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When I went to Tehran in 2011 to interview then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, relations with the U.S. were at a low, and distrust between the two nations was at a high. So it was unsurprising that Iran's leader played to type perfectly, spouting nasty rhetoric when he sat down with me.
What was surprising was the stance of the ordinary people – Iranians on the street, in cafes, at my hotel – who expressed an admiration for America and an interest in improving relations across the board.
But not everybody gets the chance to travel to Iran and meet the locals as I did. Well, we found the next best thing. Inside an art gallery in downtown Manhattan sits a large, golden box. It may look like a fancy shipping container, but enter and you'll discover it is actually a "portal" to Iran.
The artist Amar Bakshi, a former GPS producer, set up a web-connected camera in New York and partnered with an artist to do the same in Tehran, enabling face-to-face conversations between people who would not otherwise meet. Despite being 6,000 miles and a world apart, participants can easily slide into conversation with each other about their daily lives. Some even demonstrate their passions, like this dance.
I went into the portal and spoke with several Iranians about their lives and their country and how they see the U.S. Perhaps President Obama and Rouhani should meet this way – call it a diplomatic dance.
“What's an e-resident?” you may ask. Well, in a ceremony in Estonia, one of the world's most wired countries according to Freedom House, Edward Lucas – a senior editor at The Economist – was given the world's first "e-resident" card by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves last week.
E-residency is not the same as citizenship or legal residency, it is digital residency that gives you special powers. We caught up with Ed Lucas, the new E-Estonian, in his London office so he could show us what he could do with his new e-identity.
You can launch a company in Estonia without having to be there, and utilize the country's financial services. Insert your E-resident card into the smartcard reader attached to your computer, and you can access these services anywhere in the world as if you were physically present, replacing the need to sign things on paper. And, Lucas says, this is just the beginning.
“Just as we have competition between Visa and MasterCard and American Express, we're going to have competition between providers of digital identities. And the one that offers the best combination of security and convenience will come out on top.”
The only downside? At the moment, to get the card you do have to go to Estonia. And winter is not the most delightful season in E-stonia.
For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Many of us remember when the Berlin Wall fell – the celebratory atmosphere, the cheers, the singing, the hammering, the fireworks – and most of all the promise of freedom. On the 25th anniversary we thought we'd look at Freedom House's rankings of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics to see how those liberated countries have actually fared.
Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have all done very well, although countries like Albania and Bosnia/Herzegovina do need improvement with scores of "partly free."
Of the 15 former Soviet Republics; however, only three countries – the Baltic States – received an overall score of "free". Five received were "partly free," but seven received a score of "not free."
Twelve of the 15 countries do not have an entirely free press. In fact, only North Korea has less press freedom than Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan! Most received poor scores on civil liberties and political rights. And finally, only six of the 15 countries can be considered electoral democracies at all, according to the most recent data.
Twenty-five years from now, let's hope we see an improved picture – one worthy of the feeling we all had on that day.
Despite the ugly discord of the recent midterm campaigning, it's heartening to hear that Democrats and Republicans share some surprising common ground, according to some new analytics from Facebook.
Facebook looked at everyone who “Liked” campaign pages of Democrats and Republicans running for governor, the Senate, or the House – and examined their other page "Likes."
Take a look at the graphics in the video. The more an artist or author or place is disproportionately "Liked" by supporters of one side or the other, the farther it appears to the left or right.
Republicans' taste in music skewed, not surprisingly, toward country artists, while Democrats (also not surprisingly) love the Beatles and Bob Marley. Members of both parties like Taylor Swift (as does my 6-year old daughter who as far as I know has no party affiliation). But I'm scratching my head over this one: the Empire State Building was disproportionately liked more by Democrats.
The destination both Dems and Republicans could agree on was the Jersey Shore – perhaps it was all that Christie-Obama bonding on the boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy…
There are an estimated 7,000 languages in the world, and countless more accents and dialects. An accent can reveal a lot about a person – a spectrum of sounds with differing vowels and consonants, lilts and drawls, it can betray someone's geographic origin, level of education, social class.
But accents are malleable; they grow with you. I'm sure mine has changed since I first came to this country.
A new book published in the U.K. on accents caught my eye this week. It's titled You Say Potato. Focusing mainly on the British Isles, where the authors say an accent shifts every 25 miles, the book explores the way an accent can reflect identity.
On the book's website, people from around the world can upload how they say "potato" to a map. The title brings up the question: Does anyone actually say “potahto,” or was it just a good rhyme for the song made famous in Shall We Dance?
So far, we didn't find any "potahtoes" but the authors said there is a historical reason for this pronunciation – the "ah" vowel can be traced to the end of the 18th century in Britain.
Terrorists and jihadis have embraced social media using the Wild West of the Internet to exhibit bravado and spread their messages of hate. The bad guys have learned how to turn Twitter into a tool of terror. And Twitter is fighting back.
One analyst who monitors such accounts, J.M. Berger, tweeted last month that Twitter suspended 400 accounts linked to ISIS in just seven hours. But social media can also sometimes be a counterterrorism weapon.
Just recently, Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, might have made the CIA's job a little easier. Mujahid's Twitter profile says he is in Kabul, but he posted tweets that showed his location, and as many media outlets reported, those tweets showed him to be in neighboring Pakistan, where many believe leaders of his group are in hiding.
