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January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

October 09 2012

Four short links: 9 October 2012

  1. Finland Crowdsourcing New Laws (GigaOm) — online referenda. The Finnish government enabled something called a “citizens’ initiative”, through which registered voters can come up with new laws – if they can get 50,000 of their fellow citizens to back them up within six months, then the Eduskunta (the Finnish parliament) is forced to vote on the proposal. Now this crowdsourced law-making system is about to go online through a platform called the Open Ministry. Petitions and online voting are notoriously prone to fraud, so it will be interesting to see how well the online identity system behind this holds up.
  2. WebPlatform — wiki of information about developing for the open web. Joint production of many of the $BIGCOs of the web and the W3C, so will be interesting to see, as it develops, whether it has the best aspects of each or the worst.
  3. Why Your Phone, Cable, Internet Bills Cost So Much (Yahoo) — “The companies essentially have a business model that is antithetical to economic growth,” he says. “Profits go up if they can provide slow Internet at super high prices.” Excellent piece!
  4. Probability and Statistics Cookbook (Matthias Vallentin) — The cookbook contains a succinct representation of various topics in probability theory and statistics. It provides a comprehensive reference reduced to the mathematical essence, rather than aiming for elaborate explanations. CC-BY-NC-SA licensed, LaTeX source on github.

May 10 2012

Futuro – the ideal home that wasn't

As the newly restored first edition goes on show, Justin McGuirk explores an emblem of 1960s architectural utopianism. Just don't call it a spaceship

Before the recession and the return of architectural probity, the phrase "like an alien spaceship" was all over architecture journalism like a cheap suit. Faced with anything that didn't look like a brick box, critics and headline writers would ransack their imaginations before inevitably reaching for the extra-terrestrial. Frank Gehry? Future Systems? Zaha Hadid? Yep, spaceship-mongers. Well there's only one building where that simile is inescapable, and that's the Futuro house, designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in 1968.

Commissioned to design a ski lodge for a slope in Finland, Suuronen produced what he and many others believed was the prefabricated home of the future. An 8m-diametre "rotating ellipsoid" – geometry jargon for "like a 1950s Hollywood flying saucer" – the Futuro remains an emblematic image of the 1960s, despite having been a total sideshow as far as architectural historiography is concerned. Though they went into production in both Finland and America, only around 60 were ever produced (no one knows exact numbers). What is certain, however, is that the very first edition, cabin number 001, went on show last week at the Weegee Exhibition Centre in Espoo, 20 minutes from Helsinki. And as I was in Helsinki for the buildup to its festivities as World Design Capital 2012, I paid it a visit.

There it was, painstakingly restored and eye-achingly yellow, resting on its metal frame (the pod house was often helicoptered on to its legs), its hatch door with integrated staircase lowered invitingly. Entering a space that you know well as an image is usually either a shock or an anticlimax. In this case, it was the overpowering odour that struck me. It turned out to be the glue a restorer was using to put the finishing touches to the floor in preparation for the opening that evening. But it heightened the sense of being in a totally artificial environment. Circular rooms are strange in themselves, accustomed as we are to corners, but this plastic womb was more unheimlich than homely. With its built-in chaises longues arranged around a central hearth, it's more like a swinger's fantasy anyway – Playboy magazine featured it as the ultimate bachelor pad and it was used as the setting of a 1970s sci-fi porn film called The Goddesses of Galaxia.

What remains intriguing about Futuro, however, is that it's the closest housing ever came to product design. In the 1960s, the mechanisation of the domestic interior, particularly the kitchen, was in full force, as we accumulated labour-saving gadgets like washing machines and blenders. Suuronen's plastic capsule had the moulded integrity of a mass-produced consumer product, it was the house-as-gadget, a device for the nomadic lifestyle. What it relates to best is the pop space age furniture of the period – the Bubble chair designed by fellow Finn Eero Arnio or Joe Colombo's Boby trolleys – except this was furniture blown up to an architectural scale. Futuro belongs in a tradition of 1960s utopian radicalism. It picks up where Buckminster Fuller's earlier Dymaxion and Wichita houses (also designed for mass-production) left off, and it floats somehow in the same soup as Archigram's comic-book hi-tech or the Metabolists' capsule buildings. But it had none of the urban vision. For this reason, Futuro sits outside the architectural canon, a kitschy one-hit wonder. It was also a commercial failure.

When it came to London as part of the Finnexpo fair in 1968, the Daily Mail wrote (anticipating critics of the future): "This object, looking like everyone else's idea of a flying saucer from outer Space, is the Finnish idea of the perfect weekend cottage." Except that it wasn't. When the original owner of cabin 001, Matti Kuusla, installed it on the wooded shore of Lake Puulavesi, it caused a local outcry. Suuronen's capsule was far from their idea of the perfect country cottage, because the whole point of country cottages was nostalgic ruralism – the back-to-nature birch-whipping in the sauna that was their escape from the city and its encroaching plastic futurism. An American company, Futuro Corporation, had high hopes for it, but it was a flop there too, never rising above the level of the urban freak show – among other things it was used as a bank in the car park of the Woodbridge mall in New Jersey. The oil crisis of 1973, which tripled the price of plastic, was the final nail in the coffin. And there went another piece of 1960s utopianism. Well, if it calls itself the future, it's probably not.


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April 06 2012

Armenia: Straight to the village

With a GDP per capita estimated at just $5,400 in 2011, Armenia is one of the poorest countries in the former Soviet Union. But although development in the center of the country's capital, Yerevan, might paint a different picture for some tourists, especially from its large Diaspora, the economic situation is most evident in the regions of the landlocked South Caucasus country.

With regional development increasingly a priority in Armenia, online site CivilNet has teamed up with Timothy Straight, one of Armenia's few non-Armenian foreigners who have made the country their home. Traveling to a different village each week, the former head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Honorary Consul for Norway and Finland, hopes to change all that.

