A Little History Lesson On Ukraine And Crimea May Help Put Things Into Perspective

A little history lesson about Ukraine and Crimea may help put recent developments into better perspective. What emerges is a very clear understanding of why both Russia and Ukraine feel that they each have historical precedent to support their positions: Russia believes Ukraine is part of Russia, while Ukraine (or at least parts of Ukraine) believes it to be independent with a brighter future in Europe. Both can lay claim to Crimea. Given such a long and convoluted history, one should not expect a quick and easy solution to tensions in that region.

The Crimean peninsula has been the center of many past conflicts, repeatedly colonized and occupied over the centuries. The Russian Empire annexed Crimea in 1783, after numerous wars with the Ottoman Empire.  The Crimean War of 1853-56 (which some historians regard as the first truly world war) saw France, Britain, and the Ottomans pitted against Russia. While most of the fighting was on the peninsula, the Crimean War was an attempt to push back against perceived Russian hegemony in Europe. Crimea was devastated, but remained part of Russia.

After the 1917 Russian revolution, Crimea became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the largest in the USSR. In 1944, Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar population to Siberia and Central Asia as punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. In 1954, a controversial move by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (himself an ethnic Ukrainian) transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, carving it out of the larger Russian territory.

Ukraine has had a long and prosperous history of its own. Kiev was at one time (in the Middle Ages) the largest city-state in Europe, situated on several important trade routes. Much of what is now Ukraine came under the control of Poland and Lithuania, but then became part of the Russian empire after the partition of Poland in 1793. Ukraine declared independence in 1918 after the Russian revolution. In 1921, however, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established after the nation was conquered by the Russian Red Army. Ukraine was subject to many reprisals and hardships under Stalin.

When the USSR crumbled, Ukraine became a sovereign nation in 1991. There was much debate then about the fate of Crimea. When all was said and done, Crimea was granted special status as a so-called Autonomous Republic within Ukraine. This gives it a larger say over local issues, but it remains governed by Ukraine. Today, ethnic Russians make up nearly 60% of the Crimean population, with ethnic Ukrainians (25%) and Tatars (12%) the other major groups. The exiled Tatars began returning to Crimea after the fall of the USSR. Ethnic Russians in Crimea reportedly want a return to the constitution of 1992, under which Crimea briefly had its own president and independent foreign policy. Clearly, Ukraine will not be at all sympathetic to this.

Adding to the conflict is the status of Sevastopol. This is not only the largest Crimean city, but it also has special strategic and military significance dating back centuries. In 1948, Sevastopol was separated from the surrounding region of Crimea and made directly subordinate to Moscow. This was amended in 1978, when Sevastopol was put back under Ukraine’s jurisdiction. In the 1990s, the status of Sevastopol again became the subject of debate between Russia and Ukraine following the breakup of the USSR. Following protracted negotiations, the city and the surrounding territories was granted a special “state significance” status that kept it under Ukrainian rule.

However, the city’s Russian majority and many Russian politicians still consider Sevastopol to be a part of Russia. It is no wonder then that recent pro-Russian protest movements were centered in this city. Sevastopol serves to this day as an important Russian naval base under a 20-year lease first signed back in 1997. Then-President Yanukovych signed an agreement with then-President Medvedev in 2010 to extend the lease (as part of the natural gas deal) another 25 years to 2042, with an option to extend again to 2047.


An Absurdist Hungarian Party Dogs its Rivals

An underdog party makes outlandish campaign promises to mock politics as usual

The Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party is trying doggedly to enter the country’s coming parliamentary elections.

The party, known by the Hungarian initials MKKP, is campaigning on promises of eternal life and free beer for everyone. It boasts of using “the tools of absurdity.” And now it wants Hungary’s constitutional court to overrule the refusal of lower courts to recognize it as an official political party.

With Hungary mired in the campaign season in the run-up to the April 6 vote, most parties are seeking activists. Not the MKKP—it says it is looking for “passivists.”

