A (Guiding) Star is Born?

Florence, Rome, Perugia

Good luck, dude! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today 115 Catholic cardinals entered the conclave with only one goal: elect the new pope for the world’s 1.2 billion followers of their church.

This new pope will face a world of troubles and challenges, some related to the church itself (e.g., lingering child abuse scandals, Vatileaks), some a product of this increasingly conflict-ridden and turbulent world that we live in.

As a non-believer, I am typically not in agreement with the pontiff on issues such as reproductive rights and homosexuality; as a humanist, I respect other people’s faiths and can only wish the future pope well in execution of his office. May he have a long and productive reign, whomever he ends up being.

115 men are making a decision that will not only impact the spiritual lives of the world’s many Catholics – it will also impact relations between the Vatican and other sovereign nations and could profoundly affect the state of inter-faith dialogue and understanding.

May these 115 men make the best decision for the most just and purest of reasons. And may their new pontiff get all the respect and support that he will need as he takes on what will surely be his life’s greatest challenge.



One nation, divisible.

Springer giving a speech at Emory University i...

Springer giving a speech at Emory University in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would not be an overstatement to say that the past twelve years of American politics have been motivational and inspiring. It would simply be dead-wrong. Twelve years corresponds almost exactly to the amount of time I’ve lived as an ex-pat in Scandinavia. While Denmark – and the Nordic countries in general – leave a lot to be desired in the way that politics are practiced in these tribal-like nations, one can still reasonably assert that political discourse in this part of the world is characterized by a higher level of respect and consideration for differences of opinions than what can unfortunately be claimed is the case in the United States.

Instead of merely disagreeing with one another, we now look for ways to ridicule and humiliate the candidates and their supporters whose views differ from our own. Not that this practice is limited to candidates. Witness the treatment of the previous two US presidents: Obama portrayed as a native of some tribe recently discovered by anthropologists, with bones in his nose and a grass skirt; the blatantly racist anti-Obama slogan “Don’t re-nig in 2012” and then there’s Donald Trump’s tiresome joke of a campaign to “prove” that Obama wasn’t born on American soil and is therefore ineligible to be President. Who could forget the George W. Bushims collection? And while we’re at it, the website that routinely compared his facial expressions and body language to chimpanzees.

Regards of our feelings about the political agendas and the governing style of either of these men, they are (or were at the time the ridiculing took place) Commander-in-chief of US armed forces, president of what is still considered the most influential nation on earth. We’re talking about POTUS, dammit! Show some respect. Or if you don’t want to show the head of the Executive branch of the US government the respect that the office deserves, you can do as people on the opposite side of the political spectrum routine invite their adversaries to do: GTFO of the country! The woman who in May of this year stated that President Obama was guilty of treason, should herself be tried for treason or at least sued for libel for unfounded accusations of such a sensational nature. Nothing helps our enemies like insinuating that our leaders are criminals and should be brought to justice. Chalk one up for Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-un.

Tomorrow, we Americans go to the polls to elect the president and some Legislative branch members. I’ve actually already been to the polls since, thanks to the modern miracle of snail mail, I was able to hand in my absentee ballot weeks ago. I’ve visited the US twice within the past year and am alarmed at the tone and the nature of the debate this election year. News channels have become polarized – MSNBC and Fox News covering each their end of the political spectrum, with pundits no longer commenting or analyzing, but instead mocking, insulting and belittling the opposing views. This cultural development sickens me, quite frankly. As a student of history in my undergraduate days, I’m quite certain that the Founding Fathers would be alarmed to see how the great nation they were a part of creating has degenerated into a glorified Jerry Springer show in the political arena. Don’t these amazing people deserve a better legacy than what this nation has become when it comes to elections and politics?

When Bill Clinton talked passionately at the Democratic National Convention about “the cause of forming a more perfect union,” he brought tears to my eyes. Whether or not you agree with his political positions or like the man as a person, that cause must be in the heart of all Americans because it is what this nation was founded on.