“What we're trying to do is gather information and spread it, so that people can get correct understanding of what village life in Armenia is like,” explains the text accompanying a promotional video for Թիմը գնում է գյուղ (Tim goes to the village), otherwise known as Straight to the village.

In the latest installment uploaded to YouTube on 2 April, and subtitled in English and Armenian, Straight travels to the impoverished town of Vardenis close to Armenia's Lake Sevan. The purpose of the visit is to meet with a local NGO working with disabled children.

On 12 March, the program celebrated its 20th episode with an interview with Straight where he “talks about some of the highlights and explains the reason why he does the program and the potential long-term effect of the show.”

Knighted by the King of Norway in 2010, Straight's involvement in regional development in Armenia is not limited to the video reports. Homeland Handicrafts, for example, is a voluntary organization dedicated to creating a sustainable income for artisans in Armenia.

Particularly using online tools, a blog as well as Facebook and Pinterest pages are also used to promote the initiative. Timothy Straight can also be followed on Twitter at @timothystraight.

March 14 2012

Europe: Will ACTA Treaty Pass After Protests?

[All links forward to French articles unless stated otherwise.]

As of the end of the month of February 2012, the mobilization efforts of Internet users against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) [en] were still going strong. In fact, they may have begun to bear fruit.

By including infringements against the author's rights in its scope, this international treaty, which addresses intellectual property rights, also affects Internet content.

The ratification debates which were placed on the European Parliament's agenda on February 29, were put on hold in expectation of the opinion of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The issue of the treaty's conformity with European Community law was brought before the court on 22 February by the European Commission.

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo by Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo by Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

Taurillon, the “magazine of young Europeans -France” describes “Europe's about-face on ACTA“:

Si l’avis est négatif, l’ACTA n’a plus aucune chance en Europe. Mais en cas d’avis positif, le recours à la CJUE représente le double avantage de redonner au traité une certaine crédibilité, et de repousser son adoption à une époque suffisamment lointaine pour que la polémique se soit tassée et que l’opinion publique regarde ailleurs.

If the opinion is negative, ACTA no longer stands a chance in Europe. However, if there is a positive opinion, appealing to the ECJ would mean a double advantage by giving the treaty a certain credibility, and also pushing back implementation to a time that is far enough away when public debate has settled down and the public's attention is focused elsewhere.

Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson for la Quadrature du Net urges on the European deputies:

Les eurodéputés doivent résister à la stratégie de la Commission européenne, qui cherche à gagner du temps et à transformer le débat en une simple discussion juridique, et pour cela continuer à travailler au rejet d’ACTA. ACTA vise à imposer une tendance pour une politique globale du droit d’auteur qui est toxique pour l’Internet libre et pour les libertés. Le Parlement européen est le dernier rempart : il doit agir et adopter une position claire et forte, faute de quoi il laissera le champ libre à la Commission pour imposer une répression inacceptable.

The Eurodeputies must resist the European Commission's strategy of attempting to gain time and turning the debate into a simple legal discussion, thereby continuing to work towards ACTA's rejection. ACTA aims to impose a tendency for a global policy of author's rights that is toxic for the free Internet and for freedom. The European Parliament is the last line of defense: it must act and adopt a firm and clear position, otherwise it will leave the field wide open for the commission to impose an unacceptable repression.

For trucbuntu, there is no question of remaining passive while waiting for the Court to adjudicate:

Les citoyens de toute l’Europe peuvent contacter leurs représentants dans les commissions Commerce International (INTA) et Industrie (ITRE), qui se réunissent cette semaine pour discuter d’ACTA, et leur demander de continuer à travailler au sein de leur commission pour le rejet d’ACTA.

Citizens of all of Europe were able to contact their representatives in the International Trade (INTA) and Industry (ITRE) Committees, who met on February 29 to discuss ACTA. Many citizens requested their representatives to reject the proposal.

The website of the European Parliament explains the procedure and the issues of the treaty [en] that are under scrutiny, and has published ‘What you should know about ACTA‘ [en], a page of questions and answers. The ACTA workshop of the European Parliament has been the object of a storify [en] made by the Parliamentary services (link via Global Voices contributor Asteris Masouras [en]).

The organization AVAAZ submitted a petition to the European Parliament on 29 February with 2.4 million signatures against ACTA. The petition is still open:

Nous sommes vraiment proches de la victoire — notre pétition forte de 2,4 millions de signatures a ébranlé les responsables politiques partout en Europe et stoppé les censeurs. La Commission européenne est à présent en position de faiblesse et espère que la Cour de justice donnera son feu vert au traité ACTA en lui soumettant une question juridique très limitée qui recevra certainement une réponse positive.Mais si nous faisons résonner nos voix aujourd'hui, nous pouvons faire en sorte que la Cour examine tous les impacts légaux du traité ACTA et publie un avis qui fera toute la lumière sur cette attaque contre nos droits qu'est ACTA.

We are really close to victory — our petition, with 2.4 million signatures has shaken up those politicians in charge throughout Europe and stopped their censors. The European Commission is currently in a position of weakness and is hoping the Court of justice will green light the ACTA treaty by bringing before the court a very limited legal question, that will without doubt receive a positive response. But if we make our voices heard today, we will be able to get the court to examine all the legal implications of ACTA and publish an opinion that will bring to light the real attack against our rights that is ACTA.
No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

No ACTA - Strasbourg. Photo Christophe Kaiser on Flickr, CC-license-BY

Anti-ACTA parties continue to  strengthen their resources. New protests were set for 10 March, and torrentnews gives a list, with this appeal:

La liste n’est pas exhaustive, n’hésitez pas à nous contacter pour la compléter ;)

si certains se sentent l’âme d’un reporter- photographe en herbe, nous recherchons également des personnes pour faire un petit article photo du déroulement de la manif, rien de bien compliqué, comme fait ici pour Nice, Marseille,Bordeaux et Strasbourg.

