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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rioting In Sweden-- Is Stockholm Safe For Tourists?

Sweden has a reputation for equality that has suffered this week after 6 nights of rioting has exposed a fault-line between a well-off majority and a minority, often young people with immigrant backgrounds, who cannot find work, lack education and feel marginalized. Sweden also has a reputation as a very safe destination-- although that has also suffered in the past couple of years. This week, the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm has warned American citizens to stay away from areas where there is rioting-- areas that are growing in size from ghettoized Stockholm suburbs, like Husby, Hagsätra, Rågsved and Skogås, to Uppsala, Södertälje, Linköping and Örebro. What happened?

The gap between rich and poor in Sweden is growing faster than in any other major nation and some people in the affected areas "say the riots are a response to discrimination and relatively high unemployment."
Sweden, once a by-word for equality, has seen a widening gap between rich and poor, our correspondent says.

Others argue that the unrest is a simple matter of criminality, where parents failed to exert enough influence on their offspring, he adds.

Gulan Avci, a Swedish MP of Kurdish origin who represents the Stockholm suburb of Bredang, said the rioting was down to a mixture of criminality and disillusioned young people in areas of high unemployment and poor school results.

She told BBC radio that the country's integration policies had not been successful.

"But you can never ever accept violence as a way to show your disappointment with society. These teenagers don't understand they're destroying for themselves their own future, for other people that live in these areas."

"In the short run, the acute thing is to ensure that these neighbourhoods get back to normal everyday life," Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag told the Reuters news agency. "In the long run we need to create positive spirals in these neighbourhoods."
Police, who have arrested 30 rioters, estimate that around 300 have participated in the immigrant suburbs of Stockholm. There are been 200 cars set on fire-- as well as schools, police stations and restaurants. About a dozen police officers have been injured.

There's some sense of backlash against the country's generous asylum and immigration policies brewing on the right, of course, although it's not as intolerant as what you would expect in the U.S. "These people, they should integrate in this society and just try a little bit more to be like Swedish citizens," is a typical response. Sweden, which has a population of only 9.5 million has 1.8 million first and second generation immigrants. They took in 100,000 Iraqis after the U.S. invaded that country, accepted 40,000 Somalis and took in more Syrians this year and last than any other European country per capita (over 11,000)

What set the riots off-- the trigger rather than the cause-- was when police killed a 69 year old unruly Portuguese man. Teens, who sometimes tend to resent police authority, weren't ameliorated when cops started calling them "monkeys" and "negroes." And soon enough the rioting took on a dynamic of its own. Many of these immigrants have no Swedish friends and only come into contact with Swedes who are policemen or social workers. A real ghetto attitude has been evolving in the last few years-- especially after tax cuts for the wealthy and middle class kicked in at the expense of social programs for the poor.

The only State Department warnings for American tourists issued in May were for habitually dangerous countries: Iran, Mauritania, Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Central African Republic and Libya. "Travel Warnings, the State Department website explains, "are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country." So Sweden doesn't have a full-blown warning yet, just an alert from areas where there is rioting. Always good to stay away from them any way. Sweden is generally considered one of the safest countries in the world for travelers. Still, the British Foreign Service warns tourists to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance, watch out for terrorism and stay away from immgrant-heavy Stockholm suburbs, Husby, Hagsätra, Rågsved, Skogås. The Swedes have changed a lot since they were plundering Europe.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Midnight Trian To Georgia-- Tbilisi Not Safe For Tourists

Barbaric, primitive priests spread fear and hatred in Georgia

Yesterday I wrote about how primitive, Bronze Age notions regarding the subjugation of women in the patriarchal societies of the 3 major Abrahamic religions, still leads to thousands of brutal murders and barbaric treatment of women all over the world. Friday saw a demonstration related to that mentality in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. This time the victims of the primitive religionists, though, were gay people.

The first thing an international traveler notices on arriving in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, is that the road leading from the airport to downtown is George W. Bush Avenue. It's a warning. Although rated a "safe" city, many people are backward and very primitive so there is always a certain danger, like the violent conservative riots that broke out Friday against the LGBT community in which 30 people were injured, several seriously. WikiTravel points to "a land filled with magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty" and asks you to "[i]magine cities with narrow side streets filled with leaning houses, overstretched balconies, mangled and twisted stairways, majestic old churches, heavenly food and warm and welcoming people. All of this with a backdrop of magnificent snow peaked mountains, and the best beaches of the Black Sea." The news reports this weekend pointed to a savage, xenophobic and dangerous people led by primitive, hate-filled priests instead.
A raging mob in Tbilisi chased away a downtown rally designed to commemorate the May 17 International Day against Homophobia. “Kill them! Tear them to pieces!” yelled the agitated crowd as police struggled to evacuate a handful of gay-rights supporters from the Georgian capital's central Freedom Square.

