Sweden is one of the wealthiest, most stable and smooth-running countries in the world.
Which would explain why the country's 9.5 million residents may be shocked by the events of the last few days.
For the last three nights, hundreds of youths have been rampaging through parts of the capital, Stockholm, torching cars, setting fires, and throwing rocks at police and fire trucks.
The trouble began over the weekend, after the police shot dead a 69-year-old man in the city's Husby neighborhood, where many residents originate from the Middle East and Africa. The exact circumstances are a bit cloudy: the man allegedly threatened officers with a machete.
Sweden's Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, appealed for calm on Tuesday, condemning the riots as hooliganism. His words failed to prevent another night of violence, in which two schools, a police station and an arts and crafts center were attacked, and 30 cars were burnt.
Soul-searching is underway in Sweden - for years admired by the world as a champion of tolerance - over the possible causes of the unrest.
The police blame "youth gangs and criminals." Others cite a range of factors, particularly high youth unemployment levels among people of immigrant origin, a problem that blights large parts of Europe.
"There's an underlying problem of a lack of jobs, and a perceived lack of opportunity among people living in these areas, " said David Landes, editor of The Local newspaper in Sweden.
In the troubled neighborhoods, allegations are said to be flying around about police brutality, racism and harassment. Sweden is once again facing a debate over whether immigrants and their families - once welcomed with open arms - are being marginalized, and whether multi-culturalism is working.
Immigration is a controversial issue in Scandanavia these days: resentment over asylum seekers, competition for jobs, and Islamist militancy have helped fuel a surge in support for anti-immigration parties in the region. These include the far-right Sweden Democrats - now running third in opinion polls.
Asked about Stockholm's unrest, Rami Al-khamisi, a co-founder of Megafonen, a group that works for social change, described Sweden as an "increasingly divided" society. He told Reuters that these "gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger."
Justice Minister Beatrice Ask has reportedly acknowledged "social exclusion" as "a very serious cause of many problems." She's promising Stockholm's police will forge closer ties to troubled local communities.
The kerfuffle Tuesday and today on Twitter about the "news" that the creator of the GIF gets annoyed if he hears someone use a hard "G" when pronouncing the name of his file format triggered our aging memory banks.
Hadn't we heard a while back that GIF creator Steve Wilhite and many other tech types insist it's supposed to be pronounced with a soft "J," like Jif peanut butter?
Yes we had. Check Eyder's post from last November, when he noted that GIF was the Oxford Dictionary's American word of the year for 2012. He wrote that:
"Technology enthusiasts insist on pronouncing it like the peanut butter brand Jif."
Still, as Eyder was careful to add, "Oxford points out that the 'the pronunciation with a hard g is now very widespread and readily understood.' "
Side note: Eyder, who isn't here today, knows about mispronunciations. He's too polite to correct the many folks, even at NPR, who call him A-der rather than I-der. But if this blogger is called ma-MOTT, rather than MEH-mitt, he will point that out.
Back to GIFs. We did an informal survey of some tech-savvy types in the NPR newsroom and they insisted they won't be intimidated into saying it the way Wilhite and others want. To them, it's GIF with a hard "G."
We wonder if Two-Way readers are so hard-headed. So, the question is:
It's true enough that there's plenty wrong with Gatsby Le Magnifique, as the French are calling the latest from director Baz Luhrmann. But what better film could there have been to open the sensory onslaught that is the Cannes Film Festival than one orchestrated by that patron saint of overstimulation?
It's not just that you might see four films a day at Cannes, from directors as different as plainspoken American satirist Alexander Payne (here with heartland father-son drama Nebraska) and hyperliterate French maximalist Arnaud Desplechin (who has enlisted Benicio Del Toro for the wonderfully titled Jimmy P. — Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian).
It's the chaos outside the theater on the French Riviera, with women on roller skates swooping at you to hawk trade magazines, and red-carpet photo calls set to Daft Punk. Crowds scrambling for a glimpse of stars, even if it's only through the smartphone camera screens held up by everyone up front.
