Ambassador to the US, Dino Patti Djalal.
That may be one reason global leaders continue to hail Indonesia.
“It is important for Indonesians to be successful because the world is watching,” Suzan Johnson Cook, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, told the English-language Jakarta Globe last week.
Her comments came just as the US State Department released its annual report on religious freedom, which expresses concern about rising religious intolerance in Indonesia.
Yudhoyono’s critics admit that Indonesia has come a long way in the 15 years since autocrat Suharto gave up power. Since becoming president in 2004 Yudhoyono has overseen the signing of a peace agreement that ended a 30-year separatist battle in Aceh and the country has achieved record economic growth and political stability.
But the president has also laid down the “legal infrastructure” that allows groups to discriminate against minorities, and much of that discrimination and violence has gone unpunished, said Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, which released a report in February that blamed the Indonesian government for failing to protect the country’s religious minorities from growing religious intolerance and violence.
Mr. Harsono says the award itself is not what’s important, so much as the sentiment.
“It might create the impression that everything is okay in Indonesia, and that will be used by the ministry of religion and militant organizations to justify violence against minorities.”
Other prominent religious leaders say the award presents an opportunity for minority groups to shine a light on the violence and remind the central government that it has an important role to play in protecting religious minorities.
Like the Shiites, the Ahmadiyah have seen their communities attacked and some members bludgeoned to death. One congregation in West Java has refused to leave its mosque since April, when the governor there ordered the police to seal it.
“Name a place in Indonesia where the Ahmadiyah don’t have problems,” says Firdaus Mubarik, an Ahmadiyah spokesman. “As long as we have we have these discriminatory regulations in place, life will be difficult for us.”
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Television legend Larry King has a new political talk show, and a new boss.
The Kremlin-funded English-language network RT, formerly known as Russia Today, announced today that it has agreed to air Mr. King's four-times-weekly online public affairs program "Larry King Now," starting in June. The station will also stage a "mold-breaking" new show, "Politics with Larry King," all to be shown on its US affiliate, RT-America.
According to the RT statement, King will mainly focus on US politics, and King will interview leading political personalities, ranging from officials to critics of American foreign and domestic policies.
"Whether a president or an activist or a rock star was sitting across from him, Larry King never shied away from asking the tough questions, which makes him a terrific fit for our network," RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan is quoted as saying.
King, who has spent 56 years in broadcast journalism and conducted over 50,000 interviews, is the biggest name yet to join the extremely well-funded RT network, which claims to reach over 630 million viewers worldwide through its various English, Spanish, and Arabic language channels.
"I have always been passionate about government and issues that impact the public, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to talk politics with some of the most influential people in Washington and around the country," the RT statement quoted King as saying.
Ms. Simonyan refused Wednesday to discuss with journalists the terms of King's RT contract, saying that it's standard practice not to reveal financial details without the agreement of both parties.
Last year the network signed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to do a series of political talk shows with major world newsmakers, which included interviews with Hezbollah leader Sayyid Nasrallah, US radical thinker Noam Chomsky, and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa.
Since it was founded by the Kremlin in 2005, RT has expanded far beyond its original mandate to correct "misconceptions" about Russia around the world and moved to more aggressive "alternative" coverage of politics in the US, Britain, and other Western countries, where it has gained a wide following. The station claims to have 2 million viewers in Britain, and to have become one of the most widely watched foreign stations in several parts of the US, where it is carried by cable networks.
The network's changing focus, from explaining Russia to the world to mainly hosting critical content about the US and other Western countries, is the subject of a recent in-depth profile of RT by British journalist Oliver Bullough. "Deep into his 14th year in power, [President Vladimir Putin] appears to have given up on improving Russia. Instead, he funds RT to persuade everyone else that their own countries are no better," Mr. Bullough concludes.
There is little transparency about the financing of RT, which comes mainly through the Russian federal budget. But some Russian media have reported that RT's annual funding comes to around $300 million, and that last year Mr. Putin personally ordered his government not to slash financing for the station.
King left CNN in 2010 after 25 years of hosting his signature talk show, "Larry King Live." He's since broadcast about 150 episodes of his online program, produced by Ora.TV, which will now be taken up and broadcast 4 times weekly by RT. It's not clear how the all-new RT program "Politics with Larry King" will differ, but most experts believe it will be well-funded and calculated to showcase RT's growing clout on the global media landscape.
