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Talking point: Religion is inherently non-violent Jun. 2nd, 2015 @ 02:58 pm
There's a persistent narrative that we've been hearing here and there, which claims that those advocating for a religiously motivated war are not "true adherents" to said religion, and have somehow twisted and perverted the initial intention of that religion. Because at its core, religion does not support violence against other human beings.

Well, if we're to look more closely at the history and the canons of the major religions (especially the Abrahamic ones), we'd notice that violence is actually a central part of religion - because, being a set of rules governing a particular community of people, religions inevitably tend to come across external rivals/enemies (note: the concept of "infidels/heathens" that permeates Abrahamic religions), which they often have to deal with the "hard way". Respectively, they tend to infuse the notion that using violence to deal with rivals and external threats is justifiable, as long as it's done for the good of the particular religion itself, and for protecting the community.

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Monthly topic Jun. 1st, 2015 @ 11:50 pm
Hey all! Time for our new monthly topic, the one that you guys chose the last time:

Stupid Talking Points Debunked

Some details (as if you need any)...Collapse )

And now the poll for July...Collapse )
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Who bought the Maidan? May. 31st, 2015 @ 03:54 pm
A couple of weeks ago, Donetsk celebrated one year since the "liberation" of the so called People's Republic. Among the official guests were envoys from a number of nationalist parties from across Europe (sponsored by Putin), including representatives of the French FN of Marine Le Pen. Jean-Luc Chafauzer, the French rep, pretty much used the mic to regurgitate Russia's conspiracy theory that the Maidan revolution had been orchestrated, that the US ambassador, Ms Nuland had been picking up the members of the Ukrainian government, and that the US wanted to divide Europe, and put a barrier to further Euro-Russian partnership.

Another speaker, German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter of Die Zeit published a large article with the provocative title, "Did the Americans buy the Maidan?" As you might've guessed by now, that article was re-published by the major Kremlin-friendly media, and has now become part of Russia's official and public narrative.

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A red card for FIFA May. 30th, 2015 @ 12:34 am

The arrests of a number of leading FIFA officials have shaken what's one of the largest and most influential organisations in the world - and this, just a couple of days before the summit that was supposed to re-re-re-re-re-elect Sepp Blatter. 7 people, out of them 2 vice-presidents of the organisation, were arrested on Wednesday morning at a hotel in Zurich on charges of money-laundering, corruption and fraud. The US Department of Justice announced the detention of nine top football officials plus 5 other people related to marketing companies. Predictably, Sepp Blatter was not among them.

...The FIFA shake-up in words and cartoons...Collapse )

ETA: With 133 vs 73 votes in the first round, Blatter was set to win the 2nd vote - but then prince Ali decided to withdraw and handed the boss another term.

Friday WTF. Close encounters with the human genius May. 29th, 2015 @ 01:08 pm
We begin with the latest fashion fads, then go through some ingenious practical inventions, and end up with a new type of architecture...

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On topic - Interesting read from Stratfor May. 28th, 2015 @ 01:41 pm
A Net Assessment of the World

"...The United States is, by far, the world's most powerful nation. That does not mean that the United States can — or has an interest to — solve the problems of the world, contain the forces that are at work or stand in front of those forces and compel them to stop. Even the toughest guy in the bar can't take on the entire bar and win."

Might look like sweeping general analysis, but an interesting one, nevertheless. The following part sums up most of it, I think:

"After every systemic war, there is an illusion that the victorious coalition will continue to be cohesive and govern as effectively as it fought. After the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna sought to meld the alliance against France into an entity that could manage the peace. After World War I, the Allies (absent the United States) created the League of Nations. After World War II, it was the United Nations. After the Cold War ended, it was assumed that the United Nations, NATO, IMF, World Bank and other multinational institutions could manage the global system. In each case, the victorious powers sought to use wartime alliance structures to manage the post-war world. In each case, they failed, because the thing that bound them together — the enemy — no longer existed. Therefore, the institutions became powerless and the illusion of unity dissolved."

Some valid points, and some points of contention in thereCollapse )

Ireland: a resounding 'Yes' May. 27th, 2015 @ 07:04 pm

Ireland has voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in a historic referendum, where more than 62% of the people voted for changing the Constitution and allowing homosexual couples to marry. This makes Ireland the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

And this has happened just a couple of decades after the epoch when homosexual relations were discriminated against by law in Ireland. More than 1.2 million people voted 'Yes', and 0.7 million 'No'. The Yes vote won in all Irish regions except Roscommon-South. The exact wording of the question was, "Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex".

