Europe

Escape from New York

By Andrej Mrevlje |
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How does one decide to visit Ireland? I have friends who did it out of their newly discovered passion for golf. And I remember the late president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, who went to Ireland every summer and praised Irish literature and Guinness. But although he was a man of letters, Cossiga was always full of secrets and cover-up stories, so we can’t be sure what he was really up to in Ireland. He spent most of the time in Dublin, so it might well be that he was paying  visits to his friends, members of the Irish Freemason Lodge.

Then there are my compatriots who, when I asked them what Ireland was like, told me that it was very similar to our country, Slovenia. And last but not least, there are my Irish friends. But none of them — not a single one of them — ever told me that I should come and visit Ireland. The Irish are modest. They love their country and they want to keep it to themselves. And like all smart people, they are also gossipy.

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America

White House Dream

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Trump and Hillary

For Hillary Rodham Clinton, clinching the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination seemed equivalent to crossing a torrential river. The closing image from convention in Philadelphia last month showed her on the other side of that river in much jubilation. The newly confirmed Democratic presidential nominee played with balloons, relaxed and happy. Dressed in paper white — as if to evoke her innocence — and immersed in hundreds of balloons, she seemed to be walking on air, a triumphant expression plastered across her face. It was a perfect, Hollywood-like scene — one of a dream that shows an elderly woman returning to a happy childhood, a recurring dream that finally turned into a reality. Hillary actually uses another metaphor for her great, long-desired achievement: now that she has managed to shatter that glass ceiling, the sky’s the limit. She was flying. She was in heaven. Perfect.

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America

Speechless Melania

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 2.25.43 PM

Damn — she almost made it! The world was waiting for her, and then — an hour after most of the media had decided that they liked Melania Knauss’s speech for making her husband look more human — the truth came out. It was not Melania’s speech, but rather the speech of the unbeatable, spontaneous, smart, charming Michelle Obama, the real first lady of the United States. One only has to watch Michelle’s most recent video performance for Mother Jones to get a sense of the difference between the two women. This hip-hop video that the first lady starred in surfaced just two days after Melania’s plagiarism. It gives an implicit but fierce critique of the wannabe first lady — Donald Trump’s 46-year-old third wife — who copied the most inspiring part of the speech that Michelle Obama gave in 2008 when she introduced her husband, Barack Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.

While the criticism and ridicule of Melania are so devastating that they have probably silenced Melania for the rest of her husband’s campaign, this story is also significant.

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China

Beijing wants its own Dalai Lama

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Zhou Enlai, 10th Panchen  Lama, Mao Zedong, 14th Dalai Lama and Liu Shaoqi during talks in Beijing in 1955.  Dalai Lama, 81, is the only  person still alive .Zhou Enlai, 10th Panchen Lama, Mao Zedong, 14th Dalai Lama and Liu Shaoqi during talks in Beijing in 1955. Dalai Lama, 81, is the only person still alive .

In a move that started the final round of the fight for the succession of Tibet’s current charismatic spiritual leader, Beijing made clear that it wants to set its own rules and call the shots for the now 81-year-old Dalai Lama. According to an AP report from Beijing, “China’s hand-picked Panchen Lama is presiding over a key Buddhist ritual being held in Tibet for the first time in 50 years, in a move criticized by overseas Tibetan groups as an attempt to legitimize him as a religious leader.

“The second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism was present for the Kalachakra instructions that began Thursday morning at his home monastery in southwestern Tibet, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The report said an estimated 50,000 Buddhists were attending the four-day event.”

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, confirms this report in a way that makes the whole ceremony sound like a list of colorful facts.

Well, it’s not. Things are much more complex, and they’ve been this way at least since 1995, when the present Dalai Lama nominated a six-year-old Tibetan boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, as the reincarnation of 11th Panchen Lama — the second most important figure in Tibetan religion, after the Dalai Lama himself. Beijing disagreed with the choice, and imposed its will by installing its own boy, Gyaincain Norbu, and at the same time making Gedhun Choekyi disappear. The fate of young Choekyi is surrounded by mystery, while the robust and healthy looking reincarnation of the Panchen Lama chosen by Beijing — who is also a member of various government bodies controlled by the Chinese Communist Party — is presiding over an important religious ceremony with the pomp of the government in Beijing. Read more »

America

How America is Killing Itself

By Andrej Mrevlje |
guns and flag

Every time I hear of a mass shooting, I try not to watch or read the news about it. I wish I could close my eyes and wake up sometime in the future, after American society has become aware of the fact that these kinds of massacres will continue unless we eliminate guns from the streets. I still hope that one day this country will have enough guts to face this problem, and that — on that day — society will act accordingly.