While the governing Fidesz party is comfortably leading in opinion polls in large part due to its cuts to household utility prices, the MKKP says it would raise them. When Hungary signed an agreement with Russia to have Moscow expand Hungary’s only nuclear plant and provide a massive loan, the MKKP said Hungary should go even further and adopt the Russian ruble as its currency instead of the euro.

If the MKKP wins, it will take Hungary out of the European Union and then start negotiations with the bloc about the EU joining Hungary, the MKKP said, poking fun at Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s frequent clashes with Brussels.

The MKKP’s farcical election promises aim to show Hungarians that the tails (the politicians) are wagging the dog (the voters).

Our “impossible promises” are designed to show “that traditional political parties are not treating voters like adults,” the MKKP said in its appeal to Hungary’s top court. “They are also making impossible promises without making it clear to the voters that their promises are unrealistic.”

The party, which has nearly 100,000 followers on Facebook, says it derives its name from the English saying “as happy as a dog with two tails.” Lower courts turned down the MKKP’s request to register as a political party because of that name, which the courts said failed to reflect the party’s activities and could thus mislead voters.

Those rulings shouldn’t happen to a dog, the MKKP replied. The MKKP—whose logo is a line drawing of a white pooch with red eyes, a tie and two tails—argues that establishing a party, even an impudent one, is a basic right under the constitution.

Europe is dotted with frivolous or joke parties. The U.K. has the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Germany is home to Die PARTEI (The Party), which wants to build a wall around Switzerland. And in Iceland, Besti Flokkurinn (The Best Party) unexpectedly won local elections in Reykjavik in 2010 and has held the mayor’s office ever since.

Prezi hits 30M users, doubling annually, and has ‘not used a dime’ of investors’ money

Prezi hits 30M users, doubling annually, and has ‘not used a dime’ of investors’ money

Prezi has raised over $14 million in venture capital to grow its business. However, despite rocket-stick growth and a massive user-base that just passed 30 million, the company has not used a single dime.

Which doesn’t mean the company won’t, of course.

“The only reason we haven’t dipped into the investment is that the user growth has been so strong that it has exceeded all our expectations,” co-founder and president Peter Arvai told me this week. “But absolutely, as soon as we find investment opportunities, we will invest.”

Prezi user growth

Prezi user growth

The key is cognitive science, Arvai says. Prezi’s visual mapping presentation style works by combining two important elements about how we learn and remember information: we remember landmarks, and we combine landmarks with direction or action. That spatial relativity is something that, cognitive scientists say, enhances our ability to store and recall data.

And it was almost an accidental discovery.

“It’s something we didn’t know ourselves as we launched the company,” Arvai says. “I’m learning it now as I’m talking to more and more cognitive scientists.”

Prezi’s current 30 million users is a 50 percent increase in just six months, and 1.5 million new users are currently joining the company every month, Arvai says. The software is huge in education, with special pricing for schools and districts — my kids are using it all the time — but it’s also making a significant impact in business.

One franchise fitness company credits Prezi with a massive increase in closing sales:

“Our ‘Franchise Opportunity’ prezi has yielded a 30 percent increase in our closing ratio and all of our training modules are now served up in Prezi,” says Craig Pepin-Donat, CEO. “If you’re not using Prezi, it’s like you’re using a chisel and hammer to deliver your presentations.”

Prezi says the growth, which is largely at the expense of Microsoft’s presentation leader PowerPoint, is part of a larger trend, in which people are looking for tools to help them be creative, help them differentiate, and help them communicate more effectively.

“It’s a much more efficient way of communicating ideas than slides … textual and paginated information is just not as great,” Arvai says.

The company has recently added templates for inspiration, and there are millions of presentations at Prezi.com to search and use, thanks to the company’s interesting freemium model. Essentially, you pay for privacy: Creating a Prezi is free, as long as you share it. If you want to keep it private, you need to pay.

The software is now available in Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese, and new languages are “coming soon,” Arvai says.

