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Why You Should Think Twice Before Trusting Airbnb Reviews

via Why you should think twice before trusting Airbnb reviews | Erica Ho

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After one terrible Airbnb experience, R and I are now more careful with our stays. After a week’s worth of search, we have just landed on a cozy and comfortable cottage with the warmest hosts ever! (Northern Yorkshire, 2016)

Ever met a perfectly pleasant stranger and then you were asked to critique their communication, habits and home? That’s essentially what leaving an Airbnb review is like.

Though there’s a lot of wonderful hype about Airbnb, there are tons of pitfalls to using the service, including its lack of privacy, poor consistency and the fact that there are some pretty terrible people out there — guests and hosts included. And unfortunately, this all gets swept under the rug because it’s really hard to put down someone after you’ve met them face to face.

More than anything else, it all boils down to the fact that people just hate giving bad feedback directly to people, and that’s why its often best to take Airbnb reviews with a grain of salt. A big grain of salt.

Fundamentally, at its core, Airbnb is the marriage of two preexisting concepts, a lovechild spawned between CouchSurfing and traditional vacation rentals, born into life by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, Nathan Blecharczyk back in 2008. Like Uber and Lyft, the company fundamentally acts a third-party broker between its community. There’s a new reciprocal relationship in town where hosts can affect guests and vice versa, in equal footing that wasn’t there before. And it’s an interesting relationship in which I’ve certainly played my part in, as both host and guest since 2011.

That’s because in the new “sharing” economy (let’s be real, it’s still transactional), two-, three-, or four-star reviews are essentially dead.

Reviews are either “awesome!” or horrible.

Got something lukewarm to say? Don’t be surprised if that’s perceived as completely negative. Courtesy now dictates behavior and guests/hosts will often refrain from leaving a critiqued review unless it was just truly, truly an awful experience. Minor issues get glossed over. And that’s unfortunate, because, like in many review systems, it’s the three- and four- star reviews that are often the most objective.

For better or for worse, social niceties are getting in the way. Rarebit CEO Hampton Catlin illustrates this best when he posted on a blog about his own Airbnb experience:

In fact, we’re currently struggling with this feeling with the AirBnB we’re currently in. It’s slightly dirty, has a loud workshop next door that wakes us up with banging on the wall, has a bathroom that is very hard to get to from the bedroom, and, above all, was pricey! But we met the owner. He seems nice. The place is pretty large. The internet is fast. Plus, he keeps asking if everything is okay and we don’t want to seem like complainers. He’s been really apologetic about the issues in the place but hasn’t really done anything…

The issue is that for most people, it’s against our nature to say bad things about people we just met. It stresses us out and makes us unhappy. So we find it far easier to say “everything’s fine” than “your house isn’t very nice.”

In a world where bad reviews can influence future earnings or the ability to save some money, both hosts/guests will err on keeping the peace in cause of the greater good. Quora and Airbnb user Gillis Danielsen further chimes in on the subject, pointing out his own observations:

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Image Credit: Quora

This essentially skews the numbers, creating a weird five-star halo effect. If everyone essentially chooses to abstain from reviewing mediocre places, then the system is not accurate. If there are eight five-star reviews but 20 people can’t be bothered to leave three-star reviews, than the real average for a property would be 3.5 stars. But that’s not what you would see, at all.

Airbnb even subtly acknowledges this, requiring Airbnb SuperHosts to receive a review from a guest at least 50% of the time.

It also doesn’t help that when Airbnb first initially launched, reviews between hosts and guests were published instantly, thus setting the tone. Since Airbnb participation relies on strong reviews, it was detrimental to leave a negative review—no matter how honest they were—for fear of retribution and getting embroiled in a “he said, she said” conflict. And let’s be honest, no matter who is right in that particular argument, a winner rarely emerges from the fray.

The old adage thus prevailed: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.”

It wasn’t until last year—a full six years after the company’s inception—that Airbnb took serious steps to rectify the issue, during six years is a virtual lifetime.