It was a scene of medieval mob violence, as thousands of Georgians-- mostly young men, but also robed priests and women in headscarves-- stormed through a police cordon and went pursuing the activists. “Where are they? Don’t let them leave alive!” screamed frenzied men, as they took over the square, outnumbering and overpowering police troops.

Police barely managed to herd some of the LGBT activists into municipal buses, before angry protesters surrounded the vehicles. The crowd hit, threw stones and followed the buses as they pushed their way out of the square.

The pursuit continued on the side streets. Just outside the square, a mob tried to storm a house, where several gay rights activists had sought refuge. “Drag them out, stomp them to death,” screamed one woman as  she tried to push her way through a group of policemen, who wrestled with the mob at the entrance of the house.

Youngsters swore, beat and threw various objects at police officers, who eventually pulled the activists into a car. A stampede occurred as the mob tried to chase the car down the narrow street, with some falling into ditches.

At the different corner of the downtown, several activists sought asylum in a grocery store and police managed to fight off the mob that tried to break into the shop.

Very few civilians dared to speak against the violence. “Look at yourselves! You call yourselves Christians?” objected one elderly woman in tears, speaking from a balcony. “Go ahead, kill everyone you are told to hate in the name of God and national values.”

  Government officials from both the ruling Georgian Dream and President Mikheil Saakashvili's minority National Movement condemned the violence and blamed each other's policies for it.

“Both groups have a full right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable,” said Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani.

Appearing on Rustavi2 television, senior National Movement parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli called the violence "anarchy," and noted that "This is not the state we were building..."

On the eve of the clash, the highly revered leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, called on the city government not to allow an LGBT demonstration in Tbilisi.

The patriarch also urged restrained conduct, but gay-rights activists claim that the church fomented the display of violence by speaking out against the rally.

In what some participants described as a voluntary initiative, gay-rights opponents, led by priests, gathered in the morning of May 17 and marched toward Freedom Square with posters like “Stop Promoting Homosexuality in Georgia” and “Homosexuality is the Worst Sin.” Parish women held strands of nettle in their hands.

“Nettle has curative properties,” one woman commented to “A few hits in the right place and it will kick those demented thoughts out of their heads.”

As the rally degenerated into violence, protesters screamed verbal abuse at Georgia’s National Ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili and a US embassy official, who also showed up at the demonstration.

Brawls broke out in several parts of town and dozens were hospitalized. The tensions that continued for hours steamed off after the church called on the believers to relocate to the city’s main cathedral, Holy Trinity.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili earlier had emphasized that sexual minorities have equal rights with other Georgians under the law, adding that "Society will get used to it." So far, it doesn't look like it has.
Americans, Canadians and citizens of the European Union don't need visas to visit Georgia. The water isn't safe to drink there but "it is a very ingrained and idiosyncratic characteristic of Georgian hospitality that Georgians wish nothing more than to hear that foreigners are enjoying their experience in Georgia. Expect to be asked whether you enjoy Georgia and its cuisine. And it is expected that you respectfully reply in the affirmative. Otherwise your 'hosts' will look terribly dejected as if expressing a feeling of collective failure to show visitors enough hospitality." Watch the video to get a better insight into the national character.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Urban Gadabout: It's Jane's Walk weekend -- be sure to check to see what's happening in your area`

The NYC subways' Brighton Line had its origins in the Brooklyn & Brighton Beach Railroad, one of the railroads that connected to Brooklyn's ocean beaches. The big news in summer gadding is that Jack Eichenbaum is devoting another of his day-long subway-line odysseys to the Brighton Line.

by Ken

Okay, I've been kind of grumpy about the fact that I'll be on the shelf for one of my favorite weekends of the year: that of Jane's Walks, in honor of pioneer urbanologist Jane Jacobs, who did so much to reorient the way we think about urban life and to empower urban folk to feel that we can claim a voice in shaping the life of our cities in the direction of design and scale optimized for heightened human interaction.

Jane spent as much of her time as she could out in the field observing -- watching the way real people live actual lives, and see what sorts of design configurations produce the most diverse and enriching experiences. If you don't know her work, one word that should give you a clue is neighborhood. She was a great believer in the richness of neighborhood life, at a time when her frequent nemesis Robert "Pave It and Run a Parkway Through It" Moses was destroying every neighborhood he could get his eminent-domain-empowered mitts on.

