Breskvica – A hedgehog’s poem

I’m spiky and small,
and sometimes I’m shaped like a ball.
My tiny nose and ears work very well
so when you come near me please don’t yell!

I’m cuddly and cute
unless you come near me, then I turn brute.
If you do I will hiss and cry
because I’m really very, very shy.

I had a brother who was very white,
but we were separated one very traumatic night.
I miss him every once in a while
and every night I run to him for a mile!

But some evil doers tricked me,
only letting me pretend to flee.
I can only ever go round and round,
but at least I get to annoy them with that shrieking wheel sound!

What they don’t know is I’m planning my great escape
involving the ingenious usage of a carrot, a goat and a grape.
That’s the kind of thing that makes me a mastermind,
a fact to which those hyperactive baboons are completely blind.

But that’s okay,
soon I will keep them at bay.
For when I become the ruler of all mankind
They will only be good for kissing my spiky behind!

B92 English vs. B92 Serbian

By chance a couple hours ago, I noticed that the front page for the Serbian news organization B92 is quite different in English and in Serbian.

Disclaimer: These are just some observations, as I haven’t spoken to anyone or researched enough to make any claims. If anyone has any insight into why it is this way, do share.

First off, the categories:

b92eng

Categories, in order: News, Politics, Business and Economy, Region, Society, Crime, World, Gallery, Insight.

b92sr

Categories, in order: New, Info, Sport, 150. Derby, Business, Superwoman, Bulevar , Life, Culture, Auto, Technology, Travel, Health, Pets and More.

You’ll notice the Serbian version has many more, but still fails to include those of  world, region and crime.

Meanwhile, categories like superwoman (a particular pet peeve of mine), pets, travel, some focus on sport (fair enough, they’re well known for sport coverage), and some more are present. All in all, less focus on politics and crime.

[On a separate note, for fucks sake why is “woman” still a separate news category? It’s mostly gossip, celebrities, looking at how women have aged over time, some health stuff even though there’s a separate health category on the site itself, love, recipes, family, etc. Also, there’s a “career” section in there and the first news I see is “why is love good for work?” I mean, seriously? It’s like if we don’t make work about love women just won’t even care right? All we want is cuddles and kisses and not to just have a career for its own sake.

Anyway, since there clearly is an audience for all that, why not just call it gossip and food, etc.? Why associate it with women exclusively? Are you saying women don’t care about politics and economics and men don’t care about recipes or love or family? It’s such an outdated distinction.

OK, rant complete. Back to the topic.]

The front page news selection is also quite different. Where the English is focused on matters of the Serbian citizens killed in Libya (3 news stories related to it), and matters of Russia and nationalism, the Serbian has one story about the airstrike, and then goes on to stories about Novak Djokovic, the reuniting of the cast of Friends, some famous woman aged a certain way, etc. To be fair, the airstrike and other political issues are present but as titles only, without the attention grabbing pictures that the other ones have.

A similarity is while the English version has “business and economics,” the Serbian version has “biz”. However, the actual news on these pages are quite different.

b92engbusiness

b93srbiz

The Serbian ones are about the world, while the English version is more about Serbian economy matters and investment. I speculate foreign investors are the audience that they are focusing on, and that’s fine (although I can’t help but notice there isn’t a separate “lady investor” category, just sayin’), but I fail to understand why the local economy matters aren’t on the business page for the Serbian audience as well.

I also notice the poll “Will community of Serb Municipalities be formed in Kosovo?” is absent on the Serbian page.

I understand that a foreigner looking at Serbian news may be looking for specifically regional information, since maybe they get general news from somewhere else, whereas a Serbian audience is more likely to look at this as their primary site for news, so it should be more varied. Also, entertainment value is important and I’m not dismissing the importance of getting an audience to click and read and share.

I don’t really have a conclusion for this since it’s just a few observations at 2AM, but I personally like the English version a bit better, just cause I find it more informative. And for f’s sake, out with “women’s” news.

 

 

Disappearing Balkan Water

For a part of the world which pays little attention to climate change threats, the Balkans are certainly experiencing some of the most extreme environmental problems in Europe. Availability of clean water is one of the biggest issues, putting jobs, energy, food and even drinking water on the line.

