Monday, August 31, 2015

The Sony Photo Awards in Berlin. Capturing the Moment!

Photographer Elliott Erwitt: "Dogs make the best subjects.
They're sympathetic, don't complain and don't ask for prints."

With a focus on international political and socially engaged photography, the Willy-Brandt-Haus is showcasing the winners of the Sony World Photography Awards 2015. The Sony awards are the world's biggest photography competition, and its aim is to recognize and reward the best in contemporary photography. Many of the winning photos are disturbing and some even funny, but all illuminate the human condition. 
In Iraq life expectancy is 67. Minutes from Glasgow's city center, it's 54.
In London's Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, it's 84 for men.
Dougie Wallace compares the disparate lives of people living in Glasgow with 

those in London. The differences aren't just in the mortality rates, but in the
way people dress, apply make-up, and express themselves.

Hair. For half an hour, people put their lives -
or rather their heads - in another person's hands.
A haircut can make a statement or be an
expression of the inner self. Jens Juul visited
hair salons to capture the moment people
let go during a haircut. 

This year, American Elliott Erwitt has been awarded the prize for Outstanding Achievement in Photography. Erwitt's natural, often humorous black and white photographs of everyday life are often satiric and biting. 

The Sony Photography Award winners are on exhibit until September 20, 2015. Admittance is free with passport. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Engelbecken: Kreuzberg's Garden Oasis

Traffic Flows Above the Park

Yoga Fountain

Even in urban and gritty Berlin, I still find oases of greenery. The Luisenstadt Canal (1848-1852) and its central basin, the Engelbecken (Angel's Pool) are tucked away in a quiet section of Kreuzberg. The Luisenstadt Canal was originally designed to link the Landwehr Canal with the Spree River, but wars and economic downturns prevented the canal from ever achieving its original purpose. Between 1926-1932, the canal was transformed into a sunken garden, but following the Second World War sections of the garden were destroyed and filled in with rubble. In 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed along its northern part and the gardens essentially abandoned. Following German unification, the gardens were reconstructed and returned to the 1928 design. 

The Rose Garden
Today the Luisenstadt Canal and Engelbecken provide a bit of greenery in chaotic Kreuzberg. For years, I've walked past the gardens without venturing inside. My mistake! The gardens, fountains, and paths are a nice reminder of how nature can coexist in Berlin. And for a bite to eat and drink, I recommend the Cafe am Engelbecken, which provides great views of the pools and gardens. 
The Canal That Now Serves as a Garden Path
View of Cafe am Engelbechen

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Impressionism and Expressionism in Berlin

An Expressionist View:
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Potsdamer Platz, 1914
Two Fashionable Prostitutes 
An Impressionist View:
Hans Herrmann
Der Potsdamer Platz 1894, 1894
Flower Seller and Middle Class Woman

A blockbuster art exhibition can double the annual attendance of an art museum and pull in significant amounts of money. But a blockbuster can also be predictable, crowded, and shallow. Last year, Berlin's Martin-Gropius-Bau hosted the David Bowie exhibition, an over-hyped spectacle that left many spectators wondering why they bothered to attend.

For the most part, I've grown weary of exhibits that feature the same limited cast of famous painters: Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, and so forth. The scholarship attached to these exhibits is often dull and uninspiring. So it was with some excitement and a little trepidation that I recently saw ImEx, Impressionism - Expressionism, Art at a Turning Point currently on view at Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie. Billed as a comprehensive exhibition that traces the similarities and differences of these two movements, the show is attracting large crowds. Unfortunately, ImEx is all hype, with little substance. In short, it lacks the depth and finesse I was hoping for. The comparisons found in the exhibition frequently feel forced, focusing on the obvious, without exploring the various approaches to technique and the formal characteristics of painting. While there were a few thought-out arrangements, the show as a whole was chaotic and underwhelming. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Woman Drinks Entire Bottle of Cognac at Airport Security

Brother's Drinking
'Fertility' Wine
We've all been stopped at airport security with a forgotten bottle of water, which we can either toss or drink in front of airport security. But what happens if that liquid is not water but an expensive bottle of cognac? For a Chinese airline passenger, there was only one solution: drink the entire bottle then and there. Of course, she got drunk, passed out, and missed her flight. 