In New York City we now have the best imaginable situation, since the Municipal Art Society took over the planning and execution of Jane's Walk offerings, which are free and mind-bogglingly rich, diverse, and generally tantalizing. With some dedicated work I can winnow the list -- numbering 100-plus this year -- down to about 30 walks over the two days which I would really, really like to do. I hadn't even planned to look at this year's list, knowing the weekend would fall less than three weeks after my knee surgery. I finally sneaked a peek, and with enough work I think I could get it down to 30 again.

As it happens, although not formally part of the Jane's Walk festivities, on Saturday there's an open house at the 225-plus-year-old Dyckman Farmhouse, now a museum, which I can reach easily via a bus that passes right in front of my building, so I'm thinking I'll give that a shot -- plus I can't help noticing that just sticking to my home bailiwick of Northern Manhattan, between Jane's Walk offerings and those of NYC Parks there are a number of other outings Saturday and Sunday.

Note that most of the MAS-organized Jane's Walks don't require preregistration. If I were zeroing in on tour possibilities, I might incline to those that seem likely to be less crowd-drawing to enjoy a more intimate walk. That said, though, the offerings are awesome. And it's all free!


As it happens, my knee is coming along well enough that I've gone ahead and signed up for two Municipal Art Society tours I've had in my sights for the following week ever since the March-April-May schedule was announced. I can get to both by bus, so I don't have to deal with subway steps yet.

On Saturday the 11th, my old pal Joe Svehlak is doing "Downtown's Lost Neighborhood," 11am-1pm, exploring "the diverse immigrant history of Manhattan's Lower West Side in conjunction with the Arab American National Museum's exhibit on 'Little Syria.' " Now "Lower West Side" isn't a geographic term you hear a lot in connection with Manhattan. The Manhattan end of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel -- a Robert Moses project -- wiped out the heart of the onetime neighborhood, and the various immigrant groups that once clustered there, including Joe's Czech parents, dispersed. I once almost did a version of this walk with Joe, but it was pouring that day and I didn't even have an umbrella.

Then on Sunday the 12th I'm going to try to do Laurence Frommer's "Bloomingdale Blocks" (2-4pm) -- "the quiet tre line streets from West 96th Street to West 110th Street that boast some of New York's finest remaining turn-of-the-century row-houses, apartment buildings, institutional structures and public monuments. I figure that will be easier on my legs than Eric Washington's "Uptown Trinity Church Cemetery Spring Tour,"

On Saturday the 11th baseball aficionado-historian Peter Laskowich is leading a tour called "Brooklyn and Jackie Robinson," 1-3pm. And the following weekend, if I felt more secure about those subway stairs, I might venture to Brooklyn for Matt Postal's "New to New York: Downtown Brooklyn," Saturday the 18th, 11am-1pm, and for Suzanne Spellen and Morgan Munsey's "Brooklyn's Automobile Row" (Bedford Avenue between Fulton Street and Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights), Sunday the 19th, 11am-1pm. It's looking as if my first subway venture may be for the rescheduled version of Snyder Schools scholar Jean Arrington's "Brownsville's Cache of C.B.J. Snyder Schools," Saturday the 25th, 11am-1pm.


Meanwhile, New York Transit Museum members have been early-registering for the newly announced summer schedule since Tuesday, with registration for nonmembers scheduled to begin this Saturday the 4th. Among the tours I signed up for is one I've been awaiting eagerly for months: a visit to the (now finally reopened) totally rebuilt Smith-9th Streets elevated subway station perched on the viaduct over Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal along with the neighboring 4th Avenue-9th Street station. There are more Grand Central Terminal-themed tours, food tours, visits to the 240th Street Maintenance Facility, and more, including the summer's three "Nostalgia Rides," to Coney Island (June 29), the Bronx's Orchard Beach (another Robert Moses legacy, July 13), and the Bronx's Van Cortlandt Park (August 25).


First off, Jack is doing a Jane's Walk this Sunday the 5th, "Bowne Street, My Street," "a walk along the length of historic and multiethnic Bowne Street in Flushing where I have been living for 35 years." If I weren't mobility-impaired I would definitely do this. About a month ago Jack did a walk through the Bayside (Queens) neighborhood where he grew up that was notable both for personal and for regional history. Meet at the northwest corner of Main Street and 39th Avenue (St. George Episcopal Church), near the Main Street (Flushing) station of the no. 7 train.