By the end of the century we might have to import drinking water. On top of this, about 37% of energy produced in the Balkans is hydropower, and about half the land is used for agriculture. If availability of water becomes an issue, energy, food and jobs are at risk. The political, security and economic threats are clear.

Droughts are likely due to rising temperatures, particularly in the summers when the number of days which exceed 40°C has increased drastically in the last few years (and is expected to rise further).

At the same time, winter and spring floods will also wreck havoc by destroying homes and crops, due to increase in winter precipitation and faster snow melt.

These climate changes, along with pollution (mostly due to coal) will render one of Europe’s most water rich regions, dry.

Unless, the politicians do something about it.

The “virginity” lie

The idea that the first time we have sex will change our minds and bodies forever is as absurd and insulting as it is exclusionary and inaccurate. Virginity is a social construct meant to say that it is actually possible for men to take something away from women through penetration; a lie which shames women into not having sex while pressuring men to have as much of it as possible.

Biology as an excuse:

The hymen, a thin layer of skin found in the vagina, is often cited as basis for the untruth that sex does indeed change a woman’s body. It is even used to justify the lie that the first time a girl has sex, it will inevitably hurt. On top of that, it is exclusively a women’s body part, with no male equivalent, making it easy to use as a political tool to police women’s bodies.
If the hymen were to remain intact by puberty, menstrual blood would not be able to be discharged which would be a serious medical concern. Some girls are born without a hymen, and even those who do have one often wear it out, either completely or partially, long before their first sexual encounter through anything from exercise to using a tampon. This thin layer of skin is even self-repairing, and holes can close again. Other women have an imperforate hymen, meaning it doesn’t wear away normally and doesn’t have holes big enough for tampons or erections to enter the vagina, requiring surgery.
It is also devoid of nerve endings, meaning there is no physical sensation caused by the breaking. The reason many girls experience pain their first time is that they expect to, leading to anxiety and tension. Lack of experience is also often at blame, as the vaginal (not hymenal) tissue can tear if there isn’t enough lubrication.
The hymen therefore cannot possibly be used as any kind of measure of virginity – it is completely unreliable in giving any information regarding sexual history. As flattering as it might be, men simply do not actually have any ability to remold women’s bodies through their genitals.

They do not change our vaginas through penetrative sex any more than they change our mouths through oral.

Denying identity:

So what about oral and anal sex, dildos and vibrators? Using this narrow definition of sex as penetration of the vagina with a penis means excluding a wide range of sexual activities and identities. How can someone say that a lesbian who never had sex with a man is a virgin, even if she has had sex with women? Or a gay man who had sex with men alone? Is a woman considered a virgin if she has only had anal sex and/or oral sex? What about if a man or woman pleasured themselves with toys before having penetrative sex? To dismiss all these is to be willfully blind to how large sex actually is and exclude a large spectrum of experiences.

 

Ultimately, virginity, this flawed social construct, is used as currency in a misogynistic and sexually repressed society. To varying degrees in different cultures, this lie that a person’s worth and their sex life are inseparably linked is used to exercise control over members of the group, making people combative and incapable of interacting honestly.

The Language problem:

The language we use itself is telling – virginity is something to lose and take. Sex itself is treated similarly. The woman puts out – gives her body away. The man (taps that, hits that) takes her. He fucks her, creates an action, whereas a woman is acted upon, as in gets fucked.

 

No two people can have equal value at the same time. Women have it before, men after sex. Sex is treated as a transaction, rather than an experience in mutual pleasure.
Women’s sexual behavior is therefore highly monitored. Depending from culture to culture, there’s a certain number of sexual partners women should have by a certain age. In most of the west this number should not be so high they are “sluts”, but not so low they are “prudes”. Unless a woman fits within that narrow window of acceptability, she will suffer social consequences; meaning that sexual behavior is policed beyond virginity, and encompasses all later sexual decisions.