Unfortunately, even with these changes it’s not enough. The company furthered altered their review policy to let hosts and guests leave both public and private feedback simultaneously. While it lets hosts/guests see what can be improved upon during the experience, it significantly minimizes the amount of public negative feedback. Both hosts and guests feel freer to comment honestly, but the thing is that it all happens behind closed doors with no accountability that the issue will be fixed in the future. There is no transparency for future host/guests, who are forking over their cash or their home.

Even though Airbnb has a valid interest in trying to police their community so that there are no bad eggs, Airbnb has a financially vested interest to at least ensure satisfaction levels appear to be high. Unlike most review sites, it should not be forgotten that Airbnb takes a decent chunk of fees (a healthy 6-12% depending on the cost of the total reservation) out for every transaction made. These fees make up a huge portion of their estimated annual $250 million profit in 2013.

(Compare that to Yelp and TripAdvisor, who don’t necessarily have financial interests in every single property featured on their site. TripAdvisor does review FlipKey, another vacation rental site they own, but the problems with TripAdvisor are well-documented).

One anonymous Quora user has pointed out that Airbnb does not, in fact, leave its reviews alone. In fact, he notices that the site has had a tendency to hide its reviews to further its own goals.

Frankly, that’s disturbing. Especially when travelers are paying hundreds of dollars for a decent roof under their head that may make or break their trip experience. To clarify Airbnb’s position, I emailed them regarding the removal of negative reviews, asking in particular, why that Quora user may have had the experience that they did.

Their spokeswoman redirected me back to their official review guidelines:

Airbnb’s default position is not to censor, edit or delete reviews. However, there are rare cases in which we may take the extraordinary step of disallowing or removing reviews or review responses. We reserve the right to remove reviews that violate review guidelines.

Not totally reassuring.

At least there seems to be a better system set up for honesty on other sites, where users can post their own pictures, where business owners can offer their responses, and there are no adverse effects to users posting honest opinions. In truth, those systems punish property owners more than it punishes travelers.

That system creates a pro-consumer culture where property owners have to maintain a level of consistency. And Airbnb’s main flaw is that hosts have varying degrees of professionalism and understanding that it’s a business transaction. The experience is completely variable. Unfortunately, this particular system also doesn’t account for someone who might come in and wreck your home, too. While it might not be the particularly best system for Airbnb, there is also more honesty on one side of the coin.

Perhaps the best thing for Airbnb to do is to keep the policy as is but without notifying either host or guest that a review has happened on either side. Most hosts and guests can generally sense whether a lukewarm review is imminent, so it’s possible to game the 14-day window by waiting till the very end or waiting for other positive reviews to deflect a negative or lukewarm review. Another option? Hide the names of users/hosts for their written and starred reviews to keep it less personal. That would simplify things.

So how do you tell someone who you’ve seen in their jammies that their place might be a bit a dump after coming into their home? After they went out of the way to make coffee? Or how to ask your guest not to eat your food while they’re dumping milk into their bowl without being an asshole? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

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Why Amsterdam’s Prostitution Laws are Still Failing to Protect or Empower Women

via Why Amsterdam’s Prostitution Laws are Still Failing to Protect or Empower Women | Lily Rae, IB Times

Amsterdam may be heralded as a hub for liberalism and social progression following its legalisation of prostitution in 1988 and consumption of marijuana.

However, after a significant number of brothels have been closed due to suspected criminal activity in the best known Red Light district of De Wallen in Amsterdam, alongside the nature of displaying women in windows like pieces of meat, it shows that the system has not worked.

The Normalisation of Exploitation

I went to Amsterdam for the first time recently, at the ripe old age of 23.

I did all the things they tell you in the guidebooks – marvelled at the paintings in the Van Gogh Museum, climbed every leg-breaking step in Anne Frank’s House, had coffee without milk at least three times a day, and ate my weight in Gouda cheese.