The list is not exhaustive, do not hesitate to contact us to complete it ;)

If any individuals see themselves as budding photojournalists we are also looking for people to do a small photo story on how the protest unfolds, nothing too complicated, as it happens in Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg.

For details on the elements of the debate, see also these linked articles from the Tribune on February 29, and Myeurop, on March 3. On Global Voices, see the laws SOPA/PIPA that set a precedent in the USA, here [en] and here [en]. Since the beginning of the protests, ACTA seems to have lost a lot of political momentum.

The title of this post is inspired by the end of the article “La liberté sur Internet : le filtrage de la discorde” which was published by the Institute of Research and Legal and Information studies and Communication (I.R.E.D.I.C.). It puts into perspective Internet blocking and debates the adoption of ACTA.

The original article in French was published on March 4. For background on the ACTA proposal, more articles can be found here [en].

January 25 2012

Finnisches Umschlagdesign




Jahresbericht der finnischen Erdölfirma Neste, 1961

(Gefunden bei hollyhocksandtulips.tumblr.com)

Reposted fromglaserei glaserei

January 19 2012

Russia: Foreign Ministry Critique of Human Rights Violations

Finrosforum argues against a report from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which criticizes neighbouring countries for human rights violations.

November 26 2011

Video: Plural+ 2011 awards young filmmakers

Youth from around the globe were awarded in New York for their though-provoking short films showing their proposals for making society more peaceful and multicultural by addressing the topics of diversity, migration and social inclusion.

multicolor handprints on white cloth

Hands CCBY by John-Morgan

The Plural + Youth Video Festival set out to recognize youth as powerful agents of social change.  And in the Awards Ceremony they awarded the young film-makers for their winning efforts.

Let's see some of the winning videos:  GIFT was created by Pang Jia Wei, Ryan Tan Chuan Min and the Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Malaysia and the video won in the 18-25 year old category. In it, we can see and hear how it takes diversity to build a nation.

 

The New Portuguese is a short documentary on immigrants in Portugal: whether they are immigrating to the capital city of Lisbon from their hometowns or whether their parents moved to Portugal where they were born, they all struggle for acceptance and a place in the city and country they call home.

Wish is a short film about families in China. It tells the story of a boy living with his grandfather while his parents work in a far away city, and how doing what is economically best for a child may turn out to be more challenging than planned.

I am Quiaqueña is the musing of a young woman born in the border between Argentina and Bolivia, and how belonging somewhere is not as easy when geography and politics get in the way.

Having many similarities may not be enough when there is a difference that is considered greater… that is the case of Between Us Two, from Israel.

Our Hood has the Wafalme Crew, a musical group composed of street kids who live in the ghettos of Nairobi, Kenya sing and tell the story of how music changed their lives for the better, teaching them about how to rise up to challenges and keep a positive outlook in life.

A young man writes to his father who has spent his whole life working far away from his home in Exile Song, reminding him that when he wishes to hear the thrushes and see the palm trees… all he has to do is come back home.

In Belong, different immigrants in Finland discuss their experience in living away from their homelands, and what are the things that make them feel that they belong in their new home.

You can see the other winning videos on the Plural + Youth Video Award Page.

 

October 11 2011

Mr Cameron, it's time to get the designers in

Ageing populations and budget cuts mean devising a new social contract. So why not use real designers – it's worked in Finland

If a country has the best education system in the world, it could be forgiven for resting on its laurels. Yet Finland, which routinely tops the Pisa education rankings, refuses to do so. The country has other major issues on the agenda, such as how to become carbon neutral and how to look after the most rapidly ageing population in Europe. And when the nation wants to address these questions, it turns to Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund. Most governments have a cluster of thinktanks and policy groups at their disposal to tackle their country's challenges. But what's different about Sitra is that it uses designers.

Sitra's strategic design unit is made up of an international team with backgrounds in architecture and urban planning, web and interactive design, and they are used to thinking at varying scales – from the pixel to the city. "Strategic design" is still a nascent discipline but, put simply, it means applying a design method to a system, rather than an object. So for instance, car designers create sleek objects, but producing them demands a sophisticated manufacturing system, so that everything from the engine to a door handle can be delivered with second-by-second precision. If you were to redesign that system – or indeed the broader network of showrooms, roads and petrol stations in which it sits – you would call that strategic design.

The interesting thing about the strategic design unit (SDU) is that it takes this approach to matters of public policy. In particular, it watches the massive social and economic changes that governments, including our own, are struggling to cope with. When the welfare system is straining because there's less tax revenue to go round and an ageing population demanding greater care, how do you make it deliver? The answer lies partly in the minutiae of, say, how you deliver food to the elderly, but also at the macro scale. The SDU has found itself rethinking the social contract. Do you allow people to work less and contribute to society in other ways, such as part-time volunteering? It sounds something like David Cameron's big society, but in the UK there was no detail about how that would work, just the unrealistic expectation that we would all do more.

While strategic design can't necessarily find the perfect answer, it at least begins by asking the right questions. For instance, what was really wrong with the Finnish education system? The only fault the government could find was in what it perceived to be a high level of dropouts – a paltry 50 students per year. It thought that if it could reclaim those "lost" students, it would have perfected the system. The SDU pointed out that this was the wrong way of seeing the problem: those 50 students are an early symptom of changes coming Finland's way. With rising immigration, Finnish society is diversifying and it is going to have to design an education system built not on homogeneity and cultural consensus, but on diversity and non-conformity. Sitra found this to be true not just in education but in politics – the trick for Finland is in how to incorporate outside voices.

