Freddy Hagen on Cairo Megacity

Freddy Hagen is an extraordinarily talented Danish photographer.

Recently he returned from a trip to the Middle East and has uploaded some slide shows.

One in particular is a must see, Cairo Megacity. It is a slide show with music and both the music and photographs are utterly beautiful.

His other slide shows are also superb. Don’t miss Aid al-Adha, a photo essay about the Islamic festival where feat animals are slaughtered on the streets of Cairo (nor for the squeamish).

He also offers a radically alternative view of Denmark’s capital Copenhagen in another superb musical sideshow called Copenhagen 2007. Don’t miss the dramatic riot footage at the end.

And now for somewhere completely different

 The Financial Times has great story about that profoundly strange and beautiful country, Japan:

In Japan, the trees are blue. So are the traffic lights, even though they look decidedly green to uninitiated outsiders. The Japanese do have a word for green, but when it comes to foliage and traffic signals, blue is the preferred term.

Blue trees are not the only initially puzzling thing about Japan. In a hundred tiny gestures and assumptions, Japan can seem just slightly out of kilter. When Japanese people refer to themselves, they point to their nose, not their heart. Many restaurants have no chairs. The Japanese count in units of ten thousand, making the population of Japan one-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty ten thousands, not 125 million as you might have thought. The calendar is different, too. Circular not linear, time tracks each imperial reign – I am sending this dispatch, not from the year 2008, but from Heisei 20.

These are superficial differences to be sure, tiny variations of the sort found in many places a western-centric observer might consider ”odd”. But even experienced Japanologists can find Japan a topsy-turvy place. Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek who pitched up in Japan in 1890, only a decade after the country opened to the west, wrote: ”The outward strangeness of things in Japan produces a queer thrill impossible to describe – a feeling of weirdness which comes to us only with the perception of the totally unfamiliar.”

I think I may have found the name for that strange breed of (mostly) men that find themselves in far flung places, marry locals and end their days there after going native: Lafcadios .

I have met many of these people. They are very often hybrid  Third Culture Kids that have grown up to be global nomads. They wander the world, falling in love with a succession of strange countries and peoples, eventually settling somewhere very far from where they started out. They are the “local foreigner” you find in may small towns or the source of red hair in a remote Nicaraguan village.

Look out for these people next time you find yourself far from home. They often have fascinating stories, and now they have  a name too….

Kosovo Shmosovo

I have received a number of emails from friends curious to know the inside track on the Kosovo situation from their man on the ground in Serbia.

The problem is that when one is very close to the situation, and are disinterest enough to be able to see the complexities, it become very hard to summarise the story for those watching through the grossly distorted lenses of the infotainment industry (aka the media).

Even though I am not a Serbs, I am emotionally exhausted and drained by the whole topic. I just want it to be over now so the country can move on. That said I owe it to many of you to give you some insights that I have gleaned living in Serbia and having seen the situation close-up for three years. This is my position statement on Kosovo:

The Serbs are rightfully furious. Kosovo has, indeed, been illegally stolen from them by means of gross and illegal violence (the bombing) . They have been bullied by a strongly biased anti-Serb EU and America that cannot admit that they were duped by the terrorist KLA into illegally bombing a sovereign state in defence of Ethnic Nationalist separatists who mostly staged a humanitarian crisis (I say mostly becuase there is no doubt Milosevic’s forces did commit at least some atrocities). The EU and US are violating long-standing and fundamental principles of International Law and diplomacy – Sovereign Equality and Inviolable borders – two pillars of modern stability since World War 2.

States recognising Kosovo insisted that it is not a precedent because it is a “special case”. The reasoning is that supposed crimes committed by the Serbian government against Kosovars have removed Serbia’s right to govern this part of its own country. This reasoning is baseless in law and ignores the fact that those crimes were massively and deliberately exaggerated by orders of magnitude.

Additionally the appalling treatment of minorities by Albanians is ignored. Serbian, Roma and Gorani minorities have suffered much more ethnic violence and deracination than Albanians. By that logic of the EU/US they Albanians have ruled themselves out of governing the province too.

The democratic and pluralist Serbia of 2008 is being punished today for the actions of a deposed and dead dictator, himself an Ethnic Nationalist, acting without proper mandate in a country that violently opposed to him. It is like punishing the people of Iraq for the actions of Saddam Hussein.

The reasons and justifications for NATO intervening in Kosovo in 1999 were utterly baseless and illegal.

The reasons and justifications offered by the EU/US for granting Kosovo independence today are also baseless and illegal. They are desperate to be done with the mess they have created in Kosovo. They are also desperate not to establish a precedent – even though that is exactly exactly what Kosovo is: The intellectual, moral and legal justification that every separatist region of the world was waiting for.