"Russia Today [RT] is making a concerted effort to raise its profile, and it's going about it in a pretty smart way," says Nikolai Svanidze, a famous Russian TV anchorman, journalist and historian.
"Larry King may not be a spring chicken, but he's still a famous name who will add luster to RT's content and attract viewers in the West. Of course, we all know that RT has the money to do this," he adds.
In the aftermath of attack, governments always brace for potential “copycat” plots. Nearly a decade and a half after the mass shooting at Columbine High School, authorities continue to foil plans that emulate the deadly events of that day.
Now France is wondering if it has its own copycat in its midst.
Over the weekend, an on-duty soldier was stabbed in Paris, and officials said Wednesday morning that a young male suspect has been detained about 30 miles from the capital.
The case is being handled by anti-terrorist investigators. It comes just days after the gruesome, fatal stabbing in London of an off-duty soldier by two suspects who claimed to have carried out the act as revenge against western military involvement in Muslim countries.
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The Monitor asked then how widespread the sentiment is among European Muslims that military intervention is an attack on Islam itself.
It is unclear if the suspect in Paris shared the same views as those in London, who are Britons of Nigerian descent. France has been on high alert against revenge attacks since its intervention in Mali in January to root out radical Muslim rebels.
The assailant, in his young 20s, was captured on camera uttering a prayer before stabbing in the neck the soldier on group patrol in a busy transport hub of Paris Saturday. Authorities said he was a convert to Islam, and had a record for theft and possession of firearms.
At a Wednesday press conference, prosecutor François Molins said: "The nature of the incident, the fact it took place three days after London, and the prayer just before the act lead us to believe he acted on the basis of religious ideology and that his desire was to attack a representative of the state."
Copycats are just one concern of authorities after a violent attack. So too is the rage such events generate. Since last week, mosques have been attacked and anti-Muslim protests have formed throughout the UK.
If the attack in France turns out to be a clear case of terrorism too, the country will have to brace for the backlash.
RECOMMENDED: Quiz: How much do you know about terrorism?
[Editor's note: The original subhead mischaracterized whether the French soldier was on duty when he was stabbed.]
The Chinese government is getting worried that as its newly rich citizen-tourists fan out across the world, their behavior is giving their country a bad name.
The latest incident of Philistinism, in which a Chinese teenager scratched his name in a 3,500 year old bas relief in a temple in Luxor, in Egypt, has also triggered a tsunami of embarrassed anger among China’s Internet community.
Earlier this month, deputy Premier Wang Yang was merciless during a televised meeting called to discuss a proposed tourism law. Too many Chinese tourists “talk loudly in public, cross the road when they shouldn’t, spit, and carve characters on tourist attractions,” he complained. “This has damaged China’s image and had a dreadful impact.”
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Fifteen-year-old Ding Jinhao has not helped. He is the young hooligan who scratched graffiti into a Luxor temple wall – graffiti photographed by another Chinese tourist who then posted the desecration on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, last week.
More than a quarter of a million people have commented on the post, mostly to express their shame. His parents have publicly apologized.
Jinhao is hardly the first visitor to have defaced Egyptian monuments. Tourists have been carving their names into the pyramids outside Cairo for millennia. (My favorite: a wistful inscription in Latin left by a lonely Roman atop Cheops’ pyramid. “I saw the pyramids without you, and wept.”)
But young Jinhao’s indiscretion, which the Egyptian authorities say they have now repaired, is only the most recent in a litany of reports from abroad about the ways in which Chinese tourists have managed to offend the locals.
If it’s not Hong Kongers sniffing at a mainland mother encouraging her young son to urinate into a bottle in the middle of a restaurant, it’s Balinese complaining about brash Chinese tourists making too much noise, or Thai Buddhists offended by immodestly dressed Chinese female visitors to temples.
The Chinese Tourism Agency has taken note of these reports. Last month the government department issued a set of “civilized behavior guidelines” for tourists going abroad, urging them to “be attentive to etiquette, maintain dignity … protect the environment…queue in an orderly fashion and eat quietly” among other recommendations.
