Category Archives: Random Facts

Getting to the Roof of the World

If you have ever climbed a mountain, you know how it feels. As you go up, your body starts to feel heavier, your lungs have less and less air, and it may even happen that your head gets a bit dizzy. Yet, the feeling of accomplishment after a great effort, and the happiness of being able to grasp the world from a little bit higher, are even more breathtaking – in a good sense. Being able to exceed oneself and also to defy nature, while being more in contact with it, motivates many people to climb mountains. 

Today, the ultimate destination for this type of adrenaline-seekers remains Mount Everest, in the Himalayas, despite the fact that this mountain range has other incredibly difficult peaks, such as the K2 or the Lhotse. 

Rising 8 848 meters above the sea level, only those who have made it to the top can imagine the effort that it takes to get there. Research says that the risks that one faces while climbing the Everest are as high as traveling to space… Faced with the mountain, we understand how little we are.

It is thus no wonder that many do lose their lives while trying to get to the top, something which is more and more shown by the media. Today, getting to Mount Everest is not as hard as it was thirty years ago. If you have money (knowing that an expedition can cost between 50 000$ to 100 000$) and have already climbed other peaks, it is quite normal that you attempt this adventure, regardless of your actual skills and strength to endure the journey. 

While in 1980, around 200 people attained the Base Camp (which reaches around 5 000 meters, depending if your are climbing the North face or the South face) per year, today, around 1 000 people get there. Half of those are generally able to get to the top. After 8 000 meters you enter the “Death Zone”, where oxygen is only 33% of that available at sea level. You can use oxygen masks, but even so it is not an easy task.

If the number of deaths per climb has not increased since 1980 (it has decreased), there are still far too many risks and most of them are actually caused by excess of people on the mountain. You can only climb Everest during a certain period of the year. Thus, hundreds of people make the toughest climb in the world in a very short period of time, something which is not sustainable for the mountain itself and carries great risk for those involved. Many deaths are caused by simple accidents due to excessive weight in sensitive areas, or avalanches and other natural causes, as was recently the case with the 16 Nepalese sherpas who died, in the most deadliest day ever on Mount Everest. This accident is even more a shame because these sherpas were trying to help less-experienced climbers to get to the top, and it is not the first. When bad weather strikes, people have to wait to make the final climb, which leads sometimes hundreds of people to make the final meters at the same time when the weather clears up. 

Climbers going to the top (Source: National Geographic Magazine)
Climbers going to the top (Source: National Geographic Magazine)

Beyond this, the mountain is more and more polluted by the debris that these expeditions leave behind. From oxygen tanks to simple garbage, to human bodies (because you can hardly recover the bodies of those who die after the Base Camp), Everest has become a wasteland (there are up to 10 tons of waste in the mountain). Besides the work that is already done by some sherpas, Nepalese authorities are now demanding that climbers come down with a few kilos of trash.

Sherpas cleaning Mount Everest (Source: Asia News)
Sherpas cleaning Mount Everest (Source: Asia News)

As some claim, as it is, Mount Everest is a mess

If we are to preserve this amazing beauty and richness for future generations, climbing mountains (particularly the Everest) ought to have more regulation and restrictions. Not only for the sake of the mountain, but also for the sake of the people who depend on it for a living, and of those who want to explore it.

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The Lord’s Resistance Army

We are sure you all remember when, in the year of 2012, Jason Russell, an American filmmaker, brought us Kony 2012 a documentary of 30 minutes criticizing the rebel leader Joseph Kony and the violences perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army, while calling for an international protest against these latter.

Although the film was technically well made and Jason Russell has the merit of being the founder of the Invisible Children’s organization, it received worldwide criticism for over-simplifying the situation and for giving misleading information to the public (apart from asking for a monetary contribution to “fight” Kony). In the midst of polemics, the Kony issue faded away.

So what really is the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and what has it become since 2012?

The story of the LRA starts with Kony himself. Joseph Kony is an Ugandan of the Acholi ethnic group, who from an early age was raised in a religious and Christian environment. When in 1986, Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Army took power in Uganda (where he remained ever since), several members of the Acholi revolted against him, since the former President had been a member of their ethnic group. Furthermore, during the Ugandan Bush War (1981-1986), Museveni and his supporters had committed several crimes against the population as well.