With all that said, here is the shocker: I support Kosovo independence.

As a pro-Serb I find myself in the strange situation of being outraged by the way in which Kosovo was forced from Serbia but at the same time convinced that the best thing may now be to just let it go and move on. If the EU were trying to force Serbia to integrate Kosovo there would be war. When I ask Serbs the simple questions: “Do you really want to have over a million hostile Albanians as citizens of Serbia?” the answer is resoundingly “No”.

I believe you would have 500 year problem if you forced Kosovo back into Serbia. There would be massive community tensions, possibly insurrection and destabilising war. I believe Kosovo is economically untenable and would be a burden to the State of Serbia. I think there is better way, and this is what it is. Since the the people of Kosovo and the people of Serbia will be neighbours forever, some sort of accommodation must eventually be reached. I believe the best chance of that is when both regions are more prosperous and borders are completely open: both in the EU, for example.

If it were done to me (and it is not of course, I support the people of Serbia in what they decide) this is what I would do if I were president of Serbia.

I would endorse full independence and international recognition for the State of Kosovo with a commitment to mutual social and economic development, with the following conditions:

  • Financial compensation to be paid to Serbia for the illegal and wrongful bombing by NATO in 1999
  • EU sponsored recompense for the 400bn of Serbian State assets in Kosovo
  • Full acknowledgement that putative Serbian crimes in Kosovo – and the justifications for the bombing – were massively over stated
  • Full recognition that the Republic of Serbia is surrendering its rightful sovereignty over its province of Kosovo in the interests of peace and stability and with the understanding that its sovereignty and territory is henceforth fixed forever
  • Immediate fast-track accession status for Serbia AND Kosovo into the EU
  • Kosovo to remain a sovereign state until at least 2030, with no option for unifying with neighbours or other secessionist territories.
  • UN/NATO funded peacekeeping mission to guarantee the safety of minorities (Gorani, Roma and Serbs) until 2030 or until the Serbia Parliament agrees to end the mission.
  • World Heritage Status for remaining Serbian Churches and monasteries with permanent guards and protection
  • Harsh hate crime legislation to be part of the Kosovo law guaranteeing safety for all against ethnic violence and sectarian oppression
  • Right of return and/or full restitution for deracinated Serbs, Roma and Gorani
  • 20 year energy and mineral rights concessions for the Republic or Serbia in Kosovo mines
  • Guaranteed investments and structural loans to bootstrap Sustainable Economic Development (Business Process Outsourcing, Renewable Energy, Hi Tech Low Infrastructure Industries)
  • That the EU funds a full transport and infrastructure upgrade to Serbian sections of corridors 10 and 8 to include redundant fibre links to Timishoara, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Budapest and Zagreb
  • Serbia to retain Free Trade Agreements with Russian Federation and the EU with the exclusive right to conduit trade for Serbian manufactured or produced goods
  • A UN/NATO funded Peace and Reconciliation Commission to resolve and finally account for 20th Century Balkan History and end the ludicrous anti-Serb bias in the narrative of the Yugoslav wars and super state institutions like ICTY

This is my best case scenario. Other scenarios – all of them ranging from very unlikely to ludicrous – include:

  • An orgy of separatism and unification, with Kosovo partitioned into Albanian south and Serbian north. Republika Srpska (Serbian part of Bosnia) secedes from Bosnia and formally joins up up with Serbia and Northern Kosovo to form the Greater Serbia of Milosevic’s dreams. Meanwhile Albanians in Macedonia and Montenegro secede and join with Albanian and Souther Kosovo to form a Greater Albania
  • A Cyprus like partitioning with a partly recognised southern Kosovo continuing in limbo for another 20 years
  • Kosovo slips into destitution as a failed mafia state and requests reunification with thriving Serbia
  • Kosovo merges with Albania
  • Russians assist Serbia in forcefully recapturing Kosovo

Here are some other things I have learned from the Kosovo situation:

Population is Destiny.

 

For at least 1000 years Kosovo has been considered by Serbs to be their spiritual heartland. The problem is that the Collins Atlas of World History is right: Half of history is human migration (the other half is mostly population fluctuations and conquest). In Kosovo, these factors went against the Serbs. Due to migration and rapid Albanian population growth, Kosovo’s population became overwhelmingly Albanian in the 20th century and that fact alone made its eventual separation from Serbia inevitable. Population is destiny, and the Serbs in Kosovo once outbred and outnumbered were eventually, and dare I say it, inevitably, deracinated. [NB. It is a little known fact that the biggest number of victims of Ethnic Cleansing are Serbs, with hundreds of thousands of Serbian refugees (or Internally Displaced People) from Croatia and Kosovo still crowded into emergency housing across Serbia.

