Good Friday

Good Friday is the day of the year when Catholics try to show that they can be just as crazy and silly as members of most other religions. In the Philippines, some people beat themselves until they bleed, others re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Philippines flagellation Easter 1

Philippines flagellation Easter 2

Philippines flagellation Easter 3

Philippines flagellation Easter 4

Philippines crucifixion Easter 2

Philippines crucifixion Easter 1

No, this religion can’t be very good for one’s (mental) health.

(Hier geht es zur deutschsprachigen Fassung.)

Posted in Health, Religion | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Film Review: “Argo”

When I was in prison in Iran in 2009, I was hoping for somebody like Tony Mendez to burst open the door to my cell and to whisk me to a waiting helicopter. Except that I hadn’t heard of him at the time and that I would have dismissed stories of hostage-rescue missions in Iran as fiction. But then in 2012, the movie Argo came out with a dramatized version of CIA operation Canadian Caper. In 1979, when Iran had taken all personnel at the US Embassy in Tehran hostage, six US diplomats had managed to escape during the storming of the embassy compound. They were hiding in the house of the Canadian ambassador in Tehran.

CIA film poster for "Argo".

CIA film poster for “Argo”.

As the old saying goes, “life itself writes the best stories”, but you could add that the CIA writes even better ones. Considering “a lot of crazy ideas,” as they say in the film, they focus on “the best crazy idea”. The cover for the exfiltration of the American diplomats was to be a fake Hollywood movie, called Argo. The CIA set up a film production company, rented offices, printed posters, took out ads in magazines, gave press conferences about the science fiction film. There was even a full script. Tony Mendez, the CIA operative (played by Ben Affleck), was to fly to Tehran and use fake Canadian passports to present the six diplomats as location scouts for the upcoming fictitious film Argo. The goal was to leave by plane after a few days, directly under the watchful eyes of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The film is basically a thriller, and quite a good one at that, but you may also regard it as a period piece about the late 70s, with ugly haircuts, wide ties, huge glasses, sideburns, fax machines and Dream On by Aerosmith. It also provides an accurate depiction of Tehran, the bustling city, its bazaar and the beautiful snow-covered mountain range you see when flying into the city. In today’s world of the NSA reading your e-mails, it is an homage to the good old times of real espionage when operatives risked their lives, protected only by a ludicrous cover. Although you might know how the story ends, the film is captivating and fast-paced. The final scene at the airport (which is fictional) brought back the stressful memory of my own escape from Iran under circumstances similar to those depicted in the film.

I have read some criticism about Argo along the lines that Iranians were being unfairly depicted in a bad light, and I disagree. The Iranian housekeeper of the Canadian ambassador protects the houseguests. When Iranian students storm the US Embassy, there are plenty of Iranians being shown who are at the embassy, applying for visas to get to the USA, thus symbolizing the rift that went through Iranian society in 1979 (and does until today to some extent) between those in favor and those against the Islamic Revolution and the governing system that grew out of it. That the occupiers of the US embassy and the Revolutionary Guards are portrayed as menacing is simply accurate. They were and they are. There is a reason why millions of Iranians have fled their own country since 1979 and continue doing so until today. It is an indisputable fact that taking 52 Americans hostage for 444 days soured Iran-US relations for decades to come, much more to the detriment of Iranians than that of Americans.

Argo can be accused of taking some artistic license, but it clearly does so in an effort to be a good thriller, not a work of propaganda. The intro to the film even provides an overview of Iran’s history before the Islamic Revolution, pointing out that the CIA was involved in a coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh in 1953 and that the USA and other Western nations had propped up the dictatorship of the Shah. As far as I can tell, the promised Iranian cinematic response to Argo has not yet been released.

Posted in Films, History, Iran, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What People on Twitter think about Me

kill yourself

Twitter Andreas Moser idiot

To be continued, I assume.

Yes, I thought that some people couldn’t stop themselves:

Korea advanced

Posted in Technology | Tagged | 10 Comments

The most segregated place in America

Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 put an end to all official segregation, there are still some places in the USA where black and white Americans don’t mix very much.