On the same day, though, the agency issued a similar, but even more draconian, charter intended to govern the behavior of visitors to domestic tourist attractions, warning them not to sneeze in other people’s faces, nor to chase and hit animals, nor to spend too long in public lavatories.
In the end, lamented deputy Premier Wang, the problem comes down to what he called “the poor quality and breeding” of many Chinese, whether they are at home or abroad. It looks like the “ugly American” that some Europeans and Latin Americans love to hate is about to get a run for his money.
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Armed with wit, self-confidence, and a bow and arrow, Merida is a damsel who rescues herself from her own distress. Parents and educators have lauded the fiery red-haired heroine of the Disney/Pixar animated film “Brave” as an atypical Disney princess.
“We wanted our daughters to grow up and be like Merida: brave, strong, resourceful, imperfect but loving,” Karen Dill notes in a blog at PsychologyToday.com.
But Disney’s “makeover” of Merida into a sexualized Barbie-esque figure for merchandising purposes has turned fans’ praise to outrage. The organization A Mighty Girl launched a Keep Merida Brave campaign and viral Change.org petition in protest. Ms. Dill cites studies that show that sexualizing women in the media leads to low self-esteem in girls, and men “exposed to sexualized, objectified images of women ... become more tolerant of real-life sexual harassment.” It seems fans’ message may have gotten through. Media outlets reported that Disney quietly pulled the redesigned image of Merida from its website.
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Joel Stein takes a critical look at the Millennial Generation – those born between 1980 and 2000 – in Time magazine. “The Me Me Me Generation” headline implies that Millennial self-centeredness trumps even that of baby boomers. They were raised with greater resources than any preceding generation, are more tech savvy, and were nurtured by helicopter parents who, along with educators, told them they were special. And for better or worse – they are.
While Mr. Stein initially dwells on the studies that show Millennials have a sense of entitlement and are lazy, narcissistic, and dependent on their parents, he ultimately acknowledges a more nuanced, redeeming picture. Millennials may not tend toward traditional civic engagement, but they do care about justice. They are more tolerant than any other generation. And while they don’t gravitate toward organized religion, most believe in God and value spirituality. They aren’t rule breakers, but they are changing workplace culture – for the better. And in spite of the insecurity of their era, Millennials are overwhelmingly optimistic about the future.
Shopping as a moral dilemma
In the wake of the Bangladesh garment-factory collapse in April, Jerry Davis explores in YaleGlobal online the accountability of global supply chains. Technology enabled the now-common outsourcing model that keeps parent companies at a distance from production. But technology may also hold the solution to ending unethical working conditions and production methods.
“If consumer sentiment comes to favor ethically-produced goods,” Mr. Davis writes, “then brands will compete on provenance, not just style and quality.” User-friendly technologies now allow consumers to check the ethical or sustainability ratings of various products. Davis says there is “a surprising precedent in the financial markets for reversing the race to the bottom,” even in what used to be the Wild West of emerging market investments. The biggest obstacle to changes in retail supply chains is a lack of consumer awareness.
USAID losing ground
Sarah Trister writes at Freedom House’s blog about what she considers a “dangerous pattern” developing in foreign assistance. Bolivia is the latest in a string of countries (including Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates) to expel, target, or curtail activities by the US Agency for International Development.
Ms. Trister worries that an emerging pattern of “countries shutting down U.S. assistance programs with little resistance and few consequences” sets a problematic precedent. She argues that US accommodation of authoritarian demands to minimize democracy and human rights concerns has “not been successful for U.S. policy.”
Trister says the “United States must make clear that democracy and human rights funding goes hand in hand with other forms of assistance” – meaning that no aid should be given to a foreign government while it remains “hostile to U.S. democracy assistance and support for universal values.”
And now the long version of the story
As news pages (and reader attention spans) shrink and online coverage tends toward quick bites and breaking updates, many news organizations have cut back on long-form journalism. But, as Susan Johnston writes at the eByline blog, “stories running thousands of words are finding a home online thanks in part to platforms like Longreads and Narratively.”
Ms. Johnston interviews journalist Noah Rosenberg, who helped start Narratively, “an online storytelling platform focusing on New York City’s untold stories.” Time magazine recently named the site on its 50 Best Websites 2013 list, and several top-tier news organizations regularly feature or syndicate Narratively content.