Another topic on Sitra's agenda is food distribution. How do you give local organic food an advantage in a competitive marketplace full of multinationals? It's not easy for smaller suppliers to get a foot in the door when supermarkets snap up the best retail spaces. This is even more pronounced in the UK, where the high street is dominated by chain stores. Here, the developer's motto seems to be "Build it and Tesco will come". Sitra's answer is to design a system connecting organic retailers with developments before they're even built.

It's true that we expect this kind of thing from wealthy Nordic countries, with their tiny populations and social democracies intact. But what about the UK, which is altogether bigger and messier? With our government currently casting around for ideas, it's no wonder that it looked at Sitra. In London last month – almost unnoticed in the bustle of the London design festival – Sitra launched a book entitled In Studio: Recipes for Systemic Change. Afterwards, the authors paid a visit to the cabinet office, where they'd been invited to explain the ideas behind strategic design. After all, one of the biggest problems facing the UK government (indeed, any government) is the gap between policy and how it's realised. You can reform the health service all you like, but if a patient still has a seven-hour wait to be seen at the hospital, the system is failing.

Often, policies that look effective on paper have perverse outcomes. Putting a cap on fishing quotas has resulted in fishermen dumping tonnes of dead fish back into the water. And allowing universities to charge "up to" £9,000 in tuition fees has led to most of them charging full price, for fear of looking second-rate. These outcomes are failures of the policy implementation process. Much more successful examples would be London Underground's Oyster card system or the city's bike hire scheme – both, perhaps not coincidentally, systems where designers kept the user experience in mind all along.

One of the problems is that politicians deal in general principles and then ask bureaucrats to fill in the details. This is problematic when an issue spans multiple departments and funding structures, as environmental issues often do. Who is charged with seeing the process through from the initial idea to the final goal? This is something designers are practiced at. At the SDU, they describe this as a process of "stewardship". "Good designers and architects are very skilled at manoeuvring a team from a sketch to an outcome without losing sight of the vision along the way," says Dan Hill, who joined the SDU from the engineering and design consultancy Arup.

In the business world, plenty of design consultancies offer to redesign systems and improve customer experience – they call it "design thinking". However, they are increasingly discredited for their vague promises to make executives "think like designers". Strategic design, however, is not just about thinking, but about how to bring that thinking to an effective outcome. That doesn't mean hiring in McKinsey or Ideo to do a bit of consulting, it means having a design professional embedded in the process. Apple is a case in point: its chief designer, Jonathan Ive, is on the board. It's no coincidence that while Nokia had touchscreen phone technology before Apple did, Apple was first to turn it into a product and to turn that product into a phenomenon – in spite of Nokia's good Finnish pedigree.

If the UK government takes one lesson from Apple, it should be that one. However, the likelihood is that the reason the government is entertaining the idea of strategic design at all is because it wants to cut costs, not improve services. If so, it has its eye on the wrong ball. The lesson from Finland, which sought to reform its education system while it was still the world's best, is that you do these things for their own sake. Strategic design is simply good practice, it's not a recession-buster.


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September 04 2011

Macedonia: Euphoria after Basketball Victory over Greece

Celebrations erupted among Macedonians worldwide after the national team beat Greece at the European Basketball Championship of 2011 - EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania - the first such victory ever in the history of international sport.

The victory for the Macedonian national team with 72:58 at EuroBasket 2011 was a big surprise, since the Greek national team “is considered among the world's top basketball powers; they were runners-up in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and they have won the European Championship twice, in 1987 and 2005,” according to Wikipedia.

� вака им �е покаж�ва ��еден п��� на ���и�е #makbasket #Skopj... on TwitpicSoon after the game ended early Satuday evening, the jubilant flag-waving fans filled the public spaces of Macedonian cities and towns. Sport!Denes (Sport!Today) published a photo gallery [mk] from the main square in Skopje.

A Croatian media outlet 24 sata (24 hours) reported [hr] immediately after the match:

The story of the day is the Macedonian win over their southern neighbors, whose [political pressure] forces them to use the designation “Former Yugoslav Republic of” in front of their name. Even though the players do not want to talk politics, they claim this is the dearest victory of their careers.

- “It's crazy now in Skopje and the whole Macedonia, everybody goes to the main square to celebrate this” - Todor Gečevski said, while Pero Antić added:

- “We shall celebrate Independence Day on September 8, and they might build another monument for us on account of this.”

The best player of the game for Macedonia was African-American Bo McCalleb. Specialized basketball blog NBA Macedonia declared [mk] that he's “The Greatest Macedonian.”*

A screenshot from MakNBA blog featuring Bo McCalleb.

A screenshot from MakNBA blog featuring Bo McCalleb.

Twitter (the main hashtag: #makbasket) and Facebook buzzed with comments. Many Macedonian social media users expressed joy with dignity, while others used triumphant nationalist “in your face, Greece” rhetoric.

Right after the game, Azder wrote [mk]:

#makbasket should be celebrated with going to a town square. Please suggest a square with space for people, instead of statues.

Twitter profile photo with Bo McCallebDavorvori9, who changed his profile photo to one with Bo McCalleb, wrote [mk] a few hours later:

I can't remember when I was so euphoric and happy, possibly never. Thank you for this, guys! #makbasket

Roberto Belicanec wrote on Facebook (reprinted with permission)…

YEAAH ! We won! Hm - let me explain something to you. Five athletes won over five other athletes while you where turning beer into the piss. - Bill Maher!
But still, this is quite nice :)

…and Ivica Anteski retorted (also reprinted with permission):

Our diplomacy will be as strong when we take a Black person for Minister of Foreign Affairs :)

Cchevymk proposed [mk] a new basketball-inspired country car sticker, using [mk] clipart by Rosie Piter…

…and DzikiKikiriki refered [mk] to the first Greek reactions, linking to an article in E Kathimerini:

Well now it is not our fault that the Greek Government did not have money to send Greek fans to Lithuania…

Border Blockade

The next morning, a group of several dozens angry Greek citizens, who allegedly came on several buses, blocked the main border pass towards Macedonia. Reports [mk] by PlusInfo.mk portal claimed the mob consisted of nationalists (according to the signs they displayed), including neo-Nazis or skinheads. The Greek police redirected Macedonian travelers to other border crossings for a few hours to prevent confrontations, and the crossing was unblocked [mk] without additional incidents.