 

Girls who get labeled prudes can be treated as strange, undesirable, or as if something is wrong with them. They can also be fetishized, as taking a woman’s virginity can be considered a great victory for the man. On the other side, those who are labeled as sluts due to their promiscuity can suffer anything from social alienation to having their sexual history used against them in, say, a rape trial.

 

A man’s sex life is also somewhat monitored. As long as the number isn’t zero, he has a large window of sexual partners that is socially acceptable for him to have. However, men in faithful monogamous relationships or those who wish to be in them are often represented as fools in media, poor saps who have been tricked or who are less manly.

Men’s Worth:
Growing up, boys are told that they are born missing something. That only once they have sex with a woman, they are complete – only then are they men. The more women they conquer, the more rewarded they are socially. They have earned their worth. This kind of thinking can manifest as anything from frat boy, bro and pick-up artist culture, dismissing infidelity/promiscuity as parts of male nature, and many more.

 

Women’s Worth:

Women, on the other end of the spectrum, are considered born with worth and it is our duty to protect it. That letting a man penetrate us will mean losing a piece of us we can never get back. For this reason, women are told that their first time should be special; that we are so sensitive that if the first man who enters our body isn’t The One we will get hurt and never be the same.

 

These lies and prejudices we pass down generations cause tension and harmful gender relations. It creates a distance between us that leads to dehumanization, judgment and manipulation. Fear and pride take the front seat in sexual encounters, rather than interaction, pleasure and fun.

 

Women are not something to conquer, but people to interact with honestly. Men are not uncontrollable sex beasts whose only purpose is to spread their seed – they are capable of much more than that.

 

A person’s worth is untouchable – not by a penis, not by a vagina and not by any other external factor. Women should not be punished for expressing their sexuality, nor should men be rewarded for doing the same. We are all much more than the choices we make with our genitals, and are capable of living lives full of fun, food, travel, music, and yes, if we so choose, sex, as well as much more.

Russia’s Democratic War

“The Russian public has a foolishly high tolerance for civilian casualties,” says Alexander Titov, a professor from Queen’s University in Belfast who specializes in modern European history. “Much higher than the west. It’s much easier for it to understand the issue of Islamic terrorism because of some homegrown problems in North Caucasus.”

Referring to bloody conflicts spanning from the 1990s to the 2000s, Titov points out a factor often overlooked in western speculation of Vladimir Putin’s actions: his own country’s context.

Quick to assume any move by Russia is a sign of trying to “bring back the USSR,” domestic issues such as the Islamist extremism in Chechnya and Dagestan often get overlooked in the west. In fact, Chechens have become favorite recruits for Isis and Al Quaeda. With extremist training and Russian passports, they pose a looming threat in Putin’s backyard – one which his people expect him to deal with.

Not unreasonably, recent conflicts in Ukraine and the annexation of Crime have brought back fears of a more aggressive Russia. But with NATO at its borders and a weakening economy due to sanctions and cheap oil, how high is the risk of a new Cold War in reality?

“Putin’s foreign policy has always been pragmatic and hardly ideological,” says Agne Cepinskyte, a researcher at King’s College London focusing on ‘Geopolitics and National Minorities Abroad: Weimar Germany’s and Post-Soviet Russia’s Policies towards the Baltic States.’

“Therefore, despite him declaring a decade ago that the collapse of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century, the idea of restoring the USSR in a straighforward sense is not a real foreign policy goal.”

On the other hand, Bill Browder, author of “Red Notice: How I Became Putin’s no 1 Enemy,” recently wrote for Prospect magazine that Putin’s actions in Syria may be nothing more than a tactic to get the western sanctions lifted. He speculates that Putin’s strategy is to make the refugee crisis so much worse, the west will have no choice but to give up Ukraine. “Putin presents a self-confident facade to the world, publishing videos of his workout routine and touting his supposed 89 per cent approval rating, but the reality is that he is in a state of raw panic. Russia’s economic crisis is accelerating,” he wrote.

Alexander Titov, on the other hand, may disagree. He believes that the increased level of collaboration between the west and Russia after the Paris attacks may offer a broader strategy in regards to Ukraine, but “it won’t have direct relevance. It has a dynamic of its own, I think.”