You reap what is sown in your name

 

Human rights violations carried out in the name of Serbs inflicted enormous damage on the reputation of Serbs and Serbia. A perception took hold that Serbs were genocidal murderers and this (unfair) perception was exploited by Albanian propagandists to devastating effect. If Milosevic has not walked into the KLA trap with his over reacting in Kosovo, there could never have been any global support for Kosovo.

Passivity and learned helplessness blight Serbia

 

Unlike other Balkan peoples, overseas Serbs had no cohesive lobby and even today the Serbian Diaspora is muted and ineffectual. Overseas Serbs are the key to the future of Serbia not only as returnees, but also as global lobbyists and investors in Serbia (via remittances or bankrolling business opportunities). Are they helping? Not that I can see. Currently many overseas Serbs have a contemptuous attitude to their homeland. Those that consider themselves patriots damage the reputation of the country further by fighting at tennis championships or through online abuse. A major problem is resigned passivity, self-pity and Learned Helplessness.

People refuse to vote out corrupt politicians. They lament “Its Serbia brother”, or plead “What can we do”? The answer is “Plenty”. It may just be pure exhaustion and cynicism but Serbs today do not seem to have the energy to tackle their problems forcefully. People put their faith in “The Russians” or prayer or magic. The situation is aggravated by dreadful and self-serving local politicians and a harmful cultural artefact that can only be described as some sort of Martyr Syndrome, a national self-pity that blocks the nation’s healing and stops Serbs account for what happened to them and for what was done in their name. Serbs should stop being furious with Albanians or Americans and direct their fury at  the corrupt political elites who have inflicted disasters on them. The political classes continue to threaten their future with short-termism and political cowardice (i.e. refusing to state publicly what most know and believe, namely that Kosovo is irreversibly lost to Serbia). Until Serbs do something to help themselves , and stop wallowing in self-pity (however justified) , they will continue to languish in limbo.

We have amused ourselves to death

Kosovo has taught us that you do not need an army or nuclear missiles, you only need to fool those who do into taking your side. Neil Postman’s worst nightmare has come to pass. The infotainment industry now drives the world.

I think it may actually be worse, way worse and that William S. Burroughs is right:

“We have a new type of rule now. Not one man rule, or rule of aristocracy, or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who’ve reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push” – William S. Burroughs

Michael Palin in Belgrade

Last November Danica from Belgrade and Beyond posted that famous travel documentary maker Michael Palin was spotted in Belgrade with his crew.

Well the first episode of the resulting series – Michael Palin’s New Europe – went out on the BBC last night and apparently Belgrade comes off brilliantly. As one UK friend commented today on Facebook:

Saw Michael Palin’s new series last night, he was in Belgrade meeting a few people. I was waiting for your face to appear (he was in some club), then he was speaking to some gorgeous gals (so I’m sure you know them). If you can find it anywhere on the internet, have a look. V interesting. Made me want to visit!

That last line is significant. This “made me want to visit” is known as The Palin Effect:

Palin’s programmes on his travels through the Himalayas in 2004 led to a significant increase in trips to the region, according to the adventure operator Intrepid Travel. A spokesman said a similar effect was expected with the start of the new series.

“The great thing about the way Michael Palin travels is that he really gets under the skin of a country; travelling on local transport, staying in traditional accommodation and doing what the locals do,” said Daniel Pawlyn, Intrepid’s UK and Europe sales and marketing manager.

A spokesman for Cox & Kings, which offers tours to several countries in the region, believes the new Palin series could lead to a doubling of the number of people taking tours to destinations such as Bosnia and Romania. [Daily Telegraph]

And Serbia too! Could this be the spur that takes Serbia’s fast growing tourist appeal beyond the tipping point?

My only regret is that the coverage in the papers hardly mentions Serbs or Serbia except to peddle the old guilt inducing platitudes about Bosnia. Virtually no mention of bombing and very little about Belgrade or Serbia in general. Luckily the program speaks for itself.

For more see:

Official BBC website for the show [BBC]

Michael Palin’s New Europe: An Unofficial Fan Center [Site]

Michael Palin’s European frontier – Michael Palin relives the best of his adventures while filming his new television series in the former Eastern Bloc [The Times]

Brave new world – In his latest travel series, Michael Palin journeys to the long-neglected countries of Eastern Europe. He tells Michael Deacon what surprised him most [Daily Telegraph]

Eastern promise – Thought the world held no more surprises for Michael Palin? So did our critic, until she saw him tackle Albania [The Times]

So near and yet so far – Michael Palin has already travelled around the world, from pole to pole and across the Himalayas. Here he explains what drove him to make his latest odyssey, from Estonia to Albania – across the ‘new Europe’ [The Guardian]

Michael Palin’s Official Travel Site [Palin Travel]

The DVD of the series on Amazon.co.uk [Amazon.co.uk]

the gaijin dilemma

an englishman in osaka explains “the gaijin dilemma” or whether to acknowledge other gaijin (Europeans).