Jack has a couple of walks scheduled in rapidly developing Long Island City in conjunction with the third Long Island City Arts Open (LICAO), May 15-19, and in May he'll be resuming the series of Wednesday evening walks (6-8pm) he's been doing in recent summers. Scheduled so far under the heading "Changing Cultures of Queens" are: On and Off Jamaica Avenue Avenue (May 22), Sunnyside to Jackson Heights (May 29), and Long Island City to Old Astoria (June 5).

The big news for those who have done or wish they had done Jack's daylong subway-line odysseys ("The World of the #7 Train" and "A Day on the J") is:
Brighton Line Memoirs: Meandering off the Q train
Sunday, July 21, 10am-5:30pm

This is a series of five walks and connecting rides along what was once the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island RR dating to 1878. Walks take place in Prospect Park, Brighton Beach, along Avenue U, in Ditmas Park and Central Flatbush. Lunch is in Brighton Beach where you can picnic on the Boardwalk. Tour fee is $39 and you need to preregister by check to Jack Eichenbaum, 36-20 Bowne St. #6C, Flushing, NY 11354 (include name, phone and email address). Get the full day’s program and other info by email The tour is limited to 25 people. Don’t get left out!
You better believe I've already sent my check in! (And not just because the Brighton Line was my subway lifeline to "the City" growing up in Brooklyn.)

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Were You Thinking About A Trip To Ethiopia? Hold Up... It May Not Be Safe

Every time vacation planning time rolls around, Roland brings up Ethiopia. He's almost persuaded me a couple of times. I sure like the food and eat at Rahel, a vegan Ethiopian restaurant on Fairfax in L.A. very frequently. And I love all that mystic stuff about Ethiopia on the History Channel (like the video up top). But between the primitiveness, the extreme poverty, the corruption, and the culture of violence that has taken root there since 1974 when the DERG overthrew and murdered Haile Selassie, there has been a state of corrosive instability and questionable legitimacy for nearly three decades. Tourism, which had started developing in the 1960s, took a great leap backwards in the 1970s and is still very primitive now.

And now there's an outbreak of deadly homophobia. Crackpot U.S. evangelical groups are spreading anti-gay hate in Ethiopia causing a climate of moral panic, forcing the LGBT community to flee the country and making it unsafe for western tourists to visit the country. They've been encouraging the introduction of the death penalty for homosexuality.
A representative, from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality (EICAH) organization, underlined to workshop participants that gayness is not natural and has nothing to do with human rights, but ‘a result of a result of inappropriate upbringing, identity crisis and moral decay.

‘So we have to work hard to teach our children the bible and ethics and also protect our nation from the dirty western imposed culture of homosexuality.’

Sultan Muhe, chair of Bright Children Voluntary Association (BCVA) testified that as a child he was gang-raped, an experience that ‘made him’ gay as well as a sex worker.

Muhe also stated that he was now cured (ex-gay) and now campaigns for others to be ‘healed,’ stating: ‘Homosexuality should be discouraged by whatever means and the government should do whatever it takes to stop it.'

At the conclusion of the workshop, the EICAH representative stated that the council is ‘making progress’ in convincing the government to be stricter on homosexuality and introduce the death penalty to punish ‘such acts.'

The ECIAH representative added that prospects for capital punishment being legislated against gays ‘seems promising.'

...Mercy (name changed), director of Rainbow Ethiopia, a health and support group for LGBT people, told GSN: ‘The trend of homophobia and hate crimes is increasing in Ethiopia because these organizations are creating a moral panic and feeding the public with false information and wild allegations.

‘They scare the public that homosexuals are raping children and then “recruit” them into homosexuality, which is “promoted” and “spreading” throughout the country.

‘These groups even present some of the LGBTI members of the community as a mercenaries, trained and sponsored by the West to “promote homosexuality."

‘Families, police, neighbors the community in large are turning more and more hostile; we are living in fear and LGBT community members are increasingly desperate to flee Ethiopia.

‘They put their lives at risk by using human traffickers through dangerous routes such as crossing the Sahara desert in an attempt to get to Europe through Libya or through Egypt to Israel, often killed in the attempt to do so.’

Mercy called upon human rights organizations and international community to do everything in their power ‘to cut the Western funding to these organizations, and outlaw them. However aid to Ethiopia and other organizations should continue.'
I'll get my fix of wat and injera at Rahel-- without a side order of hatred, bigotry and possible execution.