The downing of the warplane by Turkey is another issue which complicates things. In a reactionary move, Russia has imposed sanctions on one of its biggest trading partners. At the same time, these two nations have a complicated history due to Turkey harboring people Russia deemed as terrorists during the aforementioned conflicts in Chechnya. To hear it from Putin himself:

“We remember that the militants who operated in the North Caucasus in the 1990s and 2000s found refuge and received moral and material assistance in Turkey. We still find them there… We will never forget their collusion with terrorists. We have always deemed betrayal the worst and most shameful thing to do, and that will never change. I would like them to remember this – those in Turkey who shot our pilots in the back, those hypocrites who tried to justify actions and cover up terrorists.”

Russia sees the event as an attack on its well being, and Putin must show his people what he is willing to do in that case scenario.

The same goes for Turkey, which, as Titov points out, “wanted to make a strong statement to Russia to sort of mind its own business [and] consider Turkish interests.”

“Turkey was very unhappy with the way things were going in the Vienna talks,” continues Titov. “Particularly the issue of who it backs. The west was moving towards Russia’s position, kind of prioritizing the fight against Islamic State and leaving this fate of Assad to one side to deal after the IS has been dealt with. That really is unacceptable to Turkey because for Turkey IS is kind of way down the priority list of its concerns. Its top concerns are the Kurds and second on top of that is the Assad regime.”

Simultaneously, in a global context, failures in the Middle East by the United States have left an open spot on the world stage for a new world power to exert its will. As American political influence decreases, Russia’s rises. As Mike Whitney pointed out recently: “Putin doesn’t divide terrorists into good terrorists and bad terrorists, moderate terrorists and radical terrorists. If they’re terrorists, they’re terrorists regardless of their pedigree and regardless of whether they serve the geopolitical objectives of the state or not.” The Russian public is therefore very critical of the U.S. approach to counter terrorism, prompting the take-matters-into-your-own-hands way of thinking.

So while the world is left scratching its head, questioning this new and assertive Russia, locals see it only as a natural extension of a growing economy and rising soft power.

“It’s pretty much kind of consistent image and behavior,” says Alexander Titov. “[Putin] is kind of operating within the same behavioral expectations of the Russian public at large… He reflects the more broader attitudes in Russia towards various external threats.”

This is not to keep American politicians from making statements like:

“The US needs to do more the confront Russian President Putin [because of] his determined policy to sabotage American interests whenever and wherever he can,” courtesy of liberal presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Or, from the other side, the republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina: “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all… We’ve talked way too much to him.. What I would do, immediately, is begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would conduct regular, aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States. I’d probably send a few thousand more troops into Germany. Vladimir Putin would get the message.

So what makes the US so unwilling to cooperate with Putin? After all, it took the Paris attacks to prompt them to begin dialogue.

The Cold War is an obvious answer, as Americans have a deep rooted distrust of Russia. Nato has as a result been expanding further to the Russian border since the fall of the Berlin Wall, all the way to territory which used to be part of the USSR.

Russians therefore feel threatened and misunderstood by the west. They are at their borders, and they are gearing up for war. As Agne Cepisnkyte says: “There has been an increased Nato involvement in the [Baltic states] in the last couple of years – supplying weaponry and military equipment, troops, organizing military exercises, establishing Nato network of command centers and so on.. The US high officials and military representatives have assured on a few occasions that in the years to follow it would maintain or even increase its military presence in the Baltics.”

A question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, Cepisnkyte continues to point out that “since the 1990s, Russia has been clear about its intention to maintain political influence in the post Soviet space.” She points out that the Baltic states, although Nato members, have been targets of ‘threat signals,’ “from aggressive political rhetoric and economic and energy restrictions, to cyber attacks, spying scandals and military incursions in air and maritime space.”

The efficiency of a bombing campaign to get rid of Islamist extremists is questionable, but that’s what Putin is, at least for now, successfully selling his people – safety and growth. As Cepinskyte says: “Domestic support for the regime is a significant factor. ‘Rallying around the flag’ effect has worked following the annexation of Crimea, as Putin’s home ratings peaked. Equally important is for Russia to show its military strength to the international community, particularly to the west.”