He quickly claimed to be the victim of an "enemy forgery," turned off the location feature and showed that it is possible to spoof your location by sending a tweet that made it look like he was in Brian, Ohio, population 8,000.
While it is possible he was hacked, we think the book "Twitter for Dummies" might better explain what happened.
Over the past few years, technology and global affairs have increasingly intersected. Think about when Twitter delayed site maintenance in order to continue to carry tweets during Iran's green revolution. Or about apps like "Red Alert," created this summer to warn Israelis of incoming rocket attacks.
Well, last month, geeks collided with global policy once more. Hack North Korea, organized by the Human Rights Foundation, brought 100 engineers, coders, activists, investors, and designers together in San Francisco to answer one burning question: How can we get information into and possibly out of North Korea?
The attendees divided into eight groups judged by a panel that included North Korean defectors, refugees, and even a computer scientist who once trained the regime's cyber warfare unite. The winner – tiny portable satellite receivers so small and flat they could be hidden on the exteriors of North Korean homes. They would be smuggled in using balloons or across the Chinese border. And they would pull in English and Korean language stations from a South Korean broadcaster.
Think of it as air dropping a different kind of weapon – knowledge.
Laughter can be the best medicine – but can it cure misogyny?
Last week, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç gave a speech that sparked a massive social media reaction. Women, he said, shouldn't burst out laughing in public, should know what is appropriate, and should preserve their "chastity." So women shouldn't laugh out loud, and men, he said, shouldn't be womanizers. (Not really equivalent moral standards…)
Hundreds of women responded by posting pictures of themselves laughing in public. There were more than 160,000 Tweets following the comments, using the Turkish words for "laughter," "resist laugher" and "women defy."
The oppression of women in Turkey isn’t a laughing matter, of course. A 2009 report found that 40 percent of Turkey's female population had suffered domestic violence.
This week, the first round of the presidential election begins, and a top challenger to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (who is a favorite for the presidency) tweeted about the incident, saying women in Turkey needed to laugh more, not less. But Arınç stood by his comments, suggesting people focused too much on that part of his speech.
Well, if you say something absurd, condescending, and demeaning to 50 percent of your population, don't be so surprised if people focus on it!
Since life on Earth is so tumultuous these days, we think we could all use a little extraterrestrial beauty. Earlier this month, a Japanese artist teamed up with the company J.P. Aerospace and launched a pine bonsai tree and a bouquet of more than 30 types of flowers into the stratosphere. Literally.
The images are stunning. The plants were placed in devices attached to helium balloons that rose roughly 90,000 feet before returning to earth after the balloons burst.
The devices, which had parachutes, were discovered five miles from the launch site. The bonsai and the flowers, however, were never found.
Another mystery of the universe.
To add to the world's tumult, the North Korean government threatened military action last month over an upcoming Seth Rogen and James Franco movie. It's about television personalities recruited to assassinate Kim Jong Un during an interview. Recently, Pyongyang wrote a letter of complaint to the White House requesting that the movie, which they deemed to be "an act of war," be shut down.
While this seems in keeping with Kim Jong Un's usual antics, he isn’t the only dictator to throw this kind of tantrum.
Remember Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian strongman? He's suing the makers of the videogame "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" from his Panamanian prison cell.
Noriega alleges in his lawsuit that the game portrays him as "a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state." Perhaps the videogame designers should have had his character stick to drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering – crimes he was convicted of in the United States and France.
Oh, and he was also convicted of murder in Panama.
One would think Kim Jong Un has more important things to worry about than Hollywood comedies. We guess Noriega in his prison cell has more time on his hands.
The image in the video shows the world famous Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. A statue of Apollo, the Greek god of music, riding his chariot has sat atop the Bolshoi's portico for more than 150 years. In the 1990s, the statue joined the ranks of princes and emperors when it was added to the nation's currency. It now decorates the front of the 100 Ruble note.
This month, Russian lawmaker Roman Khudyakov requested that the Central Bank remove this iconic image. It seems he is offended by the Greek god's clothing – or lack thereof. You see, following a recent theater restoration, a more modest version of the Bolshoi statue was unveiled with a strategically placed fig leaf. Khudyakov noted that the bills don’t match the restored statue and finds them unsuitable for children.
This request, unusual as it may be, echoes a growing conservatism in the Russian government. The parliament unanimously passed anti-gay legislation last year banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to youth. Who knows what the law means? But what we do know is that the fine for a person breaking it is steep – up to 100,000 rubles. That's about $3000 dollars.
President Putin has strongly supported this anti-gay legislation. Something tells us, however, that Mr. Putin won’t be as offended by the lack of clothes. Remember the famous image of the bare-chested macho man of the Urals?
Last week, Turkey's Justice and Development Party – the AKP Party – announced that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be its presidential candidate in the August elections.
His campaign began immediately, and his logo caught our eye. Take a look at the video – it’s a red rising sun. The party said it symbolizes hope, the birth of a new Turkey, unity and togetherness. The winding road, they say, symbolizes Erdogan's "journey of life."
But people quickly pointed out that the logo looks a bit familiar. Yes, it’s very similar to President Obama's campaign logo. At the time, Obama's logo was chosen as a symbol of hope and a new day, and of course because it has an "o."
This isn't the only logo people have compared to Obama's. In 2008, South Africa's Democratic Alliance party unveiled its logo.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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