Hence, at that time, Alice Lakwena, supposedly a relative of Kony, founded the Holy Spirit Movement a rebel group intended at ousting Museveni from power. Although the movement was crashed by the government, in 1987 Kony auto-proclaimed himself “prophet” of the Acholi people and took the command of the Holy Spirit Movement, which was later renamed the “Lord’s Resistance Army”.

Initially, the LRA enjoyed support in the North of Uganda, where an important part of the Acholi are settled in. Nevertheless, as support faded and resources got smaller, the LRA began to rob and sack the local populations. In the meantime, Kony combined traditional mysticism with religious beliefs to justify his acts.

In 1994, Sudan began to support the LRA, because Uganda was supporting Sudanese rebels. This was important for the movement to gain more strength, but it led Kony to pursue even more his quest for power, wishing to reestablish a new government in Uganda which would, paradoxically, be based on the Ten Commandments. Thus, the LRA began to terrorize the Ugandan population, based on the “prophecies” Kony said he received in his dreams. Torture, murders, mutilations, rapes and sacs became what the LRA was known for. Furthermore, they abducted many children and “brainwashed” them, in order to turn them into soldiers or slaves in the service of the LRA. Apparently, Kony would tell children that drinking Holy water would make them invincible to any attack and if they resisted the brainwash they were beaten to death by other children. According to several organizations, at least 30 000 children would have fallen prey to the LRA.

This led to the displacement of at least 2 million people inside Uganda, which pushed the government to create security camps in 1996, where the populations could hide and, especially, children.

In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the capture of Kony, which led Sudan to withdraw all its support to the LRA and pushed Kony to the negotiation table with Uganda in 2006. Nevertheless, for fear of being captured Kony almost never showed up to the different scheduled meetings, and the negotiations dragged on for years without the signature of a peace agreement. Eventually, Kony and the LRA mostly left Uganda, for the jungles in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Southern Sudan and to the Central African Republic. There, they pursued the atrocities that they had been committing already for years in Uganda.

Although there has been the Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008, a military operation led by different countries to try to stop the LRA, it was a total failure, not having been able to put a stop to the LRA and only driving it further into clandestinity. In retaliation, Kony ordered even more attacks by the LRA against local populations in all these central-African countries afore mentioned.

No one really knows where Kony is physically located right now, but in any case it is certain that the LRA is still causing a lot of damage, particularly in the Central African Republic and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Therefore, despite the criticism that could be addressed towards Kony 2012, it is undeniable that the Lord’s Resistance Army has committed brutal and barbarian acts all around the centre of Africa. In this article by The Independent, you can see some shocking photos of victims of the LRA. Also, the LRA Crisis Tracker is a good way to have an idea of the attacks perpetrated by this movement.

2014 World Cup: hopes and fears

Back in 2007, when Brazil was elected unchallenged as host nation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it all seemed so promising: Lula da Silva had just secured his second term as president, new oil discoveries had been made, and the economy was booming. Despite the huge logistical and infrastructural challenges it entailed, few questioned whether Brazil would be able to pull it off. Just under two years later, the country received yet another vote of confidence, with Rio de Janeiro confirmed as the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. O país do futebol (or the country of football) e do Carnaval (and Carnival) was on the right track.

In 2010, Brazil’s economy grew at its fastest pace in 24 years, with a 7.5 percent surge. But fast forward to June 2013, and what you see is the largest series of protests in a generation, with more than one million people taking to the streets of several Brazilian cities during the Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for this summer’s event. What was triggered by bus and metro fare hikes quickly escalated into widespread riots and discontent over a number of issues, including political corruption, poor public services and a rise in inflation.

In a nutshell, rapid economic growth brought along a “new middle class” that demands more than consumer goods. It wants to ensure its high income tax money goes into decent healthcare, security, education and housing. As The Economist put it at the time, “the marches are a sign that they are waking up to the fact that they pay taxes and deserve decent public services, not just shiny stadiums.”

According to the AFP, Brazil is spending more than $11 billion (eight billion euros) to host the World Cup, which many Brazilians would rather see spent on public service improvements. The fact that the run-up to the world’s largest sporting event has been marked by several construction malfunctions, accidents and delays is only adding fuel to the fire. Last November, part of the Itaqueirão stadium, where the opening match will take place, fell over and killed two workers (the death toll is now at six). This week, parts from the roof of the Mineirão stadium fell onto the pitch during a storm, just hours before a regional championship match.