But in spite of the rapidly increasing number of victims of gun violence — a number that includes many children — a solution is not even close to being put into practice. The lives of six-year-old children in Sandy Hook and churchgoers in Charleston are being sacrificed on the altar of the constitutional right to use a lethal weapon. Based on what? On an innate passion for shooting and killing? As this seems to be an ideal that America defends strongly, I am afraid that this country will never lay down arms in exchange for a safer, gun-free society.  Read more »

America

Pokemon Occupy Trump Tower

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Pikachu  in Trump TowerPikachu in Trump Tower

A few days ago, I was passing Trump Tower, and I got curious enough to walk in and snoop around. The last time I was in that place was in late’80s, when everything on Fifth Avenue was booming. The Rizzoli bookshop was still there, and the place was a sort of enclave of privilege and wealth. This was during a brief period of my life when I switched from the life of a scholar to that of a businessman — a lifestyle in which I travelled to countries like Japan and the U.S. I remember that I was staying in the Peninsula Hotel, where I first watched CNN — at the time unknown in Europe. Cable TV was a sign that the world was changing. Fast.   Read more »

China

Old China Hands Gather at Home

By Andrej Mrevlje |
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“The United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered its final ruling Tuesday in a case between the Philippines and China over disputed maritime claims in the South China Sea. …

As expected, the panel ruled in favor of the Philippines and determined that China has no legal basis to claim rights to the majority of the South China Sea. But there is no mechanism to enforce the ruling. And China quickly rejected the decision, with some in the Chinese establishment hinting at possible retaliation,” the Council on Foreign Relations reported on Wednesday.

The situation is becoming a focal point of world tensions. The author of the report also published a longer version of it in the Huffington Post. It makes for comprehensive reading on the evolvement of a situation that Yonder has been following over the past year.

However, this news allows me to add a little promising note: a new website, SupChina, which launched a few months ago and has so far functioned as an aggregate of news about China, has been reinforced by a podcast called Sinica, which is run by the duo Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn. Both have recently returned from China, where they spent more than two decades working and reporting. With Sinica, SupChina is gaining a bit of its own voice, and is no longer just a collection of mainstream news reports. It is interesting to note that two other reporters participated at the U.S. launch of Sinica — Gady Epstein from the Economist and independent writer and producer Mary Kay Magistad, two experts on China who have also recently returned from the country. So while we are losing some precious voices and reporters in China, let’s hope that publications like SupChina can use their experience and knowledge to create a dialogue in China from afar as ChinaFile is already doing it. Sinica’s launch within SupChina contained a good debate on the decision by the United Nations Court of Arbitration, and should be published as a separate podcast soon, I hope. It is definitely worth a listen.

Space

Turn off CNN, Watch out for Juno

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Nasa: Jupiter Orbit Insertion. SimulationNasa: Jupiter Orbit Insertion. Simulation

At noon on the Fourth of July, Jim Greene, Director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters, was looking tense. But nevertheless, he managed to open his briefing with a cheerful voice that seemed to mimic that of Steve Jobs announcing a new product: ”What a wonderful day to celebrate; it is not only  a milestone for our country (Independence Day) but is a milestone for planetary science…”

Green was speaking about the moment, 12 hours before, when NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully reached the end of its five-year journey and began orbiting Jupiter.

In a dimly lit room, with what seemed to be heavy blue velvet curtains preventing any ray of “Jupiter” light from penetrating the scientific chapel, an air of solemnity reigned as four apostles of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained the deep secrets of our universe. Aside from Green, there were Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator; Rick Nybakken, Juno’s project manager; and Mission Assurance Sensor Lead Heidi Becker, the team’s radiation effects expert. The four of them were very serious, and more than nervous — they were scared about what Juno might tell them about Jupiter. Is Jupiter a failed star? Planets like Jupiter are almost indistinguishable from brown dwarfs — stars that are often called “failed” for being too small to produce energy by way of fusion. Or is Jupiter the father of our Earth in a biblical sense? A sense in which the Lord God (Sun) made Woman (Earth) from the rib he had taken out of Man (Jupiter). Will Juno send us the recipe of the solar system before it will deorbit and disintegrate in space in October 2017? Is humanity ready to know the truth?  Read more »

Rome

Il Barbiere di Roma

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Antica Barberia PeppinoAntica Barberia Peppino

During my recent visit to Rome, I called my old barber shop and asked for Piero. Having been away for two years, I was afraid that Piero Migliacci — the owner of the Antica Barberia Peppino in the heart of Rome, just a few blocks from Piazza di Spagna — might not immediately recognize me, and might not give me an appointment, which I needed desperately before I flew back to New York.

“Come no, mi ricordo benissimo, la telefonata di Pechino, e’ vero?” Piero said when he answered the phone — “Sure, I remember well — a call from Beijing, right?” He gave me an appointment two hours later. Not really sure what that phone call from Beijing meant, I walked to the Barberia at the hour that would normally be reserved for lunch break in Rome — a siesta, especially in a summer time. As I opened the door and greeted him, Piero lifted both hands, holding scissors and a comb that had previously been working through the hair of a customer seated in the comfortable chair in front of the barber.  Read more »

Slovenia

Melania Revisited

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Melanija Knavs, alias Melania  Trump, age 16.
Photo: Stane JerkoMelanija Knavs, alias Melania Trump, age 16. Photo: Stane Jerko

My piece last week, Gone on the Trump Train, from the Slovenian hometown of Mrs. Donald Trump (a.k.a Melania Knauss) prompted some unexpected reactions. They were all positive. I was expecting polarized reactions at least from Slovenia, my country of birth, where opinions about Melania seemed to be as divided as the votes of Republicans and Democrats in this country.

This week, I got a letter from an online friend who I’d love to meet while I was in Slovenia, since she lives close to the town where the Knavs family is from. The timing didn’t work out, so I asked her if she could write me a note on the Melania phenomenon. Ines Drame is an experienced advertiser and adviser. She knows about product, and how to sell and promote. She was kind enough to solicit opinions from patrons at local beauty parlors about how they viewed the potential Slovenian First Lady of the U.S. Read more »

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