Mr. Rosenberg says the key to the site’s success has been its commitment to telling “beautiful untold stories”; use of multimedia projects; focus on one theme or story a day (an attractive model for advertisers); and the fact that as a small, agile organization, Narratively is “really tuned in strongly to what our readers want” and can adjust and respond accordingly.
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“Olive oil bottles – they are removing them from the tables at restaurants!”
The statement, from my Spanish husband, was not one of fact but of disbelief and disdain. “They” referred to the European Union.
I was busy typing away on another story and only half paying attention, but my first thought was that this was some kind of austerity measure by restaurateurs. Then I recalled a plan in Mexico – to take salt shakers off of tables to counter diabetes – and I thought it could be a health-driven measure (though yes, I know olive oil is one of the good fats).
But then he explained and got my full attention: “It’s to reduce fraud.” The EU was mandating that the restaurants of its 27 member countries use sealable olive oil jars to prevent refilling with subpar product, replacing the glass bottles ubiquitous in Spain or the dipping bowls of Italy.
My husband has many friends who are starting to lose their jobs and a few have already run out of unemployment benefits. His nieces and nephews are just starting college and looking at a job market with 50 percent youth unemployment. “Aren’t there big enough problems to deal with?” he asked, exasperated.
The EU apparently agrees with him, or buckled under the pressure of others who were similarly dismayed by the plan. On Thursday, the press corps in Brussels reported that the European Commission scrapped the measure, which was supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1.
Some memorable quotes emerged from the brouhaha. One of my favorites: the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung called it "weirdest decision since the legendary curvy cucumber regulation," a reference to EU rules, no longer in existence, controlling the shape of fruits and vegetables that could be sold in supermarkets.
According to the New York Times, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands called it “too bizarre for words.”
And Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain got yet another chance to chastise the EU's heavy-handedness, calling the rules “exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of, in my view.”
The move, the EU was at pains to point out, was to protect consumers, both in terms of hygiene and ensuring that consumers get what they pay for. And representatives from 15 of 27 countries supported the measure, including major olive producers like Italy and Spain.
Instead, they were mocked across Twitter. “EU once more shows its razor-sharp focus on the big picture with, er, uh, ban on olive oil jug,” read one feed. “EU protects citizens from dangers of unregulated olive oil bottles,” read another.
In a very interesting blog at Open Europe you’ll learn everything about ancient practices to reduce fraud in the olive oil industry. You’ll also read that – despite all the mockery – there might be a positive story here.
“The Commission's climb down shows that a rethink of silly ideas and proposals in Brussels is possible,” the writer says. “The Commission could've stuck to its guns and ignored the complaints - after all, there were some actors in favor of this (farming lobby, some member states etc.) - but reason was allowed to prevail.”
Russians often grit their teeth at the way their country is portrayed in Hollywood films: a grim, wintry post-Soviet wasteland peopled with mafia thugs, drunks, and Kremlin megalomaniacs.
That may be set to change, thanks in part to a global movie star, "the Russian actor of French origin" Gerard Depardieu, who was granted Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin last January after he ditched his native France in a huff over high taxes.
Mr. Depardieu, who has become a vocal booster of his new homeland, is currently making a movie in Moscow and its repeatedly war-ravaged southern republic of Chechnya. It's a fairly standard blood-and-guts thriller called "Biryuza" (Turqoise) – a tale of tragedy, betrayal, lots and lots of mayhem and, finally, sweet bloody revenge.
But Depardieu and the film's producers are making it clear that this movie's backdrop will be graphically different from the sad, impoverished land so often depicted by Hollywood. It will be set amid the glittering skyscrapers and swank nightclubs of Putin-era Moscow and the risen-from-the-ashes boulevards and modern apartment blocks of postwar Chechnya. And it will feature many noble Russian – and Chechen – characters, as well as the usual gangsters.
With his co-star, British actress Liz Hurley, and director Philippe Martinez in tow, Depardieu faced journalists at a press conference in the Chechen capital, Grozny, on Wednesday to explain why he chose Chechnya to make a violent vengeance-themed movie.
"I followed everything that happened here and saw a city totally rebuilt and very sympathetic people," he said. "I saw more love and friendship than hate here."