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Breaking the two-party model May. 26th, 2015 @ 02:10 pm
"The governing People's Party (PP) in Spain has suffered heavy losses in regional and local elections. In what was seen as a test before parliamentary elections expected in November, left-wing groups opposed to austerity made strong gains. Six months before national elections, the ruling PP has gained the most votes, beating the Socialist party who came second with 25%. But the two traditional parties fell short of overall majorities in most areas. They both lost a significant number of votes to emerging groups Ciudadanos and Podemos."

Spain has ended up with a totally different political landscape, after the voters decided to break the two-party model at Sunday's local elections, ushering Spanish politics into a new phase. Both the leftist media (like El Pais) and the rightist ones (like El Mundo) are arguing that the result indicates a "deep change" for the country. Over 30 million people were eligible for voting in the weekend, and they were electing the governments of 13 out of the 17 regions of the country.

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Africa's heroes May. 25th, 2015 @ 03:25 pm

When in August this year the world commemorates the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, we should also pay attention to the fact that three months earlier the war had been practically declared over. This is a sign that most of the Western world remains unaware of the true scope of the war, especially the fronts that took place outside Europe. The attitude to the victims in Hiroshima is evidence of that. As well as the fate of those who fought in the war on the African front, or the ones who were on the European fronts most and who came from the African colonies of the so called Great Powers, often forcefully thrown into a war that wasn't theirs.

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Values vs dollars May. 24th, 2015 @ 04:26 pm
G'day, comrades & comradesses! First off, congrats to everyone around who uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Today is the day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a celebration of Slavonic culture around the world, as previously mentioned here.

And while we're about Slavonic cultures, and because it's neo-colonialism month, here's the story of modern Serbia. A country still balancing between East and West. Both of these trying to lure countries like Serbia into their orbit of influence, the West offering a future of shared cultural values (whatever that's supposed to mean), while the East offering... well, mostly cash.

This story has it all: spies, suspicious billions, and the damages that intransparent governing tends to bring. There's one Mohammed Dahlan, at first considered the primary successor of Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinians, and then becoming an agent for Israel, who travels to Belgrade to pursue a business career. There's also the EU losing in the race with third parties over Serbia's heart and mind.

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Friday curious... Two shades of grey May. 23rd, 2015 @ 12:16 am
Are the two boxes the same in colour, or do they have a different shade of grey?

Which again brings us back to that dress...

This bit is from the ongoing Brain Games documentary, which is now in its 5th season at National Geographic. I strongly recommend it.

Lada: Who needs evolution? =) May. 22nd, 2015 @ 09:28 am
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The lie about the global gay plot May. 21st, 2015 @ 05:05 pm

In the US, in Russia, in East Europe, and of course in the Arab countries and in most of Africa both outright homophobes and lots of ordinary people alike are genuinely convinced that the gays and lesbians are weaving some monstrous plot against humankind. Around the Internet forums that serve not so much as places for sharing information, as much as hubs for spreading ideas and "alternative explanations" of what's going on around the world (read: conspiracy theories), the fundamental features of that conviction are being shaped out.

For many conspiracy theorists, the homosexual people are secretly taking over the key positions around the world, and the recent years must have provided the irrefutable evidence for all that. In politics, in the economy and in sports, i.e. in the Holy Trinity of heterosexual masculinity, innumerable gays seem to have suddenly popped up and stolen the glory of poor oppressed "normal" people. A number of professional male athletes have "come out", and also politicians and top businessmen. Like German football player Thomas Hitzlsperger, recently. And also Apple CEO Tim Cook. And Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics, the first high-ranking politician in East Europe to openly declare himself gay. That's a unprecedented thing for the post-Soviet space.

Gays are not going away. Deal with it.Collapse )

(On topic) TTIP: Corporatocracy in action May. 20th, 2015 @ 03:36 pm

In the recent years, we've been hearing increasingly frequently various calls for further integration of the "developed" world in its attempts to counter the emerging markets, some of which have already attained quite solid geostrategic positions in the last few decades. One of the major efforts in that direction is the preparation for the signing of the so called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and EU, whose purpose is to finalize the unification of the economic space at the two sides of the Atlantic.