But is it all so bad? Of course not. Let’s remember that, over the last decade, more than 30 million people in Brazil have gone from poverty to the consuming classes. And while growth has slowed significantly, Brazil’s economy grew 0.7% in the last quarter of last year, which  according to Finance Minister Guido Mantega, “was a surprise even for the government.”

But president Dilma Rousseff, whose approval rating has recently fallen for the first time in seven months, can’t just put a band-aid on the nation’s underlying issues by stepping up security and hoping for the best, for that might not be enough to manage tensions in the long-term. That is, however, what seems to be happening in the country.

“I think at the end of the day Brazil’s image in the world will be determined by what people see in the World Cup,” Brazil’s deputy Sports Minister Luis said Fernandes at a press conference in the southern coastal city of Florinopolis. So we’ll have to wait and see if this will be a peaceful World Cup, and, as FIFA President Sepp Blatter puts it, pray to “God, Allah, whoever” to ensure everything is ready on time.

What is happening in the Central African Republic

Since the end of 2013 the international press has devoted a lot of attention to the Central African Republic. Many claim that it is currently the stage of an ethnic cleansing of the Muslim part of the population. After some reading we discovered that what is happening in the Central African Republic is quite complicated and is inherently linked to the country’s historic background.

The Central African Republic is a former French colony that, due to being landlocked, was never at the forefront of France’s interests. Nevertheless, the country is extremely rich in natural resources such as uranium, of which France is a great consumer, as well as diamonds, oil and gold. When it became independent in 1960, France had left little to no infrastructures that could be of use for the future of the country.

With independence came the first president, David Dacko, who quickly created a one-party State. His ruling did not last long as in 1965 Jean-Bedel Bokassa, his army commander, made a coup d’Etat backed by French forces. With a bankrupted State, Bokassa first proclaimed himself “President for life” and then “Emperor” of the “Central African Empire”, starting a brutal and eccentric ruling that would last until 1979. In 1979 came a backlash as David Dacko himself – supported by France – made a coup to dethrone Bokassa.

The Central African Republic continued to suffer from a series of coups, fraudulent elections and military rulings for years, which ultimately turned it into a failed State not able to provide for its population’s basic needs. Besides this, several rebel groups, driven by the most diverse motivations, have raided the country in the past decades.

The current crisis is the result of this history of instability and weakness of the State. In 2003, the country suffered another coup by François Bozizé, who would become Central African Republic’s president. Through fraudulent elections in 2005 and 2011, he was able to maintain himself in power, but with a corrupt government he was unable to do any good for his country. That is how the latest coup d’Etat and rebellion came to be.

Michel Djotodia, who had been part of the administration of the country, had also participated in several rebel groups. Then, in mid-2012, he founded the Séléka alliance, a coalition of several political parties and rebel forces that opposed the ruling of Bozizé. What is particular in this alliance is that it was mainly composed of Muslims (some of them being ex-rebels from Chad), in a country where almost 80% of the population is Christian.

Believing that pushing Bozizé out of power would be the best for the country, Djotodia and the Séléka alliance rapidly took control of part of the country. In March 2013, Djotodia was proclaiming himself President of the Central African Republic (the country’s first Muslim president), in the midst of international condemnation, and promising to integrate the rebels of the Séléka into his government.

However, the Séléka was a multi-faceted group, with members with different interests and aspirations. Not having anything else to fight for, or at least a common cause, many of the rebels started to attack villages, looting, killing and raping people. Since most of the population in the Central African Republic is christian, it seemed that Muslims were attacking Christians during the second half of 2013. Although Djotodia proclaimed that Séléka members should drop their weapons and proceed to peace, most of them no longer took orders from the President, and continued with the violences.

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This is how the Anti-Balaka militias took arms. These civil militias have existed since 2009 in the Central African Republic, as a means for the population to defend itself from aggressors. Yet, in 2013, they started to organize themselves to fight against Séléka members, something that ultimately degenerated into an open onslaught of the Muslim part of the population.

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All these conflicts have led to the displacement of at least 950,000 people. The State administration has not enough power to protect the people or put an end to the violence. In October 2013, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution allowing for a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed to the country, where French and African Union’s forces were already present, in order to try to pacify the situation. Eventually, Djotodia resigned in January 2014 giving way to an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza.