But, perhaps also in the Putin-era spirit, anyone with questions about human rights abuses or the arbitrary one-man rule of Depardieu's "very close friend," pro-Moscow Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, was made to feel extremely unwelcome.
Asked by a journalist whether there were any parallels to be found in the fictional Depardieu's character's murderous revenge streak that culminates in Chechnya, and the real-life assassinations of Mr. Kadyrov's political foes that have been documented by human rights monitors, the film's director Mr. Martinez exploded in fury, according to the Independent.
"I have to tell you I’m a bit ashamed that you are asking that question," he is quoted as saying. "Gerard Depardieu and Elizabeth Hurley are making a movie in Chechnya! And you’re asking questions of a political nature! I don’t even want to answer."
He also separately greeted American action film star Steven Seagal, whose movies he praised as illustrating Chechen-like traits. "Nobility. Willpower. Honor. Qualities characteristic of Chechens. So we can say [Seagal] is almost a Chechen!," Kadyrov noted on Instagram.
Mr. Seagal is another star whose high-profile shoulder-rubbing with Putin and now Kadyrov may be helping to shift Russia's image into more positive territory.
A plot summary for Depardieu's upcoming film, posted on director Martinez's website, says "Turquoise is a film of revenge and redemption set against a backdrop of a gorgeous, modern day Russian Federation ... Told in a powerful, visually stunning cinematic style, Turquoise highlights Moscow’s thriving art scene, seductive nightlife, and stunning architecture while Chechnya’s beautiful natural landscape and extraordinary redevelopment is seen through [the Depardieu character's] eyes."
But some experts say the new-look Russia – and Chechnya – featured in films like this may be even more misleading than the old stereotypes were.
"Chechnya is a territory that exists completely outside of the political norms and legal requirements of the Russian Federation," says Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the independent Institute of National Strategy in Moscow.
"Putin basically handed the republic over to Kadyrov in order to pacify it. The appearance of stability and calm in Chechnya are the main things he wants right now. Chechnya today is basically a despotic little statelet that has nothing in common with Russia, except that its 'miraculous' revival – all that new construction – has been financed entirely by the Russian state budget," he says.
The fact that movie stars can hold press conferences in Grozny's new five-star hotel and make films under the watchful eyes of Kadyrov's security doesn't mean the republic is safe, says Alexander Cherkasov, a Caucasus expert with Memorial, Russia's largest grassroots human rights organization.
"Kadyrov was handed total power to defeat the rebels, but the rebels are still there, and the main result [of his rule] has been massive human rights violations. To suggest that this territory might be safe for, say, tourism, is very premature."
Russian authorities have finally found a case of alleged voting fraud that they can get really incensed about.
No, it's not the 2011 Duma elections, which experts from across Russia's political spectrum now agree were probably falsified on a huge scale. That has never been the subject of official outrage, or even investigation.
This is something far more important: the continental song competition, Eurovision.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists yesterday that he was "outraged" to learn that the voting system in neighboring Azerbaijan had eliminated the votes cast for Russian Eurovision contestant Dina Garipova in that country. Voters registering their preferences by cellphone had given a second-place finish to Ms. Garipova – which should have given her 10 points in the overall contest – but they had somehow disappeared in the reporting process.
"We can’t be happy with the fact that 10 points were stolen from our participant, primarily in terms of how this event is organized," Mr. Lavrov said during a previously scheduled joint press conference in Baku with Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov.
"We have agreed with Elmar Mammadyarov that we will discuss joint measures to ensure that this outrageous action will not go unanswered," Lavrov added.
The head of Azerbaijan's broadcasting company, Jamil Guliyev, quickly acknowledged that some sort of mistake had occurred.
"We sincerely hope that this case, which was probably initiated by some groups, would not cast a shadow on brotherly relations of Azeri and Russian people," he told journalists.
Contestant: Why the fuss?
The mammothly popular annual singing contest, held last Saturday in Malmo, Sweden, featured contestants from 39 countries from the Atlantic to the shores of the Caspian Sea. An estimated 125 million TV viewers, each cheering for their country's contestants as avidly as any football team, tuned in to the Eurovision finals, plus countless more around the world via Internet streaming.
Competition for the honor of hosting Eurovision is almost as serious as for the Olympics, and Russia went wild when Moscow won the right to stage the event back in 2009.