Victory over Finland, Too

During the afternoon, Macedonia also won the game with Finland, and darko_avr refered to an old internet joke based on famous advertisement (”Nokia - Connecting People”) and a favorite Balkan spirit when he tweeted:

Rakia 72 - Nokia 70

Karakash_MakNBA commented [mk] on this much harder won game:

Either due to fatigue, or due to physical or emotional effect of yesterday's victory, or maybe due to getting wasted last night (who knows), the Macedonian team had a hard time with Finland. Even though they are not as weak and naive a team, as everybody thought so before the match. Especially if they start a good shooting series, they are no joke.

Teams that are hard to define and and play fast basketball, without much boloney, are the hardest opponents.

As both Greece and Finland are EU members, Parmakovski joked [mk]:

After today's blockade of [Evzoni], I'm afraid if we win the championship, EU could forever block us from the [Schengen Area]…

This victory, alongside the previous unexpected win over Croatia and continued good showings could result in participation at least in the quarter-finals, according to the analysеs (1, 2) [mk] by angelov480048. Kuzevski also provided [mk] some applied analysis:

Let's all jointly support Greece and Croatia, since if they win their next games Macedonia would get 4 points in the next group…

…and Sead93 concured [mk]:

We survived the Hangover Game well enough, we should all most patriotically root for Greece (because it suits our score in the tournament)…

In conclusion MarjanIvanovski informed [mk] about a unquestionably positive consequence, regardless of nationality:

The neighborhood kids immediately gathered to play some basketball :)). There's no better advertisement and greater motivation than an achieved result…

* Note:

Success of multi-ethnic Macedonian national team runs contrary to the ideology of ethnic nationalism, and the irony seems lost on the Macedonian nationalists, who wholeheartedly partake in the celebrations. Like their other Balkans brothers-in-hate, they often use slogans such as “clean Macedonia,” and value “purity” of assumed genetic lineages. Even though the mainstream Macedonian nationalism is not explicitly racist in the color-of-skin sort of way, some of its propagators lean toward white supremacy, like in the film about God's message to Macedonians [mk] by Niche Dimovski, repeatedly aired on the state TV after the current regime took power. It includes claims that prehistoric Macedonians are progenitors of the “White Race”:

[Voice of God:] “I inhabited your Mother Earth with three races: the White - Makedonoids, the Yellow - Mongoloids, and the Black - Negrids. The rest are all mulattoes. I started the White race from you, the Macedonians, descendants of Macedon, and from you all began, till the Japanese Sea.”

Other nationalist products often refer to a genetics study about “Sub-Saharan” (i.e. recent African) origins of modern Greeks to “prove” that Macedonians are older and more indigenous people.

Still, examples of racial violence have been rare in the recent Macedonian history, possibly because not too many dark-skinned people immigrate to Macedonia on account of its depressed economy. There have been football incidents of racial abuse, though, and a chant mentions “Goce's race.” Most regular citizens would say [mk] that “there's no racism in Macedonia.”

May 14 2011

Africa: Helsinki Africa Film Festival

Wanjiku wa Ngugi, the founder of the Helsinki African Film Festival talks to Beti Ellerson about the representation of Africa in Finland and this year’s theme “Women’s Voices and Visions”

April 24 2011

Nuclear waste: Keep out – for 100,000 years

Few architects have to design anything to last more than 100 years, so how do you build a nuclear waste facility to last for millennia? And what sign do you put on the door?

Ceremonies will be held around the worldon Tuesday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster but, in truth, Chernobyl is one event we're in no danger of forgetting. For one thing, the earthquake in Japan has given the world a second Level Seven incident on the International Nuclear Event Scale, refreshing public fears with almost cosmic timing. For another, the legacy of Chernobyl will be remembered for much, much longer than anyone would wish. According to estimates, this area of northern Ukraine will be uninhabitable for decades, if not centuries.

We like to think of our architectural treasures as milestones of human progress. The Egyptian pyramids, say, or the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps we imagine a Planet of the Apes-like scenario where our ruined monuments will stand as testament to our civilisation long after we're gone. But what will most probably outlive anything else we have ever built will be our nuclear legacy. Whatever its pros and cons as an energy source, one thing that's non-negotiable about nuclear power is the construction it necessitates. Less than a century after we first split the atom, we're now coming to appreciate the vast technological, engineering, financial and political resources nuclear technology demands. In terms of scale, complexity and longevity, much of this stuff makes Dubai's Burj Khalifa look like a sandcastle.

It is too early to know what will be done about Fukushima. A 20km exclusion zone has been imposed and radiation levels will not be brought down to safe levels for at least another six months. Even at Chernobyl, the 1986 accident is by no means dealt with. Immediately afterwards, the Soviets hastily cobbled together the most effective structure they could to contain further radioactive contamination. Unromantically named the Object Shelter, it was a concrete and steel sarcophagus resting on the remains of the ruined reactor. Owing to the high levels of radioactivity, it had been impossible to bolt or weld the Object Shelter together, so within a decade it was on the verge of collapse. Given that 95% of reactor four's nuclear materials are still inside, another nuclear disaster remains a possibility. Hence the current longer-term plan, called the New Safe Confinement. This €1.6bn (£1.4bn) project calls for the erection of an arch-shaped hangar, bigger than a football pitch and high enough to fit the Statue of Liberty inside. Because of the radiation levels, it must be built 500 metres away then slid over the top of the reactor and the Object Shelter. At 32,000 tonnes, it is just about the heaviest object ever moved.