I have often heard that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America, with most churches recruiting their flock from one race only. But in my experience, the most segregated places are barber shops (not only in America, by the way).

black barber shop

I once stayed with some friends in Harlem for a week and went to get a haircut. I stepped into a barber shop, uttered a greeting, and at least 10 dark-skinned heads turned towards me, looking surprised. (I am white.) “How can I help you?” the guy who looked like the head barber asked, breaking the silence after a few seconds during which people kept staring at me. He sounded as if he expected me to ask for directions to the AA meeting. “I would like to get a haircut, if it’s possible,” I explained my presence. The barber was shocked, although one would assume that providing haircuts was the purpose of the institution I had stepped into.

When my turn had come, the barber was noticeably at unease with my hair. He cut away tiny portions, not making much of a difference, and worked very slowly, as if he was afraid of committing a mistake. I tried to encourage him to cut a bit more. “It grows back quite quickly,” I reassured him as if talking about a species of plants he had never seen before. In the end, I paid the 10 $ more for the experience and the conversation because my hair pretty much looked the same. When I got home, I used an electric razor to cut the rest myself.

A year later I lived in Tottenham in London and visited another barber shop which was run and frequented by blacks only. It was simply the closest barber shop to my house. I wore a suit on my first visit and earned scared looks when I stepped into the little shop. “Are you here for the taxes?” was the welcome I encountered. I was happy to negate that. “No, I am just here for a haircut,” I replied, adding my hopefully reassuring smile. The first haircut took around 45 minutes, which is about three times as long as it should. Still, I became a regular. After about half a year, I saw another white client, and I thought to myself “progress at last in the fight against segregation”.

Posted in London, Travel, UK, USA | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Europe, still divided

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, Europe has grown together. Countries which didn’t even exist as independent states back then are now member states of EU and NATO. The European Union reaches all the way to the Gulf of Finland and the Black Sea. Erasmus students move around all of Europe to study party.    Trade is flourishing. The European Union wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

So everything is great, the continent united, with freedom flourishing everywhere?

Unfortunately not. Because in one important aspect, Europe is still divided into east and west. Like the erstwhile Iron Curtain, there is a line across Europe, beyond which civil rights are not well respected, where people are treated worse, and sometimes suffer right-out abuse, because of their personal characteristics. The rights of homosexuals, the great civil rights issue of our time, separates the continent like freedom of the press and freedom of speech once did.

ILGA, the international association working for equal rights for gays and lesbians, bi- and transsexuals, has published an index showing the implementation of equal rights for homosexuals (as of May 2013).

ILGA rainbow map 2013Within Europe, the east and the southeast of the continent clearly have some catching up to do, even among countries within the EU. My own experience in Lithuania confirms this. Germany has an average rating, which is not exactly anything to be proud of when comparing it with the other western EU member states.

But what really shocked me was the ranking of Italy, where I currently live. Among the large western-European states, Italy is the only major negative outlier, lying not only at but even below the level of eastern Europe. If even non-EU countries like Georgia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania offer a higher level of equal rights, then something is foul in Italy.

(Diesen Artikel gibt es auch auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Europe, Family Law, Human Rights, Italy, Law, Maps, Politics | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Easily Confused (33) Erasmus students

Young Europeans wasting their lives in 1914:

World War 1 Flanders fields dead

Young Europeans wasting their lives in 1944:

Wehrmacht Kindersoldaten

Young Europeans wasting their lives in 2014:

Flyer.CDRAs much as I question what Erasmus students do during their time abroad, in light of the above comparison even I have to acknowledge the improvement over previous generations.

(Hier geht es zum gleichen Beitrag auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Death, Education, Europe, History, Life, World War II | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Diplomatic Breakthrough in Crimea

After weeks of failing communication between the great powers and after the world had come dangerously close to World War III Cold War II, international negotiators reached an agreement on Sunday night after a Summit Meeting on Crimea.

Yalta_summit_1945_with_Churchill,_Roosevelt,_Stalin(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Beitrags.)

Posted in Cold War, History, Politics, World War II | Tagged , , | 3 Comments