With the right party invitations, Cannes is not unlike Gatsby's unhinged introduction scene for Leo DiCaprio, where the star smiles wide as the Gershwin swells behind booming fireworks: Even if it's all a little tacky, you're still stunned by the ridiculous grandeur and glamour of it all.
Without the right invitations (read: if you're me), on the other hand, the Gatsby resonance comes from the time spent staring at lights on distant piers, scenes of parties much classier than whatever you've hustled your way into — though you'll find enough cheap booze for a bootlegger either way.
The overheated atmosphere has a way of inducing delusions of grandeur in everyone here, including film critics. Indeed, the history of media coverage at Cannes is full of examples of exaggerated, oversimplified pans and ill-considered snap judgments — especially post-Twitter. (My favorite historical example, just to prove that antisocial media were hardly paragons, might be the now-shuttered British Daily Herald, reporting on the prize awarded to Federico Fellini's classic La Dolce Vita: "ORGY FILM WINS TOP AWARD."*)
It's enough to make it clear why Ingmar Bergman, upon learning that The Virgin Spring was playing at Cannes, wrote that he "hate[s] that place of meat market[s] and mental humiliation. At a festival you can really despair of the motion picture as an art." (That he ended up winning a prize that year did not change his view.)
In any case, a good critic does what she can to keep an even keel. But it's hard for a certain kind of film fan to not get giddy when the lineup features new work from the Coen brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Jim Jarmusch, Roman Polanski, Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive) and Asghar Farhadi (director of the phenomenal Oscar-winner A Separation).
Festival head Thierry Fremaux has also taken steps this year to address one common complaint that has dogged the festival — the underrepresentation of female directors, though he's done it in a way that raises issues of its own. There are eight female directors in the official competition categories (compared with three last year), but seven of them, including art-cinema heavyweights like Sofia Coppola and Claire Denis, have been relegated to the secondary Un Certain Regard category.
Fremaux has shrugged off criticism about this strange disparity by saying that Un Certain Regard is just as important as the flagship competition, but few people here really believe that. (Just look at the name! It's like a half-step above the "I Guess It's OK" awards.)
And for anyone who'd suggest that it's a matter of those films being less accomplished, Coppola's The Bling Ring is at least one terrific counterexample, having already outclassed some of the competition films in the first two days here. The film is based on the titular gang of real-life teens who used gossip rags and Twitter feeds to find out when celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan would be out of town, then ransacked their homes. It helped that those gleaming glass edifices on L.A. mountainsides were usually unlocked — when celebrity culture has made the rest of these lives transparent, is it a big surprise that their homes weren't any different?
Barriers of any kind are a foreign concept for gang ringleaders Nicki, Rebecca, and Marc (Emma Watson, Katie Chang and Israel Broussard), whom Coppola portrays here in an ultra-specific satirical snapshot. Designer brand names and Kanye West lyrics are their native tongue, and "The Secret" — that method of attaining all your desires through the power of positive thinking — is the equivalent of their morning prayers; they prefer entitlement to enlightenment. (Watson in particular has a blast putting on a Valley-girl accent and yammering about "expanding as a spiritual human being," though Coppola has actually toned down the ridiculousness of her real-life inspiration).
Bored with even the excess of nightclub visits and house parties, these kids decide to try on the lifestyles of their heroes as if they were so many Prada heels. At first, it's by taking their things and partying in their homes, but soon they follow the imitation to its logical conclusion — carefully chosen court-date outfits and lawyer-scripted apologies in the manner of their DUI-charged idols.
And why wouldn't they, when the consequences of their actions seem to be nonexistent? Or they are for the kids with the right lawyers, at least. Like the similarly themed Spring Breakers, this is partially a story about class and social-climbing, in which the inevitable hammer comes down hardest on the least fortunate. For the others, life is but a shopping spree.
A male sergeant at West Point has been accused of secretly videotaping at least a dozen female cadets, sometimes when they were showering, The New York Times reports.