"In some ways, this is how the engineers of the pyramids must have felt," says Eric Schmieman, chief technical adviser on the New Safe Confinement. "The steel structure has a design life of 100 years, so there are very rigorous requirements to demonstrate all the materials will last that long. The Eiffel Tower has been around that long but it's been protected from corrosion by painting. You can't repaint this because of the radiation."

The structure of the New Safe Confinement is carbon steel, protected by inner and outer layers of stainless steel cladding. Its purpose is not to shield radioactive emissions but to prevent the release of radioactive dust and other materials, and to keep out rainwater, which could carry contaminants into the water table. Work is currently proceeding on the foundations, and the arch will be assembled and slid into place by 2015. Then huge, remote-controlled cranes inside will dismantle the Object Shelter and begin retrieving the hazardous materials inside.

The structure will be visible from space, a hulking shell of steel in the midst of a landscape of industrial devastation. By the time it reaches the end of its 100-year life span, it is hoped that all the radioactive material will have been removed, but then comes the problem of where to put it. At the beginning of the nuclear era, the emphasis was very much on the power stations, including Basil Spence's heroic 1950s design for Trawsfynydd, in Snowdonia. But very little consideration was given to what came after. Those early power stations became obsolete: Trawsfynydd was decommissioned in 1991. What's more, the industry has so far generated nearly 300,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste, and counting. To be safe, it must be isolated from all living organisms for at least 100,000 years.

Current opinion is that the best thing to do with nuclear waste is put it underground in what is known as a "deep geological repository". At present, there are no such repositories in operation anywhere. In Britain, all the nuclear waste produced since the 1940s is stored above ground in Sellafield. Preliminary moves have been made towards finding a site in Cumbria but there's a powerful local resistance to such schemes, and no long-term solution is expected before 2040. In the US, a site was earmarked decades ago at Nevada's Yucca Mountain, 100 miles from Las Vegas, but the Obama administration finally abandoned the scheme last year.

Some countries are further ahead, though. Sweden's nuclear operation presents itself as a model for the rest of the world, and shows how much effort a fully joined-up operation requires. After cooling on site for a year, spent fuel from Sweden's three coastal nuclear sites is transported in purpose-built casks, on a specially designed ship, to a central interim storage facility. There, robotic arms transfer the fuel into storage cassettes underwater. These cassettes are then sent to another storage pool 25 metres beneath the facility to cool for at least another 30 years. Then the waste is moved to another plant to seal in copper canisters before it arrives at its final resting place in the geological repository.

Sweden has numerous other nuclear facilities, including the Äspö hard rock laboratory, an underground research laboratory open to visitors. Bizarrely, Äspö's surface buildings could be mistaken for a traditional farmstead: a collection of buildings in red and white timber. The folksy tweeness only points up how alien the rest of the nuclear landscape is. This is the heaviest of heavy industries, and it is often the least visible: a hidden parallel realm of anonymous industrial facilities, restricted zones, clinical chambers and subterranean vaults.

Sweden has identified a site for its deep geological repository, in Forsmark, but the Finns have been building theirs since 2004. Situated on the northwest coast, a few miles from its Olkiluoto nuclear power stations, it consists of a 5km-long tunnel spiralling 400m down to the bedrock, where a honeycomb of storage vaults fans out. Named Onkalo, whose literal translation is "cavity", it was the subject of a documentary last year, Into Eternity. Retitled Nuclear Eternity and broadcast on More4 tomorrow, the film fully appreciates the Kubrickian visual aspects of the nuclear landscape and the staggering challenges the project presents to our notions of permanence, history – even time itself. Onkalo will be ready to take waste in 2020, and then will be finally sealed in 2120, after which it will not be opened for 100,000 years. By that time, Finland will probably have been through another ice age. Little trace of our current civilisation will remain. The prospect of designing anything to last even 200 years is unlikely for most architects; the Egyptian pyramids are "only" about 5,000 years old.

Plan like an Egyptian

This longevity poses Onkalo's custodians, and others in their position, with another unprecedented design issue: what sign should you put on the door? As one expert says in Into Eternity, the message is simple: "This is not an important place; it is a place of danger. Stay away from the site. Do not disturb the site." But how to communicate with people so far in the future? Put up a sign in a language they don't understand and they are sure to open it just to see what's inside. Ancient Egyptians on the pyramid planning committee probably grappled with the same issues. One of the Finns suggests using an image of Munch's The Scream; another suggests a series of monoliths with pictographs and an underground library explaining the tunnel; another wonders if it is better not to tell anyone Onkalo is there at all. When a team pondered the same issue in the US in the 1990s, they came up with proposals for environments that communicated threat and hostility. They imagined landscapes of giant, spiky, black thorns or menacing, jagged earthworks, or vast concrete blocks creating narrow streets that lead nowhere.

If architecture is about designing spaces for human habitation, this is practically its opposite. These subterranean cities are places no human will ever inhabit or see, places designed to repel life and light. They are a mirror image to our towering achievements above ground and, like the pyramids, they are both monument and tomb. Every nuclear nation is compelled to build them, at great effort and expense, and to continue building them until we find a better way to deal with nuclear waste or a better alternative to nuclear power. Until then, we must live with the thought that in some unimaginable future aeons hence, this could be all that remains to prove our species was ever here.

• This article was amended on 25 April 2011, to clarify the literal translation of the word onkalo. The original article gave its meaning as "hiding place".

True Stories: Nuclear Eternity, a documentary about Onkalo, is on More4 tomorrow at 10pm.