Yet, the violence continues. Nevertheless, one should be careful while analyzing the conflict. It goes beyond an ethnic conflict. The Central African Republic was never known for having problems between its Christian and Muslim communities. Now, as it does, some say that international intervention should be careful to be impartial in this civil war. Privileging a group or another will be negative for any peaceful outcome. The violence against the Muslim community can become very problematic if Islamist movements start to take advantage from this; present in Nigeria and Chad, neighboring countries of the Central African Republic, they will be quick to gather new recruits for their cause.

Mostly, the international forces, specially French, must be ready to do the hard work that comes after peace: rebuilding a true State, able to enforce law and order and to provide for its population.

5 things you should know about Sochi Winter Olympics

As the 2014 Winter Games are well under way in Sochi, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, check out some of the often bizarre facts about the most expensive Olympics in history, from state corruption to new winter sports events to look out for over the next couple of weeks.

1 – World’s most expensive Olympics

With a staggering $51 billion price tag, Putin’s games go into the record books as the costliest games ever held. That’s more than three times than the 2012 London Games and it even beats the $40 billion record of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing – even though the Winter Olympics “involve fewer athletes (2,500 vs. 11,000), fewer events (86 vs. 300), and fewer venues (15 vs. 40).”

Many observers say corruption is to blame, including in the provisions of services and facilities as well as mismanagement of funds, with builders alleging inflated costs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sochi’s ready though, with the media hotels being one of the most embarrassing and tweeted debacles – you may not be able to find the lobby because it simply doesn’t exist yet, as this article illustrates.

2 – Twelve new winter sports 

That’s right, twelve winter sports events across eight disciplines have made their debut at Sochi, including women’s ski jump after the longest campaign for inclusion, snowboard slopestyle and team figure skating. Such a packed programme makes these the largest version of the winter Olympiads to date, calling for an extra day of competition, too.

3 – Anti-gay “propaganda” law casts a shadow over the games

Last June the Russian parliament unanimously passed a much contested federal law banning gay “propaganda”, which makes it illegal to distribute material on gay rights as well as to equate straight and gay relationships. As you would expect, this angered rights activists worldwide.

While the several world leaders who declared they would not be attending the games – including the US, UK and Germany – did not confirm they are protesting against the anti-gay law, their absence has been widely interpreted as a clear signal against Russia’s crackdown on the LGBT community. One should not assume the decision is politically motivated, however, since the winter games are not considered a must-attend event. UK prime-ministers don’t usually attend the winter Olympiads, for example.

4 – The dog killing policy 

Stray dogs have become one of the main peculiarities of the Sochi games, as thousands roam the streets of the pearl of the ‘Russian Riviera’ and even make friends with ski icons. So when the director of a pest control firm told the Associated Press that his company had a contract to exterminate stray dogs throughout the Olympics, the news didn’t sit too well with animal rights groups. It is thought that, since their eradication began in October, approximately 300 dogs have been killed every month.

Even Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who could not be more pro-Russia, didn’t feel so good about the dog killing policy, so he funded a rescue effort through his charity organisation. And wherever you are in the world, you can adopt a Sochi dog, but “please be aware that costs for transport of a pet can range from USD $150 to $2000 or more, based on accommodation and airline”. Ouch.

5 – Meteorite medals 

Ten gold winners will receive pieces of a Chelyabinsk meteorite embedded in their commemorative medals, one year after the meteor crashed into a lake in central Russia. Forty additional cosmic medals will be sold to private collectors. The meteorite, which injured more than 1,000 people, “glowed 30 times brighter than the sun” and “delivered the biggest astronomical punch felt on earth in the century” according to National Georgraphic.

Super Bowl: What is it all about?

The Super Bowl is the result of a merger between the two American football leagues that existed in 1969: the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football Leagues. Both leagues were renamed into conferences, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC), both of them are now part of the NFL. After each season, the winner of the AFC faces the winner of the NFC in what has become the Super Bowl, the number one sporting event in the United States.

What started as just a final became a tradition that celebrates 48 years this Sunday. Sunday, an important word because it is “Super Bowl Sunday“, the only sports holiday in the America. It is now a family gathering event, which starts in the afternoon and usually involves barbecue. The holiday is, after thanksgiving, the second day where Americans consume the largest amount of food.

