Eurovision 2013: All Of Europe Under One Roof

eurovision
Alex Robertson Textor

Launched in 1956, Eurovision is a Europe-wide music competition held every May under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Participating countries select their representative songs over the course of the preceding winter and spring. Some countries – like Sweden – make their selections via televised heats held over several consecutive weeks. Others – like the U.K. (this year, at least) – make their selections by internal committee.

Eurovision is a major event in Europe, with a remarkable 125 million viewers.

Nowadays, Eurovision lasts for almost an entire week. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are now so many participating countries – 39 this year; even more in recent years – that two semi-finals are required to winnow down contestants to a manageable tally for the grand final. After semifinals on Tuesday and Thursday, this year’s final will be held later today in Malmö, Sweden. (Sweden won Eurovision last year, and with its win came the right to host this year’s contest.)Eurovision is not generally considered to be a showcase for serious music, and few global stars emerge from it. One very notable exception is ABBA, who turned their 1974 win with “Waterloo” into enormous international success. In lieu of musical seriousness, the event unleashes a kind low-impact skirmish of muted patriotisms and a massive gay following.

For many countries, participation in Eurovision is a rite of passage, a sign of progress. An Israeli friend once told me that in the late 1970s her family would dress up to watch Eurovision in their living room. This symbolic appeal of Eurovision remains especially strong in some Eastern European countries and the Caucasus today.

All members of the European Broadcasting Union can participate in Eurovision. This fact explains Israel‘s participation. Other EBU members beyond the borders of Europe include Morocco (who participated just once, in 1980) and several countries that have never participated: Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia. True Eurovision nerds will tell you that Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Liechtenstein have all submitted applications for EBU membership.

So right, tonight. The odds have Denmark‘s Emmelie de Forest, Norway‘s Margaret Berger (with likely the strongest straight-up pop song, a little piece of driven magic titled “I Feed You My Love”), Ukraine‘s Zlata Ognevich, Azerbaijan‘s Farid Mammadov and Russia‘s Dina Garipova at the top of the pile.

In addition to these, Hungary, Romania and Greece have emerged as fan favorites. ByeAlex, the Hungarian entrant, sings a lush, quietly earnest song called “Kedvesem.” The singer looks like a quiet, earnest Mission District hipster; he distinguished himself in the press conference for the second semi-final winners on Thursday night by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche. Romania’s entry, sung by a countertenor opera singer named Cezar, is an instant Eurovision dance classic with a particularly over-the-top choreography. The Greek entry, by Koza Mostra featuring rebetiko singer Agathonas Iakovidis, combines folk, punk and rebetiko themes.

For those who follow Eurovision obsessively, the event itself is a kind of quasi-religious experience. The line between fandom and evangelism is imprecise for this tribe, many of whom attend Eurovision regularly. This week in Malmö, the Eurovision tribe is everywhere, sharing the gospel of playful but somehow meaningful pop music. The photo above, taken yesterday, gets at some of the gospel’s magic. It’s simple and interpersonal. Koza Mostra’s lead singer, Elias Kozas, has swapped flags with a German Eurovision fan. No negotiations. No conflict. No international frustrations. Just a snapshot of a moment within which flags don’t matter much.

Forbidden America: Cold War-Era Map Shows No-Go Zones For Soviet Tourists

Image courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center

If you think security is tight now, imagine what it was like for Soviet tourists who came to the United States during the Cold War. Although a select few private Soviet citizens were granted permission to visit the Land of the Free in the 1950s, the U.S. government was very specific about the places these tourists could and could not visit. A map that surfaced on Slate’s new history blog, The Vault, details those forbidden places, which are shaded in green above.

The U.S. barred the admission of all Communists in 1952. According to Slate, tourists had to produce a detailed itinerary and get it approved before obtaining a visa to visit the U.S. Most ports and coastlines were off-limits to these travelers, as well as anywhere near weapons facilities or industrial centers. It seems these restrictions mirrored Soviet constraints on American travel to the USSR after World War II, with the only exceptions being journalists and government officials. These travel restrictions stayed in place until the Kennedy administration lifted them in 1962 as a symbol of the openness of American society.

[via BoingBoing]

Paying More For Flights? Try $70.6 Million Per Seat

paying more for flightsTravelers have become accustomed to paying more for flights as airline fees soar, tapping them for billions. Between baggage fees, service fees and in-flight fees, it is getting harder to find cheap fares and no one knows that better than NASA.

As the space shuttle program came to an end in 2011, NASA began relying on the Russian Space Agency to ferry astronauts and supplies back and forth from the International Space Station (ISS). But even NASA, OK with paying $65 million per seat, did not see the latest price hike coming. Agreeing to pay $424 million for the flights of six astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to service the ISS in 2016 and the first half of 2017, NASA is not happy.

But NASA really has no other choice than to pay the $70.6 million per seat fare as Russia has the market cornered as the only way to get to and from the space station.Yes, several U.S. companies are in the process of taking that business away from Russia, but those efforts are a few years away. SpaceX is making cargo shipments, but not shipping humans yet. Still, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, had congress approved NASA’s funding request for commercial space travel, the situation could have been avoided.

“Because the funding for the President’s plan has been significantly reduced, we now won’t be able to support American launches until 2017,” said Bolden in a NASA blog post reported by LaboratoryEquipment.

It’s a tough place to be for NASA. On the other hand, the $100 million they spent to build a home for retired space shuttle Atlantis in Florida could have come in handy right about now. At least we can choose not to check luggage, comparison shop and bring our own meals on board. Astronauts don’t have that option.



[Photo – Flickr user chatarra picks]

Two Days After Scare, Russia Bans Flights Over Syria

Just two days after a commercial airliner with 159 passengers detoured to avoid the danger of flying over a combat zone, Russia has officially banned flights over Syria, Reuters is reporting.

According to the news outlet, some Russian airlines had ignored a warning issue in February, and continued to pass over war-torn Syria. One of those planes was a chartered flight operated by NordWind Airlines, which reportedly had two land-to-air missiles fired at it as it passed over Syria on its way back from an Egyptian resort, The Guardian wrote Monday.

In later reports, officials have seemed to downplay the theory, citing the pilot was concerned about “signs of war activity.” According to Reuters, “a Russian tourism official said there was no shooting whatsoever.”

[via Airwise & USA Today]

[Photo credit: Flickr user leff]

Officials Search For ‘Frankenfish’ In Central Park

Environmental officials plan to survey a lake in Central Park for the northern snakehead fish, a curious species often referred to as the “Frankenfish.”

After sightings in Queens in recent years, the toothy, predatory fish is thought to have reared its ugly head in the park, NBC News is reporting. Native to China, Russia and Korea, the invasive species eats frogs and crayfish, and – scarily – has the ability to live out of water in certain conditions.

The fish is such a threat to the ecosystem that signs have been posted around Harlem Meer warning anyone who catches the fish to “keep it in a secure container until it’s picked up by officials.” In 2002, the fish was discovered in a pond in Crofton, Maryland, leading to a slew of major media coverage and spawning three horror movies.

[Photo credit: United States Geological Survey / Wikimedia Commons]