No matter who wins tomorrow, I hope the next President of the United States of America will be afforded the respect that his dignified position demands. And I hope that with this election, Americans have had their fill of poisonous politics, incessant bickering and the hatefulness that has come to characterize the political climate of what I consider the greatest nation on Earth. Fans of the animated action film “Team America” will know that ‘Freedom isn’t Free’. The price you pay for it is the right of the other person to speak their mind – even when you yourself may vehemently disagree.



Vladimir Pussy

Russia Protest

Russia Protest (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

LIttle man, can’t handle criticism from twentysomething musicians in an obscure rock band, so his cronies attempt to silence them and at the same time send a message to other would-be protesters that negative speech about the Supreme Leader will not be tolerated.

Is two years for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” an excessive sentence? How should I know? It’s a ridiculous crime to be charged with in the first place. Once you’ve been to a football/soccer match in certain European countries, you realize how far from hooliganism the act of protest perpetrated by the twentysomethings in question, really was.

If the young women have offended anyone’s religious sensibilities, that should be a matter to be settled between the women and the religious group in question, not a matter for the courts. Doesn’t the Russian legal system have more pressing matters to attend to like, say, organized crime?

The entire case is an embarrassment for Russia – or it should be. And Vladimir Putin should be ashamed of himself for letting the justice system – and I use that term generously here – fight his political battles for him. Time to man up, Vladimir! Afraid that if you allow a free political opposition, then you’d lose your precious position because the Russian people would finally see you for what you really are? Well, one day the Russian people will wise up, no matter how many laws you pass and how many trials in a kangaroo court your supporters preside over.

I think the Kaiser Chiefs put it best in one their most popular songs: “I predict a riot”!

And speaking of men with small penises, Julian Assange was hanging outside the embassy of Ecuador in London. taunting the British and admonishing the US government to end its – in his words – witchhunt. Never mind the fact that the nation seeking his extradition at the moment is not the US, it is Sweden. And not because of his Wikileaks activity, but because he accused of two counts of rape. Another little man who needs to grow a pair! He should either fight to prove his innocence or accept his fate, if he is found guilty.

Vladimir, Julian, take note of the brave example of those twentysomethings who will spend two years in prison on top of the months of detainment already served before and during the trial. Let it be an inspiration to you for your future behavior.

The two of you “men” ought to be ashamed of yourselves!

Fuck you, Frederiksberg Kommune!

English: frederiksberg kommune logo

Don’t go there! (Frederiksberg Kommune logo. Image via Wikipedia)

Frederiksberg Kommune has got to be the suckiest kommune in all of Denmark. It is a terrible place and no one should ever come here. I will spend the rest of 2012 chronicling all that is so ridiculous about this crap municipality.

In the meantime, stick to Copenhagen proper. There’s plenty to do or see in Vesterbro, Østerbro and the city center (“I hear Tivoli’s lovely this time of year”). Or visit some of the picturesque municipalities that form part of the Greater Copenhagen Area.

But save yourself the trouble and stay out of shithole Frederiksberg. I’ll stop complaining about Azerbaijan now that I’ve seen the way citizens are treated in this joke of a town.

And then there’s that stupid clocktower that chimes an extended song at midnight – on a Sunday! – ensuring stressed-out residents a sleepless night going into the start of the week.

In defense of a beautiful and talented girl

Ginormous torso alert! Not the for the squeamish (note: the torso's image may be too big for your computer screen)

A little girl’s parents were recently told by a prominent person at a professional ballet school that she should give up all hope of ever becoming a classical ballet dancer. Her crime? Her torso is considered too long and according to the source, she should try to explore other forms of dance instead, where there is not as much emphasis on a specific body type.

An interesting message to give about a 9-year old who hasn’t finished growing yet and coincidentally, has been told by other ballet professionals that she has exactly the body type that is well-suited to ballet. An interesting message also to give at the same time that it is said that she is a gifted dancer – a fast learner who moves gracefully and exudes personality when performing. She has no physical challenges to dancing ballet – no issues with insufficient turnout or lack of hamstring flexibility – in fact, nothing at all to indicate that she wouldn’t otherwise become a phenomenal dancer. Other than that dreaded torso.