The winner of each year's multinational contest is determined by a complicated system – which is supposed to be foolproof – in which each country votes for all entries except their own.
Votes cast by TV viewers in each country by cellphone (or through social media such as Facebook) makes up half the decision, while a national panel of judges makes the other half. At the end of the process, each country submits a ranking for all contestants – except its own – by giving 12 points to the winner, 10 points to the runner-up, and so on. The results, totaled for all of Europe, determine the overall winner.
The missing 10 points from Azerbaijan didn't affect Garipova's standing, and she graciously told the Russian media today that it would be better to drop the rising demand for an international investigation into the alleged vote-rigging scandal.
"To be honest, I don’t know why an investigation is needed," Garipova said. "I am satisfied with the result of the contest."
Eurovision's organizers said in a statement that they will take swift action to preserve the event's apolitical nature and prevent any future abuses. But the scandal is far from dying down in Russia.
Some Russian conservatives claim it's just another example of Western "double standards," in which those who never miss an opportunity to lecture Russia about human rights and democracy turn out to be dirty themselves.
Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, Mr. Markov went on: "In general it's better when we non-Europeans are accusing them of falsifying elections than when they are accusing us…. And here [with Eurovision] we have such a fraud, and the whole world has seen it with their own eyes."
Viktor Shenderovich, once a top political satirist who was exiled from the mainstream media after Vladimir Putin came to power, says the Russian response, and particularly Lavrov's official outrage over a singing contest, is an unseemly display that reveals a persecution complex at the heart of Kremlin behavior.
"This comes from the inferiority complex than haunts our state, which is really funny when you recall that we're a country the size of a continent that has a vast nuclear arsenal," Mr. Shenderovich says.
"When a mature adult from the Foreign Ministry starts taking such things seriously, well, it can only mean that we have lost any sense of self-irony. On the surface it looks silly, but when you examine the roots of this affair you can't help feeling sad…. Whenever Russia feels it's been shortchanged in anything, be it a song contest or a sporting event, our people immediately begin claiming that there's a plot against us. But, as the old Russian saying goes, 'a bad dancer's boots are always too tight,'" he adds.
To face the blank page
What if writer’s block or the moments between creative inspirations didn’t bother us? What if they could be considered welcome moments or even essential to the game of creation? Most people don’t experience writing in one fluid bout of perfection, anyway, writes Leni Zumas in the Spring 2013 issue of Good magazine. In an essay titled “Working the Hole,” she investigates how to overcome those moments when “[t]he aversion to sitting down to write, or to staying at the desk, is fierce and physical, almost as if magnets were at work, rejecting each other.”
Make use of your time in between bursts of inspiration by becoming a scavenger, Ms. Zumas says. Not in the carrion bird of prey way, but by practicing deliberate awareness. “In order to show readers the world in ways they may never have seen it before, the artist herself must practice being open to raw, unbridled perception,” she writes. The only thing wrong with “the lacunae of inspiration,” as Walter Benjamin once described writer’s block, is how much we fear it.
Eat your insects
Lauren Alix Brown writes in Quartz that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says it’s time to get over it when it comes to the topic of eating bugs. Ms. Brown points out five reasons to follow through: (1) They’re good for you, “grasshoppers have comparable levels of protein to raw beef....” (2) They’re better for the environment. (3) It makes economic sense. The cost of raising insects is low, which is good for economic development. (4) They are less likely than livestock to transmit food-borne maladies like SARS. (5) Insects are everywhere, and many people already do eat them.
“Humans, on average, already unintentionally ingest an estimated 1 pound of insects a year, mixed in with other foods,” writes Brown.
Why own, when you can rent – or borrow?
Americans have defined themselves by what they own: their cars, houses, books, music, power tools. But a cultural shift is changing definitions of ownership, as the Monitor’s Oct. 1, 2012, cover story reported (“The sharing economy”). Janelle Nanos of Boston Magazine delves further into the forces that have made sharing and renting more appealing: a poor economy, rapidly evolving technology that encourages sharing (share button on Facebook, anyone?), and growing city populations.