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April 19 2011

U B U W E B - Film & Video: Alvar Aalto - Technology and Nature (1996)

"The Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) is one of the great figures of modern architecture, ranked alongside Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. This film analyses Aalto’s uniquely successful resolution of the demands and possibilities created by new technology and construction materials with the need to make his buildings sympathetic both to their users and to their natural surroundings. His inventive use of timber in particular represents both a reference to the forest landscape of Finland and a building material that is ‘warm’ and extremely adaptable. Filmed in Finland, Italy, Germany and the USA, this documentary shows how the Finnish natural environment and art traditions were essential elements in Aalto’s pioneering harmonization of technology and nature."
Reposted fromrobertogreco robertogreco

February 27 2011

02mydafsoup-01

January 19 2011

Finland's finest

The man who invented the macho gay image could be the hero of 2011's European city of culture.

Finland's cultural gifts to the world include Sibelius, the Moomins and an artist that the country has been less eager to celebrate. The name Touko Laaksonen may not be immediately familiar; and unless you are acquainted with homoerotic art, his alter ego Tom of Finland may not mean much either. But you have almost certainly seen the style he created: a pantheon of bikers, leather-men, lumberjacks and rodeo stars that defined the macho-gay image of the 1970s.

Born in 1920, Tom came from Turku, this year's European Capital of Culture. Only the fifth-largest city in Finland, Turku has a well-preserved castle, the country's oldest cathedral and a museum containing Sibelius's final, half-smoked cigar. But it is hardly so culture-rich as to be able to ignore the region's most internationally recognised artist.

A self-taught draughtsman, Laaksonen's earliest homoerotic drawings were inspired by his service in the Finnish armed forces. After the war, he worked in advertising, but another career arrived in 1956 when the American publication Physique Pictorial – a bodybuilding magazine serving a predominately gay audience – published Laaksonen's drawing of an Adonis-like lumberjack on the cover. The editors credited the work to "Tom of Finland", a pseudonym Laaksonen was never entirely happy with, though American "beefcake" magazines became the major outlet for his work. In 1973, he was able to move to California and live exclusively from sales of erotic pictures.

Although the Museum of Modern Art in New York contains examples of Tom's work, and he has been shown at the Venice Biennale, the Finns have been slow to embrace him. This may not seem so surprising given that homosexuality was illegal in Finland until 1971, and same-sex partnerships were sanctioned only in 2002. Even today, the country isn't noted for tolerance: last July, a gay pride march in Helsinki became the target of a gas attack.

The artistic director of Turku 2011, Suvi Innilä, admits that showing Tom was a controversial choice. "At first, I was not sure if you could include such images in a mainstream arts festival," she says. "But then when I saw the quality of the original drawings on paper, there could be no doubt. He is, without question, the most significant and influential artist to come from this region. The idea of having a cultural year in Turku without him was unthinkable."

Tom's homecoming has been facilitated by the Liverpool-based arts organisation Homotopia, which mounted the first UK showing of his work, and expanded with contributions from the Tom of Finland Foundation in LA. Although Tom published his work in America, the illustrations explore a distinctively Scandinavian milieu – the Finnish cultural cornerstones of the sauna and the sausage stand feature prominently. Yet despite the explicit content of some of the images, this retrospective has not been hidden under the counter. It runs for a full year at Logomo, a new space that forms the focal point of the Turku 2011 celebrations. More than 50,000 people are expected to visit; in the experience of curator Gary Everett, fewer than half of them are likely to be gay.

"When we first showed Tom in Liverpool, 55% of the audience were straight women," Everett says. "I think Tom can be quite liberating for women because it gives them the chance to see men objectified in a way that women have been objectified for centuries."

So is it art or is it porn? Durk Dehner, founder of the Tom of Finland Foundation and a close friend of the artist, insists it can be both. "Tom is a unique case in that he is simultaneously found in mainstream galleries and adult bookstores. The vast majority of his output was masturbatory material to be kept under the bed, yet it also comes packaged in coffee-table volumes for open display."

The drawings in the exhibition are modest in scale and mostly executed in pencil. They show Laaksonen to be a naturally gifted draughtsman who deliberately limited his range. Yet he arrived at a style that was instantly recognisable. Simply put, without Tom of Finland, there would have been no Village People.

"Tom created a kind of sexual Valhalla of Scandinavian gods which became a fantasy boot camp for the founders of the gay rights movement," Dehner says. "Before Tom, gay men were seen as effeminate sissies. He was the first person to show gay men as macho, proud and assertive."

Towards the end of Tom's life, the drawings took on a darker hue: the sex becomes more joyless and a new addition appeared – the condom. "There's a deep sorrow in the later pieces," Dehner says. "After the spread of Aids, Tom experienced a huge burden of guilt. He had given people confidence to go out and explore their sexuality and he began to wonder if he was partly responsible for sending all those young men to their deaths."

Yet 20 years after his death, the artist's influence seems stronger than ever. "If you've ever bought a pair of Calvin Klein briefs, looked at a Levi's ad or seen Freddie Mercury perform, you've experienced Tom of Finland," Dehner says. "He's unavoidable. In a sense, we are all Tom's men now."


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November 10 2010

Video: It Gets Better for Queer Youth

By Juliana Rincón Parra

The It Gets Better Project was started by Dan Savage as a way of preventing gay teens from committing suicide through videos explaining what gay adult life could be: lots better.  And from different corners of the world, other people are also sharing their stories.

Dave talks about growing up to a family of religious missionaries in Israel, how he even came to think that exorcism would be a solution to his problems and about his efforts to try and make sense of his faith in regards to his sexual orientation.

From Finland, a group of people share their experiences growing up queer. The video was presented in the TedXHelsinki conference. It is subtitled in Swedish and English:

Bashar Makhay speaks about the process of accepting his identity as a middle eastern gay man, or as he calls himself, a “Gay Chaldean Iraqi American Christian Progressive Man”. Video has English subtitles if you press the cc button:

A gay Muslim youth speaks about growing up in a very religious Shi'a Muslim Pakistani household: how he dealt with harassment, his religious beliefs and his family's take on his his sexuality:

From the Spanish speaking community there are several videos found under the title “Todo va a Mejorar”. One such video was uploaded by
Constantino from Guatemala who currently lives in New York City. He speaks about growing up in a chauvinistic society, his doubts and how just hanging on and following your dreams can go a long way: He is currently living his dream.