The source also mentioned that the theater needs extras from time to time (indeed the little girl has danced in 9 professional performances at this very theater) and that they would be interested in using her again if the need should arise for additional dancers of her age and height. So much for that monstrous torso ruling out any possibilities of ever gracing the stage for a classical ballet performance.

Her parents are justifiably baffled by the explanation. They are also puzzled by the fact that, on the one hand, there’s the finality of the declaration that classical ballet is out of the question for the girl (the Royal Danish Ballet School’s equivalent to Hollywood’s “You’ll never work in this town again!”) and on the other hand, an invitation is extended to perform at the theater as a guest dancer if needed. Which could lead one to conclude that the issue is not whether or not her body is suitable for any classical ballet company in the world, but whether or not it fits in at this particular theater’s professional school. Or more accurately, whether her body shape is appealing specifically to the head of the school, who is the one who made the decision to deny her admission and to discourage her parents from ever letting her apply again. Mind you, for having what he considers a few extra centimeters in length between her waist and her shoulders.

Elite ballet schools are known for being more strict in their selection of body types than professional ballet companies, who tend to look at the whole package and focus primarily on the talent and the overall expression of the dancer. They can be willing to forgive perceived imperfections such as a longer torso, shorter legs or height differences of a gifted dancer even when she deviates from what is typical of the rest of the company. Dance schools should be more lenient than companies in their selection of students, not less. They should be in the business of training many more students than companies will need, because that way, there will be a greater variety of dancers to choose from and there is also a need for dancers for less prestigious companies, choreographers extras for productions and indeed, the next generation of ballet teachers.

Thankfully, some top ballet schools have been willing to overlook physical disadvantages when selecting students. Rashna Homji formerly of the Royal Ballet School in the UK has been quoted as saying that the school looks more at dancerly qualities than physical aspects such as height, for example. Which is as it should be when considering young, talented children who may have every chance of developing into the enchanting dancer, but who would miss the opportunity if they are not offered a position early enough, with the intensity of training needed to mold their bodies into ballerinas.

What if as she goes through puberty, her proportions adjust and she ends up being every bit the ideal?  She can’t possibly be too far off now, otherwise others wouldn’t have come to the opposite conclusion that she is quite suited for ballet. Starting to train professionally at age fourteen is too late but it may take until then for her growth to stop and her final proportions to be known. The school is not willing to take a chance on her future body shape, despite her obvious talent. That is a pity when the child is both motivated, has the gift of rhythm and musical sense and also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous. But don’t take my word for it – none other than the casting director of Gaps Kids in the US spotted her in a cafe in Manhattan on a recent holiday and invited her to a casting. In short, the kid’s got it all (and apparently, more than needed at her midriff – give me a break!).

Of course, being a girl doesn’t help the matter. Imagine the outcry if the male candidates for Denmark’s Under 21 football team were disqualified from the team for not having washboard abs or because they didn’t look enough like David Beckham. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? That’s because while it is customary to discriminate against women based on physical appearance, for men it is largely unacceptable.

The issue is not that the little girl was declined a spot at the school. The issue is (in this blogger’s opinion) the lame explanation, especially in light of the fact that the girl could do quite a bit of growing and her body adjusting in the coming years. To deny a talented aspiring dancer a spot at a publicly-funded ballet school because of the personal tastes of one man who seems to be the Karl Lagerfeld of the Danish dancing community is quite frankly, a travesty. It should be in the interest of this country to train as many excellent dancers as possible, even knowing full well that many, if not most of them will end up dancing abroad in foreign companies. It only brings more attention to the Danish ballet tradition to have dancers out in the world, making a name for themselves and for the country’s ballet expertise, by performing in cities with more prominent ballet institutions and where there is interest in ballet from more than just a miniscule cultural elite. That is not really the case in Copenhagen where attendance at the national theater is plummeting at the same time as significant budget cuts are threatening the quality of its repertoire.