Added to that is an increased concern for the environment “that’s giving rise to a new social and commercial landscape in this country, and even a new way of life,” Ms. Nanos writes. What does that new way of life look like? From Airbnb, the website that allows you to rent rooms in private homes for less than what hotels or B&Bs charge, to Zipcar alternative RelayRides (a national peer-to-peer car sharing service), peer-to-peer exchanges of goods and services are now hailed as a more economical, ecological, and social form of ownership. Of course, for a culture that’s not used to sharing, there’s still getting over what Nanos calls the “Ick Factor,” the fear of strangers and awkward social encounters.
Europe is faring better than it seems
Despite the ongoing euro crisis and the rapid economic rise of countries such as Brazil and China, Europe has not faded into utter irrelevance, argue Mark Leonard and Hans Kundnani in Foreign Policy magazine.
Sure, Europe is in decline in one sense – for centuries Europe was pushing the lists of firsts: first in international relations, first to colonize, first to go through a world-changing Renaissance.
But the game of catch-up that other rising players have been playing since World War II isn’t a bad thing and it isn’t making Europe obsolete. In fact, it’s helped spur another first for Europe: “[a] new model that pools resources and sovereignty with a continent-sized market and common legislation and budgets to address transnational threats from organized crime to climate change.”
The other nuclear Asian country
We’ve heard the nuclear concerns about Pakistan and North Korea and Iran. But there’s another country in Asia to watch. Of course, unlike North Korea and Iran, Kazakhstan is positioning itself as a global nuclear leader, and is now in talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency to host a global nuclear fuel bank.
Kazakhstan is uniquely positioned for this leadership role, writes Jillian Keenan in The Atlantic Monthly. Home to Semipalatinsk, once the world’s second largest nuclear testing site, the former Soviet state has seen firsthand what happens when nuclear testing goes wrong.
“A ninth of Kazakhstan’s territory, comparable with the territory of Germany, was turned into a nuclear wasteland” when the Soviet Union tested its nuclear bombs there, said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a speech at the 20th anniversary of the Semipalatinsk closure in 2009. (And here it might be worth mentioning that Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world.)
Those tests resulted in the first Soviet antinuclear movement, which succeeded in pressuring the Kazakh government to close all its nuclear facilities.
When French President François Hollande set out to legalize gay marriage, he faced an unexpectedly virulent outcry. Protests, including one that was the largest of its kind in 30 years, drew religious leaders, conservatives fighting for the preservation of family values, and those simply looking for a way to express their discontent with the president.
There were attacks at gay bars and clashes between protesters and police. One image, of a man who’d been beaten up while walking with his partner on the streets of Paris, went viral when it was posted on Facebook as the “Face of Homophobia.”
Now that gay marriage has become law – President Hollande signed the act last weekend and the nation’s first gay marriage is expected to take place later this month – has the violent debate reached new levels of drama?
On Tuesday afternoon, just days ahead of major protests against gay marriage scheduled for May 26, a far-right French historian walked into Paris’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral, reportedly walked up to the altar, and turned a gun on himself. He pulled the trigger in front of approximately 1,500 tourists.
It is unclear what exactly his motive was. He is said to have left a letter at the scene that has not yet been made public. But the words and statements that have emerged since yesterday’s event point to a planned and public condemnation of gay marriage, immigration, and other topics considered by the far right as a threat to French society.
On his personal blog the historian, Dominique Venner, condemned the “vile” gay marriage law, in a piece dated May 21, the day of his suicide. He called on protesters planning to amass on May 26 not to limit their discontent to just the law but against the “peril” of immigration to France from North Africa.
In what may have been a reference to his impending suicide, he wrote: "There will certainly need to be new, spectacular, symbolic gestures to shake off the sleepiness ... and re-awaken the memories of our origins."
Hours after the suicide, a message apparently written by Mr. Venner was read by a friend on a conservative radio station: "I believe it is necessary to sacrifice myself to break with the lethargy that is overwhelming us," the friend read on the air. "I am killing myself to awaken slumbering consciences."
France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has risen in polls, wrote in a tweet Tuesday of her respect for Venner, calling his suicide "eminently political."
Notre Dame – the symbol of French Catholicism – was quickly evacuated. The cathedral this year marks 850 years since construction began – but commemorative events celebrating the anniversary will likely be overshadowed, in history, by Venner’s action.
France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters: "Notre Dame is the cathedral of Paris, one of the capital's – and the country's – most beautiful monuments, so we realize how symbolic this event truly is."
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