As a first generation immigrant from Greece, greekcub tells of the importance of being true to yourself, despite the traditional cultural norms that may seem incompatible with happiness, and at the end, he records a special message for any queer Greek teens going through rough times:

And finally, Kelly Kim explains in ASL how it was for him to grow up being picked on for being deaf and being bullied, afraid for his Korean family's reaction to his sexual identity until he finally decided to come out of the closet. The video is captioned in English:

There are many more videos both on the It Gets Better Project website as well as on YouTube. And hopefully, any teen being bullied because they are different will be able to find support and inspiration in these videos and stories.

July 12 2010

Europe: Multilingualism Video Contest

By Juliana Rincón Parra

Polyglot logo

If you live in Europe, are between 18 and 35 years of age and can speak more than one language, then send in a short  on multilingualism to an online video contest to win a place aboard an itinerant film making event which will travel and take place in the archipelago of Turku, Finland. 

Eighteen winners will have the opportunity to participate in  POLYGLOT - on the way to Turku,  an all-expenses-paid 2-week “Cine-Boat” itinerant film making workshop taking place on June 2011 in Turku and the Åland Islands  of Finland.

This activity is organized by NISI MASA and on the contest website they explain the two types of entry videos they expect to receive before the submission deadline on December 15th 2010:

Video Portraits (Documentaries on My multilingualism) - Do you speak different languages on a regular basis? Describe the linguistic environment you live in, and how it affects you personally.

Video Poems (Fictions on The language I dream in) - Use the audiovisual medium to its full artistic potential. Share with us your most original and creative ideas about language.

Contestants must be resident in a European country (EU or non-EU) and aged 18-35. Works of maximum 5 minutes length, produced since 1st January 2008 are eligible.

Winning videos will be shown during the festival as the city of Turku celebrates being the European Capital of Culture. Afterwards, the shorts will be compiled into a DVD and shown through Europe in follow-up screenings.

All video entries are being uploaded on the Vimeo group for the contest so far there are three: Bubble Affair, Endless Cry and The Whistle, which follows.

June 05 2010

Baltics: Any need for Baltic Sea cooperation

By Vilhelm Konnander

Litauen writes about [GER] the Council of the Baltic Sea states and how this organization is becoming increasingly superfluous as basis for Baltic Sea cooperation.

March 14 2010

Jeffery and Miquette Roberts

My parents Jeffery and Miquette Roberts, who have both died aged 66, within 10 days of each other, shared passions for the arts and languages, and had broad-ranging, inquiring minds. In April 2009, Jeffery was diagnosed with cancer. He faced this with amazing fortitude, and the unending support of Miquette, who died of injuries resulting from a fall shortly after his death.

In my father's office were large maps of Russia and Finland, a piano and dictionaries covering various Nordic and Slavic languages. The effect was that of a musically gifted military dictator, combined with an eccentric taxi firm with an enormous catchment area. Jeffery had an avowedly internationalist focus, but his interest in the world was local as well, as shown by his time as a Liberal party councillor in Shoreditch, east London, from 1980 until 1987.

Born near Liverpool, of Anglo-Welsh parentage, he settled in London permanently in the early 1970s, having read geology at New College, Oxford, and then undertaken PhD research at Cardiff. He married Miquette in 1974. On his return from a period in Finland, working for Union Bank of Finland, in 1991 he formed Pomor Petroleum and Impivaara Securities, two companies that focused their attention on markets in Finland, Russia and the erstwhile Baltic states and beyond.

Jeffery spoke German, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, French and Russian. In the last years of his life, he took up Welsh. In his own language, he liked nothing better than talking at length, launching into excitable, provocative disquisitions, ranging in topic from delegate democracy, the situation in the Middle East (particularly Palestine) and the books of Karen Armstrong to the rise and fall of world empires.

He was passionate about music – playing it and listening to it. Among his favoured composers were Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt. He was engaged and engaging, intellectual, energetic and funny, and by turns infuriating and generous (in every sense of the word). Jeffery found his counterpart in Miquette's quiet, determined character.

If Jeffery's room was his office, my mother's was the lounge. She had decorated it with a mix of African prints in sombre but not oppressive tones, and judiciously placed decorative objects. When a friend of mine visited, he stared as long as his manners allowed him to at Miquette's vibrant, shiny red shoes. He still talked about the shoes, and the contrasting tailored grey outfit, years later.

Such was the impact of my mum's individual style and her charismatic, yet unassuming nature. She had very definite ideas about style in fashion and art; and let it be known in gentle, but assertive terms that she disapproved wryly of my rainbow hair changes over the years.

Miquette was born in Glasgow, of mixed French and Scottish parentage. Her given name was Marie-Christine but she was universally known as Miquette, an affectionate name "usually given to cats in France" as she often remarked on meeting new people. Miquette will be remembered, among many other things, for her seemingly effortless ability to get on with others, and her talent as a writer (though she was far too modest to view herself in these glowing terms).

Having read History of Art, French and German at Glasgow University, she continued her studies at New Hall, Cambridge, graduating in 1966. She then worked in an educational capacity in various art galleries, ranging from those in Bristol and Aberdeen (in the 1960s and 70s) to Tate Britain (1992-2004).

On retirement, she took up the task of translating the wartime letters of her mother, Marie Touchard, from French into English. She also wrote an autobiographical work which she later doled out in tantalising snippets for the rest of the family to read. Her style was succinct and affecting. I remember her quiet but intense pride as she showed me the published letters of Marie Touchard in a bookshop in Paris in 2006.

Miquette is survived by her brother, Malcolm. Jeffery is survived by his sister, Joan. Both are survived by me and my brother Duncan.


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