It is the case in places like New York, London, Paris, Moscow, San Francisco, where ballet appeals to a broader segment of the population and where the upper echelons of society are in proportionally greater numbers to begin with, thus providing the basis for a solid theater-going public, also in the future. There is currently a debate raging in Denmark about whether or not the state should continue to fund this theater at the same level or if even more funding should be diverted to more inclusive art forms. Especially ballet and opera are considered “elitist” here and unfortunately, the selection process at the ballet school does not do much to dispel this view. Quite the opposite, I would say that it confirms it.

The taxpayer and government-funded Danish People’s Church is required to develop and begin performing a marriage ritual that can also encompass the joining of homosexual couples in matrimony. Although it may seem odd to outsiders that the state would meddle in a religion’s ceremonies and rituals, it does make sense in light of the fact that as a publicly funded institution, the Danish Church must not discriminate. Of course, this would appear to further a specific political agenda of the current government (more tolerance and greater equality for homosexuals). And in fact there could be other options to settle the dilemma of a public entity (in this case, the state church) engaging in wholesale discrimination by denying homosexuals a service that is afforded to hetero couples. Nonetheless, the current Church Minister has chosen this most direct and symbolic path and it is not without its share of controversy. It is after all, challenging the established  norms and ecclesiastical practices that have been centuries in the making – albeit for the admirable cause of equality and human rights as well as protection of a recognized minority.

Similarly, more scrutiny into the selection process at the state-funded ballet school could determine whether or not the body type selection criteria are too narrow – thus promoting another political agenda, one that is more liberating for women, freeing them from the narrow definition of “beauty” that ballet schools and companies subscribe to. It is a definition that not only hurts women in general, it could be responsible for destroying the future careers of otherwise talented dancers who could have changed the ballet world for the better.

Tastes in ballet dancer bodies have not been static; they have evolved through the centuries and will continue to evolve along with society’s preferences and in keeping with standards for performance and athleticism. If the government of Denmark can take on Lutheranism by enforcing a sexual orientation-neutral marriage ceremony, it can certainly take on the world of neo-classical ballet by demanding admission guidelines that allow for talented dancers of a variety of proportions to be given an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to the international dancing community. In so doing, to give them the chance to compete on their merits, instead of being denied access to the ballet world on the whim of a narrow-minded head of school.

The Alastair Macauly-Jennifer Ringer controversy illustrates that there is a lot less tolerance today for the restrictive body standards of the contemporary ballet community and just as in the world of fashion, if ballet is to remain relevant to coming generations, it must renew itself in the same way that fashion is on the brink of renewing itself at this point in time.

While this girl will suffer a temporary setback from this ludicrous decision, she is more fortunate than most. She has parents with the financial strength and the social resources to support her in any way necessary to realize her dreams. If she continues to aspire to being a ballet dancer, money won’t be an issue, as they can afford to send her to summer intensives and professional programs abroad. Unfortunately, other less privileged girls in the same situation may have to give up on ballet altogether.

If ballet is what she really wants to do, then I have no doubt that she will become an internationally-recognized dancer and one that any company would be privileged to count among their ranks. When she takes the stage in New York or London for the first time after being named Principal Dancer, the poor sods back in Denmark will rue the day they let this little angel get away. And it will be without the support and encouragement of the ballet elite in her country of birth that she rises to the top.

It’s a shame that Denmark isn’t able to nurture more of its homegrown talent. A shame, but not all that surprising.

Well somewhere else in the world, there’s a more deserving ballet company who in the future will capitalize on this sad and disturbing fact.

Beyond a reasonable doubt…

Well, I’ve realized that there are actually three things in life that are certain:

  • Death
  • Taxes
  • Changes in Terms and Conditions for the iTunes Store

And along with the inevitability of life ending and Uncle Sam passing around the collection plate, comes the endless pages of text and legal-ese that everyone has to “Accept” in order to update some already-downloaded and paid-for apps on their iPhones.