Although the game is split into four fifteen minute quarters, an average American football match usually lasts close to 4 hours. To game time, you need to add time outs, half-time and stops between quarters. However, most of those 4 hours are spent watching something other than actual football. A recent study by the Wall Street Journal actually found out that out of those 4 hours, only 11 minutes of broadcast consist of actual playing time. To that you add 60 minutes of commercials; between 67 to 75 minutes of players standing around, huddling, preparing plays, or standing in the line of scrimmage; 17 minutes of replays and 3 seconds are filled with shots of the cheerleaders. So out of those 60 minutes of playing time, only 11 are of actual action. The rest is wasted between plays, as the game clock keeps running for most of the time.

Interesting figures that make us wonder, why would anyone want to watch a game that takes four hours to produce 11 minutes of excitement. The answer is the American flare for spectacle, which has transformed the game into so much more than that. Besides the above mentioned cheerleaders, you have exciting graphics and play-by-play analysis, which is done by talented sports analysts that help fill the time as the game progresses. When referring to the Super Bowl, you must also consider the Half-time show, a spectacle in itself that adds to the whole event. It is uually headlined by major music artists, with amazing choreographies. That adds at least half-hour to the entire broadcast.

Being such a tradition in America, it is followed by more than a 100 million Americans, every year. Curiosity, satellite TV and a genuine love for the spectacle have added an extra 20 to 60 million fans, that tune in from all over the world. So, with 120 to 160 million expected global viewers, the Super Bowl is a huge commercial opportunity. And here is where the American flare for spectacle kicks it up a notch.

With such a gigantic audience and nearly an hour of commercials, every company wants to advertise on Super Bowl Sunday. It is just logic. The laws of supply and demand have inflated the price of each 30 second advertising spot to 4 million dollars, this year, nearly 3 million euros (4 million x 120 = 480 million dollars for the whole hour. To that value add the production costs of those commercials, which tend to be very expensive. Brands that choose to advertise in the Super Bowl usually go for ads that leave a long lasting impact on viewers, hiring film stars or drawing on familiar storylines to make them memorable. It might seem expensive but the economic benefit for the companies that choose to invest in those ads is enormous. Not only because there is a lot of people watching but because they have become an essential ingredient of the Super Bowl spectacle. People comment on them, they rate them and they share them. Also, they receive a lot of free media coverage, which means that, even if you did not see the final, it is likely that you will end up seeing at least one of those ads. Their impact is then analysed by specific companies that check not only how many people mentioned the advertised brands on social networks, but also the overall tone (positive or negative) used when referring to the commercial.

Think of the 480 million dollars, plus the production costs for those commercials. Think of the potential new clients. Think of the 82 thousand people that are on the stands, and on how much those tickets cost. Think about the entire food that is bought over the weekend for Super Bowl Sunday. Think about the broadcast production costs and the fees collected by the half-time performers. Think about the jerseys sold. Think about the players salaries and their victory bonus. It is a billion dollar event and everything must be perfect.

The numbers are themselves a spectacle. And that is what the Super Bowl is all about.

Indigenous Peoples Today

Although there is not one international definition of the concept of “indigenous peoples”, these latter are usually described as the peoples who inhabited a land before the invasion and colonization by other peoples. Maintaining their distinctive customs, traditions and cultures, they didn’t mix with the societies that became the product of the “Western” colonialism. In certain regions these populations were massacred and highly reduced, though some were able to survive and pass their habits from one generation to the other until today.

These peoples face an important number of problems in modern times, in particular in developed countries; from Aboriginals in Australia to United States’ American Indians, Maoris in New Zealand or Inuits in Canada, all seem to be plagued by the same afflictions. Despite a growing international awareness to the condition of these peoples, globalization and modernization make it hard for them to maintain their identity and have often push them to adopt standardized customs. More often than not, they are amongst the lowest-ranges of a country’s society, being highly exposed to poverty, lack of education, health issues or troubles with the law.

The question of the land is also a problematic one. Since these peoples did not always have the same sense of property as the colonizing populations, they often found themselves estranged or pushed away from their lands. In some cases, these populations were able to isolate themselves and maintain a community-based way of living, but in others, the populations came to live in cities, losing much of the links they had with their ancestors but hardly becoming integrated with the urban populations. Thus, one of the main issues concerning indigenous peoples today is what is their place in the modern societies.