Many are concerned that the so called "Partnership" is an attempt by the Bigger Bro to get unlimited access to the European markets, in the conditions of a halved overall consumption on both sides of the Atlantic, the production capacities of just one of the two "partners" being fully capable to meet the combined demand of the new trade entity. Given the full subordination and timidity of the Brussels elites, the dropping energy prices and the lower tax burden on producers at the western side of the Big Water, I suppose you've already guessed which of the two partners will have by far the greater benefit from a trade agreement in the presently proposed form.

There"s discontent brewing...Collapse )

The boy who cried wolf May. 19th, 2015 @ 03:56 pm
Hey, ma'fellow shepherds! I'm sure you know the fable of the boy who cried wolf, eh? Well, you might not have heard of this, but the Macedonian government of PM Nikola Gruevski has recently found itself in the very same situation like in that fable.

1) Thousands rally to demand resignation of Macedonia's Prime Minister

2) Macedonia protests: Thousands rally for PM Gruevski

3) Macedonia divided by deep political crisis; must face corruption allegations, armed rebellion

Now that the ante has been upped, things are looking very different after the massive protests against Gruevski's clique, and the response of his devout/bought supporters, and the weird anti-terror operation in the northern town of Kumanovo from two weekends ago. Just a few days later came the call of Ali Ahmeti, long-time leader of the ethnic Albanians and Gruevski's coalition partner. He urged for mass participation in the peaceful anti-government protests. And many observers figured this was the beginning of the end for the regime. Granted, it won't go without a fight, so we might expect a protracted agony before the Macedonian people are done with Gruevski.

Things are still far from the precipice, but they could get pretty ugly, and fastCollapse )

On-topic: Is the Sino-Russian alliance a threat? May. 18th, 2015 @ 03:43 pm
We've talked of the victory parade in Moscow, but one thing wasn't mentioned: China and Russia are comrades again now.

(Here they are, looking together to the bright future)

So, in the spirit of the monthly topic, here's a question. Should the US be concerned of a closer Sino-Russian partnership, or possibly an alliance? Well, I'd say only if what these two are looking for and can realistically achieve is something the US sees as something worth spending sleepless nights over. For the time being, it looks like Russia and China will be working to tighten their grip on their respective regions. Chinese money could help Russia achieve this, at least for the short- to mid-term. And in exchange, Russian resources (both energy and raw materials) will allow China to pump up their economy some more, and develop its rising military.

The question here is if this is a real threat to the US overall. Central Asia has been abandoned several times, only to be revisited whenever someone else turned their gaze upon it. Before the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, American power-brokers didn't even know where to find Afghanistan on a map. Before China's neo-colonial push into Africa, the US was OK with ignoring the whole continent except for Egypt.

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The museum of communism May. 17th, 2015 @ 10:05 pm
Most former communist countries in Central and East Europe dump their monuments from the communist era into special museums that look more like theme parks, where older people can indulge in their nostalgia. But the West Romanian town of Timisoara has gone one step further, and opened the first Museum of the Communist Consumer.

Once you're in, you get soaked in the atmosphere of the "golden epoch" as many call it. The visitor can see all the variety of old products that could be found around the stores at the time (and those weren't that many). It's a space obviously targeting two particular segments: curious foreigners (from the West), and kids who look in dismay at the lifestyle of their parents. The funny thing about this is that before 1989, people who found themselves at the "wrong" side of the Iron Curtain were in the dark about what "those others" had, and now the organizers of this museum want to show a glimpse to "those others" of what the Eastern bloc had.

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Friday LOL. 35 things we have learned from Hollywood movies May. 16th, 2015 @ 12:46 am

1. All phone numbers in the US start with 555.
2. No matter how damaged the spaceship, its internal navigation system always remains intact.
3. Everyone speaks English, no matter where they're from. Even E.T.s.
4. Even after we've switched all lights off at home, everything remains well visible in the bedroom, bathing in nice blueish tones.
5. All CDs are compatible with every computer, regardless of its operation system.
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Friday curious. Amazing science-y animations May. 15th, 2015 @ 01:00 pm

It could be used for all sorts of purposes. It's especially useful when working with microscopic organisms, or when you want to see how exactly rivers flow. NASA uses it to find space capsules that have landed somewhere at sea. It's a non-toxic bright-green substance that could be made in a cup of water. Here's how.