“We want the technology to disappear and the ideas to come front and center.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman ‘killed by toxic mix of drugs’

Philip Seymour Hoffman, hoisting a Golden Globe award for his role in Capote in 2006

Hoffman, shown in 2006 after winning a Golden Globe award for his role in Capote, had struggled with addiction

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an accidental overdose of a mixture of drugs including heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, and benzodiazepine, officials have said.

The Oscar winner, 46, was found dead at his home in New York City on 2 February with a syringe in his arm.

He had struggled with drug addiction and had recently acknowledged he had relapsed after being clean for years.

The New York medical examiner revealed the post-mortem results on Friday.

He was survived by his partner of 15 years, Mimi O’Donnell, and their three children.

After 23 years of sobriety, he reportedly checked himself into a drug treatment programme for 10 days last year after relapsing in 2012.

After a playwright and friend found his body in his flat in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighbourhood, police arrived and discovered dozens of bags of heroin.

One of the most admired actors of his generation, Hoffman won an Academy Award in 2006 for his role as Truman Capote in Capote.

He was also nominated for Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt and The Master.


Joins Other Industry Leaders Answering President Obama’s Call to Improve Education in the United States

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — (Marketwired) — 02/28/14 — Prezi, the software for delivering memorable presentations, today announced that is has joined other industry leaders in support of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative. Prezi’s commitment will provide $100 million in Edu Pro licenses to hundreds of thousands of high schools and educators across America. With Prezi, teachers will have a better way to help their students explore subjects, see how ideas are related, and collaborate with each other.

“Better education is our best chance to create sustainable improvements in the world. Through the President’s ConnectED initiative, we’re making sure that more schools have access to the innovative tools that will inspire an expanding mind,” said Peter Arvai, co-founder and chief executive officer of Prezi. “Prezi, in particular, will help teachers convey ideas and enable students to understand and retain concepts. We are extremely excited to participate in the initiative and grateful to the nearly 40 million people in our Prezi community who have made it possible.”

The White House previously announced $750 million in commitments from 7 partners including Apple, Microsoft, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Autodesk, and O’Reilly Media. Prezi and Adobe are the latest technology companies to join the initiative, bringing the total ConnectED investment to more than $1 billion.

About Prezi
Prezi is the presentation software that uses an open canvas instead of traditional slides to help people explore ideas, collaborate more effectively, and create visually dynamic presentations. More than 35 million people from over 190 countries use Prezi from their desktops, browsers, iPads, or iPhones. Founded in 2009, and with offices in San Francisco and Budapest, Prezi provides a unique solution for anyone who needs to deliver a “wow” experience or simply share an ideaanytime, anywhere.

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Media Contact:
Kelly Hook

Adobe & Prezi commit $400M to President Obama’s digital literacy program

Adobe & Prezi commit $400M to President Obama’s digital literacy program

President Obama is relying on the private sector to further his ambitious goal to bring high-speed Internet to 99 percent of schools.

The administration’s ConnectEd program, unveiled last Summer, aims to improve Internet access for students and bring new education technology to schools.

Fewer than 20 percent of educators across the country feel that their school’s Internet connection adequately meets their teaching needs, according to the White House.

The ConnectEd program has raised some $1 billion in funding from the private sector thus far. Today, the program received its largest single donation from software company Adobe. Adobe pledged more than $300 million worth of software to the program, giving K-12 students access to well-known products like Photoshop Elements and EchoSign.

Cloud software company Prezi also donated $100 million in software licenses for education as part of the initiative. The commitment includes licenses of Prezi Edu Pro, which usually runs at $4.92 per month.

President Obama made the announcement during the White House’s inaugural student “film festival” earlier today. Over 2,500 student teams from K-12 schools submitted short films, which showcase how technology is used in their classrooms. You can watch the 16 final student film selections here.

The administration is also putting pressure on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to bring lightning fast Internet to schools. Last year, Obama asked the FCC to revamp its E-Rate program, which subsidizes Internet services for schools and libraries, but only those that meet its criteria.

The FCC amped up its involvement in ConnectEd by pledging $2 billion to connect 20 million students in 15,000 schools over the next two years.

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