It is impressive to note that a recent study has found that when one measures the Human Development Index (HDI) of these peoples, they almost always rank lower than the countries to which they belong to! For instance, while Australia is usually ranked 2nd/3rd on the Human Development Report of the UNDP, the Aboriginal people has an HDI that is close to that of El Salvador, which is ranked 100th…

Indigenous peoples are more prone to fall into drug and alcohol abuse, have a harder time to find a job and have lower life-expectancies than the rest of the populations’ of their respective countries. It is common for governments to implement bigger welfare measures in favor of these peoples, in part to appease their historical conscience. Contrary to what could be thought, these create more dependency than anything else.

The place of indigenous peoples in modern societies, in particular Western ones, is not easy to define. Not completely integrated, they stay at the margins, divided between their ancestral cultures and a modernization that can engulf them at any time. The countries to which they inevitably belong to must take serious action to protect the richness that these peoples carry with them, in order to ensure that they will not become just another memory in our collective history.

Read more about the living conditions of indigenous peoples today in this United Nations’ Report on the “State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples“.

The Dublin Regulation

Racism and xenophobia have always cast their shadow over Europe, sometimes in more disguised ways than others. In modern times, in order to explain that foreigners are not welcome in our space, we use excuses such as the economic crisis, the lack of jobs, and the contribution of immigrants to the rise of crime.

There is an incredible amount of biased ideas from which xenophobic (and often right-wing) populists easily take advantage of to call for stronger immigration policies. Indeed, more and more it looks like immigrants are not welcomed in the European fortress.

More than the general problematic of migrants, today we would like to focus on the particular case of refugees and asylum seekers. Violences, corruption, injustice and wars, push thousands of people to leave their countries every year, who try to reach the lands of “human rights” to seek some relief and find a better life.

States more or less agree that refugees should be welcomed, and even in our collective imagination it would be unthinkable to refuse a right to protection to, for instance, a Syrian national. More than that, since 1951 and the adoption of the Geneva Refugee Convention, States have an obligation to accept and protect refugees.

Nevertheless, the system regulating asylum protection in Europe is far from being the most welcoming for asylum seekers and refugees. Since 2003, Europe’s Dublin II Regulation (Regulation 2003/343/CE) defines that the State where an asylum seeker first enters and is enrolled in the authorities’ files, is the State that is responsible for examining the asylum claim. This means, that if a person seeking for asylum is first registered by the police in Italy and decides to move to Denmark to ask for asylum, she will be deported to Italy, the only country in Europe that can examine her claim. In order for this to be possible, the Dublin system also relies on the Eurodac Regulation. This regulation created the EURODAC database, where the fingertips of all migrants that have reached Europe seeking for asylum, or illegally, are stored.

The Dublin system creates enormous problems, specially for the countries that are on the ramparts of the fortress of Europe like Italy, Greece or Spain. Indeed, these countries receive thousands of claims which they often are not able to examine correctly. This leads to extremely long procedures of asylum, during which the asylum seeker lives in terrible conditions and is ultimately more easily turned down.  It is also terrible for the asylum seeker, who may want to reach a particular country because he has certain family ties there and is not be able to do it. To be capable of passing from one country to the other undetected, people have to resort to human traffickers, which only enhances the problem.

Ultimately, European countries do not really want to bear the responsibility for yet another migrant, whether he is illegal or seeking refuge. This creates a system which is downright excruciating for those who come to Europe in the hope of getting some relief from the horrors they experience in their home-countries.

The Japanese Macaques Social Hierarchy

Today we are going to talk to you about a subject which you may, on the first hand, find funny or useless, but which got us curious: the social organization of the Snow Monkey, also known as Japanese Macaque (Macaca Fuscata). These macaques are found in Japan, particularly in mountainous regions, although they can also be found in some lowlands. They live in a climate that can vary from -15ºC to 25ºC, being the non-human primates that live farther north. Besides a vast amount of fur, that maintains them warm when the snows come, these macaques are known for having a facial expression which is very “human-like”, despite becoming increasingly red as they grow up.