Hard choices have been made at other airport security checkpoints in China. For example, this past June, two brothers were stopped for having wine stashed in their carry-on. The brothers explained that the wine had special medicinal properties used to treat male fertility. Nevertheless, the security officials were adamant in enforcing regulations and so the brothers decided to drink the wine before boarding the plane. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blind Women as Experts in Breast Cancer Detection

Early detection and treatment of breast cancer significantly increases a women's chance of survival. Traditional methods such as mammograms and routine doctor examinations are not optimal. Mammograms are usually not given (or paid by insurance) to women under 50, even though 20 percent of breast cancer is detected in this population demographic. In addition, routine physician exams are not standardized and usually take around 5 minutes. 

Discovering Hands trains visually impaired women with their highly developed sensory skills to detect the early signs of breast cancer. These exams (30 minutes) are conducted by specially trained blind women (MTEs) in conjunction with a physician. Preliminary results are encouraging. Studies show that the MTEs detected 30 percent more and 50 percent smaller tissue alterations in the breast than doctors and also did slightly better than mammograms. Equally important, the Discovering Hands projects saves money, provides employment to the visually impaired, and detects cancer early.

Cigarette Smoke in Berlin: A Fact of Life

Smoking is Healthier Than Fascism
I'm back in Berlin, and unfortunately, I'm reminded of why the Europeans are the world's biggest smokers and drinkers (don't get me started on all the broken beer bottles in the street).

In Berlin, it's difficult to escape the cigarette smoke. Recently, Germany past smoking bans in most public places despite resistance from popular smoking rights groups. In fact, there continues to be resistance to smoking bans (Hitler tried to push a smoking ban through in the 1930s but failed). There are even t-shirts around with smokers claiming they are being persecuted by anti-smoking Neo-Nazi legislators. Smoking in Berlin is just one annoyance a non-smoker needs to get used to. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sharon Stone at 57

Wow! Sharon Stone is 57 years old, and she looks good at any age.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

36 Hours in Berlin

Here's a wonderful video from the New York Times that captures the essence of Berlin's new culture. 

Best Designed Book Cover of 2015

Who says, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? A creatively designed cover always catches my eye, and more often than not, I end up buying the book. Here are some of my picks for the best designed book covers of 2015, courtesy of the Guardian.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Just Another Reason to Boycott GoDaddy

Long before the killing of Cecil made headlines around the world, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons sparked outrage when he released a video of himself killing an elephant. Mr. Parsons justified his actions by stating that the 'elephant situation' was a problem, and that by killing the elephant, he rid the area of a pest and helped feed the local inhabitants. Mr. Parsons is worth millions, if not billions. If he truly wanted to help the people of Zimbabwe, why not give them money? 

Mr. Parsons's actions and GoDaddy's sexist marketing campaign's are reasons why I took my business elsewhere.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Help for the Insecure: Mary 'Comma Queen' Norris

Mastering punctuation and grammar is essential, and it's often the cause of anxiety for many writers, myself included. Yet, the correct use of punctuation and grammar is an endangered species through sloppy usage on the Internet, in e-mail, and text messages. Even President Obama is guilty of incorrect usage when he said during an interview, "It's a very personal decision for Michelle and I."

Mary Norris, a copy editor at the New Yorker, wants to improve the way we use language in all its facets: grammar, syntax, vocabulary, spelling, usage, and punctuation. In her series Comma Queen, Norris explains how to make the English language richer and clearer through correct language skills. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Personhood for Chimps?

A recent decision by a lower New York court offers a glimmer of hope that chimps may one day have the right to bodily liberty or 'legal personhood.' Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. They are extremely intelligent and social beings, sharing many human characteristics. Denying them basic rights and dignity is something future generations will look back on us with shame. Currently, the Balearic Islands is the only jurisdiction that provides legal personhood to the great apes.