Gen. John F. Campbell, the army's vice chief of staff, tells the Times that "once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched, followed by swift action to correct the problem."
The accused, Sgt. Michael McClendon, was charged on May 14 "under four articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and actions prejudicial to good order and discipline," according to the newspaper, and was transferred to Fort Drum, N.Y. He had been a staff adviser to a company of cadets.
This news follows a series of reports regarding allegations of sexual assault in the military. Among our related posts:
Other NPR reports include:
— Military's Sexual Assault Problem Is A Cultural One. (All Things Considered)
— Why Is There So Much Sexual Abuse In The Military? (Tell Me More)
— U.S. Military Faces More Accusations Of Sexual Improprieties. (Morning Edition)
Scientists have completed an unusual survey: a census of the fungi that inhabit different places on our skin. It's part of a big scientific push to better understand the microbes that live in and on our bodies.
"This is the first study of our fungi, which are yeast and other molds that live on the human body," says Julie Segre, of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the survey.
Trillions of microbes live everywhere in and on our bodies. Most of these viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms are harmless. Many of them are actually helpful. But scientists are just starting to figure out exactly what they are and what they do.
"A lot of medicine has to do with not just our own human cells but really [is] about how humans interact with the bacteria and fungi that live on our bodies," Segre says.
To assess the fungal population, Segre and her colleagues collected samples from 14 different patches of skin on 10 healthy volunteers.
"We did an exploration where we looked at all the different little crevices of your body," she says.
The researchers then sequenced the fungal DNA in those samples and report what they discovered in this week's issue of the journal Nature.
"What we found was that the human body is an even more diverse ecosystem than we had known when we looked only at the bacterial communities," Segre says.
The survey turned up dozens of types of fungi — far more than anyone knew were there. In most parts of the body, fungi from the genus Malassezia dominated. One part of the body had an especially wide array: the feet.
For example, researchers found at least 80 varieties on the heel, at least 60 between the toes and at least 40 on toenails. Elsewhere on the body, they only identified between two and five types of fungi.
The researchers aren't sure why feet are teeming with such a broad fungal assortment. One possibility is that temperature of our feet fluctuates a lot. Segre says there may be another, simpler explanation: "Even those of us who wear shoes a lot still walk around barefoot, either in our homes or in locker rooms. And there's just great exposure to fungi."
Whatever the explanation, the survey could eventually lead to new ways to treat millions of people who suffer from all sorts of skin conditions, such as toenail infections and athlete's foot.
"It really would certainly underlie the idea that you really do need to take very good care of your feet," Segre says. "So, for example, I do wear flip-flops when I walk around a locker room because I know from these studies that I don't actually want to share the fungi with the, you know, 20 other people who are showering after just going swimming."
The researchers were also surprised when they discovered that one volunteer's fungi were still out of whack seven months after she had taken an antifungal drug.
"We want to think there is a resilience of our bacterial communities, of our fungal communities, and that as soon as we stop medicating that they would bounce back into a state of health," Segre says.
But the volunteer's experience provides more evidence that this expectation is far from the case. It suggests that all the antibiotics, antibacterial products and antifungal medications people use these days may be affecting the good microbes that live on our bodies more than we think.
"The scale at which people are being exposed to antimicrobial drugs is really substantial," says infectious disease specialist Martin Blaser, at New York University. "And it would be surprising if there were not consequences from that."
Researchers plan to use this survey to explore a number of questions, including why women tend to get yeast infections when they take antibiotics. And why do some people get dandruff and some babies get diaper rash while others don't.
"There will be many further follow-up studies looking at the disease state on the skin and what kind of perturbations are associated with both the bacteria and the fungi there," says Joseph Heitman of Duke University, whose research focuses on microbial pathogens.
The results may also yield insights into skin cancer, he says. "What if we were to find the microbes on the skin either increase or decrease the risk for skin cancer, for example? That might be very important information to have," Heitman says.