I have this problem in Serbia.

There are comparatively few foreigners in Belgrade (compared with other capital cities). As a consequence coming across other foreigners puts added pressure on one to do the expatriate social dance. I actively avoid foreigners here. Most are pretty vile quango types.

It reminds me of when I lived in London in the mid -90s. Meeting a fellow South African was a huge event then. You were instant buddies. As literally thousands of South Africans flooded into the UK after that, they became an embarrassment. I kept encountering the worst sorts from back home but this time on the streets and public transport of London.

I wanted to write to the Foreign Office and ask “Why are you letting these people in? I left the place to get away from them!”

I am dreading the day Belgrade reaches its potential as one of Europe’s best party towns and “Prague-ification” begins. The day I see a stag party composed of English chavs partying in Belgrade, I am out of here.

[Link via Devan from Ban The Internet]

Superb "Wake Me Up" stickers

From the brilliant PopGadget weblog:

wake_me_up_at.jpg

“If you are a late night subway train user, or an early morning commuter, you might find these Wake Me Up At stickers quite handy. Fall safely asleep on the subway and just pray for someone to wake you up on time. Right now the Wake Me Up At stickers are available only for the major stops on the London tube, but the pack also contains some empty stickers on which you can write your own stop. If these stickers prove to be successful, I am sure it won’t be too long before a New York version is offered.

Wake Me Up At stickers can be ordered directly from www.wakemeupat.com

Pirates foiled by sonic blast

Cruise ship Britons attacked by pirates -Sunday Times

A LUXURY cruise ship with 22 British tourists aboard survived an attack by Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades yesterday as it rounded the Horn of Africa.

The 10,000-ton Seabourn Spirit came under fire at about 5.30am. The pirates approached in 25ft speedboats and shot at the ship with the grenade launcher and machineguns. Terrified passengers watched as the pirates tried to get aboard — only to be repelled by crew members who set off what one described as a “loud bang”.

…The liner used a sonic blaster to foil the pirates. Developed by American forces to deter small boats from attacking warships, the non-lethal weapon sends out high-powered air vibrations that blow assailants off their feet. The equipment, about the size of a satellite dish, is rigged to the side of the ship.

Walking super site

Walkingworld – Discover over 2800 walks in the UK.

Walkingworld is “Britain’s largest online walking guide. This is the place where over 180 local contributors share their favourite routes with you. There are more than 2,800 to choose from. Every walk comes with an easy-to-follow photographic guide and an Ordnance Survey map. You print them out yourself on A4 paper, so you never need carry a bulky guidebook again. You also get digital mapping files for easy export to your GPS.

Go to Find a Walk and click on the map of Britain or enter your postcode for the easy search for walks within 50 miles. For a more specific search click on the Advanced Search link and select a walk by area, walk grade, length or particular features. “

How-to: Get IT certified for less in an exotic location

Spotted this on a list I subscribe to and thought to pass it on.

Want to get some new IT qualifications? Why not attend an IT Certification Bootcamp in Goa, India?

Koenig is now the # 1 choice for Boot Camp training in the world. We offer the world’s longest duration Boot Camps (our MCSE Boot Camp runs for 50 days). We offer one-on-one training which will allow you to have individual attention of an expert trainer for the entire Boot Camp. We also offer exotic locations for training – Goa Beach and Himalaya Mountains.

The cost of our training boot camps is less than 50% of what these certifications cost in the USA, Europe, Australia, and other countries (including cost of travel).

We provide boot camp training programs for MCSE, MCSA, MCDST, MCAD (C#,and Vb.net), MCSD (C# and Vb.net), MCDBA, RHCE, CCNA, CCNP, Pix Firewall, Citrix CCA, CCEA, CISSPÆ Sun Java SCJP, SCWCD, J2EE, SCBCD, SCDJWS, Java Struts, Oracle OCA, OCP, CompTIA A+, Network+, Project+, Security+, Novell CLP and Check Point CCSA & CCSE NG Certifications & EC-Council CEH. New certifications are being added every month.

…Our boot camp packages include course fee, exam fees, Hotel stay, all meals, airport transfers, and other amenities during the class.

Worth a look if your seeking a bootcamp experience.

[Update: Spotted this recently: Geek Cruises. Apparently you can go on a cruise whilst enjoying classes on Photoshop and OSX etc etc].