See more amazing stuffCollapse )

(Bad) flags of our (city) fathers... May. 15th, 2015 @ 12:58 am

[Imma going to have some flag talk up in here]

Art is vital for a quality of lifestyle, for me anyway. I see art and design and architecture and music as the things that go hand and hand with civilization, and gives us aspirations to be better individuals. So we would naturally expect national flags to be symbols of pride providing us with visual reminders of our national hopes and our past. So it follows, quite a few citizens take great civic pride in their hometown and their city flags. Roman Mars who is addition to having one of the coolest and badest names I ever did read, is also a radio program host (99% Invisible is the title of his program), discussing design and architecture, and he also a specialist in vexillology, the study of flags.

Roman Mars is on a mission for American cities to get rid of their horrible flags. In a recent TED talk, Mr. Mars gave a presentation on city flags that I thought was pretty interesting and funny and quite entertaining. I've had a life-long love affair with flags, e.g. I was mesmerized when our family visited the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.; and I saw the United States flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore harbor, it was that flag provided the inspiration for Francis Scott Key writing his poem The Star Spangled Banner.

Mr. Mars noticed when he lived in Chicago, the city flag was everywhere, adopted by most citizens in the most unusual places, he mentioned an observer noticed when he got his haircut, a barber shop had the Chicago city flag on a tool box. Sure, municipal buildings will fly the flag, and it's frequently used to drape policemen and firemen coffins at funerals, but its EVERYWHERE, e.g. backpacks, and even in graffiti.

Chicago's city flag: each six sided star represents a iconic moment in its history

It has been embraced by the citizens in a big way, attesting to its popularity. But why? Mr. Mars thinks because it has compelling design causes a "feed-back loop." Seeing a good design affects civic pride, and people want to display that flag, leading to more use and adoption by citizens at large, generating even more civic pride. In fact, like good graphic design, there really are only a few basics for good flag design.

1. Keep the design simple (a child could draw it from memory)
2. Use meaningful symbolism
3. Use 2 to 3 basic colors (there can be flexibility for this)
4. NO LETTERING OR SEALS! (they were designed for use on paper, relatively close to your eyes)
5. Be distinctive (or be related).
All flags should be able to fit on an 3 X 5 index card, because that's what they will look like at a distance. That rules out text and entire coats of arms with mottos.

Chicago's flag has all the good elements: The blue stripes represent the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, which were the main reasons Chicago became one of the largest cities in the United States: water commerce. It uses red, white and blue, it uses four six-sided stars to symbolize four key dates in Chicago's history, events that helped make its identity unique.

There are some other examples of good flag design in the United States, and other cities in the world.

The city of Amsterdam has, according to Mr. Mars, one of the world's "badest-ass" city-flags and it has been adopted by the citizens in a big way, it's seen everywhere in the city. What makes it work so well, according to Mr. Mars, the flag is drawn from a single lement from the city coat of arms.

City of Amsterdam's coat of armsCity of Amsterdam's flag

As Mr. Mars noted, if an American city had designed a flag for Amsterdam, they'd likely have ruined it by plastering the city's name at the bottom in some gaudy font. But that had me thinking, why not take a look at the flags of cities of several of our community members, and see what they look like--- and I have to say, for me personally, Cape Town Africa is in the world's top five:

Cape Town's city flag, one of the most beautiful in the world, I think

For me, I read the flag like this (I'm not a native, I've never traveled there, and I only have an admittedly light understanding of the history, so my reading of the flag could be quite wrong): the rainbow symbolism for the diverse population is self evident to me, so I assume that;s very powerful for Cape Town's citizens. For me visually, the apparent speed in how the paint brush strokes are applied tells me "We're busy; and we have places to go! So let's go, NOW!" Also for me, the direction of the strokes (moving from the left to the right) and written on an upward arch -- that's symbolic of moving to the future (away from the past, but never quite forgetting it either); and the flag also reminds me visually of body painting, which is a vital component of South African culture. And the city flag ties in beautifully with the national South African flag too. It's perfect in every design sense.

Another top tier flag for me is Washington, D.C. The flag is based on George Washington's personal coat of arms (which may have been an element in the design for the flag of the United States):

and Madison, Wisconsin:

and London, U.K.:

Mr. Roman singles out San Francisco as one of the worst flags in the United States. I'm very sorry yes_justice : (

So, what is the most horrible and horrendous city flag in the United States? That honor goes to Pocatello, Idaho:

And why yes, they have a trademark notice as part of their city flag!

You can watch Mr. Mar's entire TED talk (highly recommended, he has a pretty media rich presentation, along with a great sense of humor for a subject that could be potentially dry as dust.

Mood: chipperchipper
Music: Antonio Vivaldi: Violin concerto in E minor, RV 279
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