What is more interesting, is that their societies are very “human-like” as well. They go around in bands that can vary in size, where females usually remain with their groups since their birth, while males when growing up tend to find a new group. Their social structure is mostly matrilineal, with females being at the center of the group. The macaques have an extremely hierarchical society, but this can change according to regions. Indeed, it seems that in areas where there is enough food and no external threats, there are no leaders, while in northern regions, male and females have more equal roles inside of the group. When there are leaders, they can be male or female, and they are responsible for the routine of the group.

Most interestingly, there are different families inside the bands, some more dominant than others. It even happens that amongst a group, those that are not dominant are not allowed to enter the pools of hot water that exist in snowy regions. It is common for groups to split up between dominant and less powerful families, which is something that could be compared to human behavior.

Read more about these interesting animals here or check out this interesting video by BBC Nature!

Curious Facts about JFK’s Death

You might have heard that Friday, 22nd of November, the world marked the 50th anniversary of president John F. Kennedy’s death. Or better yet, the world remembered his murder and the shots that made him a legend. It is hard to distance oneself from those images and most political analysts agree that the myth created around the 35th President of the United States has been largely exaggerated because of that.

As a journalist I had to write some pieces on Kennedy and, in my research, I found some curious facts that, I believe, can account for at least some of the mysticism that surrounds the family that after the event became “America’s Royal Family”. Here’s my “10 facts you probably did not know about JFK’s assassination”. A very original title, I know.

1) When Kennedy was shot, assassinating the President was not considered a federal offense. If charged with the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald would have been trialled in Texas.

2) It was the fourth presidential assassination in the history of the United States. The first since the Secret Service began protecting presidents.

3) The assassination was one of the first major events reported on television. It became the longest uninterrupted news event on American television until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Networks had to cancel four days of shows. Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder was the first one ever to be broadcast live.

4) John F. Kennedy’s only accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, died two days after the President was shot. Oswald denied killing JKF and his death gave the impression that he was silenced. It was the first spark that ignited the blaze of conspiracy theories that surround the murder.

5) Adding to that weird coincidence, Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, a local club owner, was found to have several ties to organized crime. He was convicted of Oswald’s murder in 1964 and died in January 1967 of lung cancer.

6) John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald died at the same hospital and were assisted by the same doctor in their final moments. Jack Ruby also died at Parkland Hospital.

7) Lee Harvey Oswald’s troubled childhood, defection to Russia and the fact that he was a self-declared Marxist made him fit the role of Kennedy’s murder perfectly. The official government account of the event (known as the Warren Commission findings) suggests he fired 3 shots in 5.6 seconds from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Forensic scientists have questioned these conclusions because of the angle of the wounds, the time frame and the capabilities of someone like Lee Harvey Oswald. Theories that question the official version suggest the existence of a second shooter and some say the total number of shots fired was four.

8) The secrecy that surrounded the whole investigation was key in sparking these theories and it is still present today. Although most Kennedy files have been declassified, 3 per cent still remain sealed for national security purposes. They will become public in 2017, unless the acting president decides otherwise.

9) Adding to the mysticism and frenzied curiosity, the suit and Jackie Kennedy’s accessories from that day have since been preserved in the National Archives. The suit will not be made public, however, until at least 2103, as stipulated by Caroline Kennedy (JFK and Jackie’s daughter).

10) JFK’s death has been questioned since the President died but a curious fact has been common. Alternative theories are always in sync with the popular mood at the time. In the 1960s, during the epitome of the Cold War, the American public believed it was the Soviets. In the 1970s, it was the CIA, as they distrusted their own government. In the 1980s, with the rise of mob related movies, it was the Mafia. John F Kennedy’s killer has always been whoever the nation is most afraid of at the time. Today, one could expect the President’s death to be linked with Islamic extremism (however unlikely that may seem).

John F. Kennedy’s death populates the imaginary of the American public mostly because of its mysticism, easily understandable given all the secrecy and unanswered questions surround his death. It might have been just the government or his family’s way of preserving the Kennedy’s privacy. It is what made these theories justifiable. That and the unfortunate fact that his supposed assassin was killed two days later by a man, who died a few years later.

The public loves “Greek tragedies” and Kennedy’s assassination has all the ingredients of one. While some facts remain hidden, the public will continue to try to connect the dots. I myself do not know what to believe but these facts do make me wonder.