I understand why the Reaper is so grim. Poor dude has to contend with the constant threat of IRS audits and is probably kept up at night wondering what kind of trouble the lawyers in Cupertino could create for him, if he “fails to comply with any provisions of” his iTunes agreement.

“I’m looking for sex with animals in Copenhagen”

English: Probably Achatina sp. Taken at Jessor...

You learn a lot about human nature when you operate a blog. The good people at WordPress.com power this blog and are kind enough to provide us bloggers with a myriad of tools and reports to help us better understand our readership and in so doing, refine our content over time.

As an educated marketing professional, I devour the statistics and data about who’s reading my rants and ramblings.  I’m especially interested in learning how readers stumbled on to the blog in the first place. Search engines generate a good portion of the visits to this site and I can also see the actual words and phrases that in combination, caused a search engine to suggest a link to my blog as a possible destination of interest. I’ve seen some unusual or puzzling search terms before, everything from random collections of words in no logical order, to quite specific and detailed near-paragraphs of prose from people who clearly knew exactly what they were looking for.

The gentleman or lady who typed in to a search engine “I’m looking for sex with animals in Copenhagen” is a perfect example. Good luck to you, sir/madam. Sex with animals being legal in Denmark as long as the animal is not physically harmed, it makes sense for a person of that persuasion to look to Copenhagen as a destination of choice for some inter-species encounters of the worst kind.

While the thought of bestial sex tourism alternately sickens and infuriates me, I’ll still take the opportunity this search term brings to philosophize about the Internet, how it has allowed us to indulge our darkest fantasies and to reflect on the implications of this phenomenon for the fauna of Denmark.

Lock up your doggies!

If you’re new to this blog, you might not know that one of my earlier pieces touched on the animal sex laws in this country. You can find that article here.

I originally wrote that article because I was intrigued by all the aspects of the issue in question, the very fact that bestiality is not a crime in Denmark and that in the midst of a major economic crisis, coupled with the perennial problems of human trafficking, famine, disease and child abuse that can always be taken up as a cause or a fight for justice, some group of individuals chose outlawing sex with animals as worthy of  a campaign and a petition to the Danish Parliament.

It’s not that I didn’t think that the issue per se was worthy of attention or that nothing should be done to address this problem. I just questioned the timing of it on top of everything else going on in this crazy world at that moment. Was this the most pressing issue to be addressed by the sitting legislature at that time? And then there’s the very relevant question of the extent of this problem – at a given point in time, exactly how many people in a nation of 5 million are getting it on with Bessie, Bossie, Fido, Spike, Fifi, National Velvet, Wilbur or Sea Biscuit? Who in the Danish countryside is banging Secretariat at the weekends? How many people here really think Babe is a babe?

Now my husband is worried that this blog is going to become a freak magnet and that the title of this article will only make matters worse.

Freaks are very welcome here and my goal is to have as large and as broad a readership as possible, so in that sense, I’m delighted that the article may have brought a future follower to the blog even though this blog is clearly not what they were after when they typed that now notorious phrase into a search engine.

That phrase! Was it a confession? Was it a cry for help? Or was it simply a practical act of planning and research, much like when I typed “Child-friendly restaurants in Rome” into Yahoo Search while planning a family holiday last spring? Who knows? I’ll never find out, because it’s not possible to locate the initiator of that search. I can’t even see which search engine was used in the search and that’s fine with me.

The point of this post is not illustrate the weird shit that some people are into. It’s to show how after so many years, the Internet is still a place of wonder, a winding path that can lead to some unexpected yet delightful places.

And it’s also a place where people with malicious intentions can find exactly what they’re looking for.

The most popular search term to generate hits to this blog is “French Child Model naked pics” or some related variant, which in the search engines’ boundless wisdom, generates links to an article I wrote about Thylane Blondeau.

I don’t know what lies behind that particular search phrase, but at first glance, it certainly makes the “sex with animals in Copenhagen” seem rather benign by comparison.