However, I didn’t smoke a big reefer style doobie spliff joint, in case you were wondering, mainly because the last time I did that I stopped listening to the person I was having a conversation with and instead became obsessed by the notion that I had a big fat hamster face and everyone was laughing at it.

I also had a Febo burger, which was sensational – the radical idea behind Febo, a fast-food chain in Amsterdam, is essentially 24 hour vending machines serving up burgers, croquettes, kebabs and the like. The burger sits in a little heated booth behind a glass door, you pop a couple of Euros into the slot, the door opens and you’ve got a burger without the need for awkward human interaction.

Funnily enough, the way women lined the windows in De Wallen resembled that of a Febo snack – quick, easy, and on display for those who need a quick fix.

Women as Fast Food ‘Treat’

Visitors enter a peep-show theatre during the first-ever open day of Amsterdam's red light district

Visitors enter a peep-show theatre during the first-ever open day of Amsterdam’s red light district (Reuters)

Lumped into the same category as visiting a museum, the zoo or a gallery, the Red Light District is what people rave about it when visiting Holland’s capital city.

Lauding Amsterdam for its liberal-mindedness, observing (or visiting) the women in their ‘iconic’ window brothels in De Wallen, is a ‘must-see’.

For those that aren’t in the know – in Amsterdam, prostitution and the purchasing of sex is legal, and has been since 1988. Walking through the Red Light District is supposedly a fun, unique experience – countless people had reassured me that I“had to visit it”, but I found the narrow, cobbled streets of De Wallen to be passively hostile, especially to women.

I couldn’t help but keep my head down and rush through, trying to avoid the gaze of the girls – many of whom looked younger than me – displayed in the glass windows like cuts of meat. Like the sweaty Febo snacks, couped up in their display cabinets.

In fact, the whole Red Light experience made me uncomfortable and sad.

These women – or rather, their bodies – were being reduced to nothing more than a tourist attraction. The fact that a girl in this city is presented in much the same way as a burger in a fast-food joint is somewhat disturbing to me.

Is the System Actually Working?

A visitor views the installation 'The Hoerengracht' ('Whore's Canal') by U.S. artists Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz at the National Gallery in central London November 17, 2009.

A visitor views the installation ‘The Hoerengracht’ (‘Whore’s Canal’) by U.S. artists Ed Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz at the National Gallery in central London November 17, 2009 (Reuters)

Amsterdam City Council goes to great lengths to try and ensure the safety of the women working.

Police patrol the city; each room is equipped with a panic button; the women undergo regularly mandatory health checks and are encouraged to register their profession, to pay taxes.

The logic behind the legalisation of prostitution seems to be that by bringing the underworld into the light, the criminal aspect would surely dissolve.

In theory, women would be less likely to suffer abuse at the hands of pimps, less likely to be involved in human trafficking, and more likely to earn a decent wage.

And yet, the system hasn’t worked – it’s made things worse.

A prostitute in Amsterdam, a notoriously expensive city, will pay up to one hundred euro a night for the rent of a window.

She also has to pay a pimp, and pay taxes if she registers – though only 5% of prostitutes have actually registered for tax, perhaps for fear of the social stigma that comes with publicly announcing yourself as a prostitute.

Just in order to take some home for herself she’ll have to have sex with ten to fifteen people per day. The vocal union for the sex workers, De Rode Draad, went bankrupt and closed down in 2009. In addition to this, 13 sex workers have been murdered in De Wallen since 1990.

After twenty years of legalised prostitution, the council ended up cutting down the Red Light district’s brothels from 482 to 243 after bouts of criminal activity.

Why Legalising Prostitution is Rotten to the Core

De Wallen, for all its beautiful architecture and friendly people, is rotten to the core, much like the concept of legalised prostitution.

As these bored-looking girls stand behind their red-lit glass doors, looking out as much as we look in, we are supposed to feel better in the knowledge that this profession is sanctioned by the government, which in turn means that the government itself will profit off the sex trade.

However, this doesn’t automatically mean that these women have a choice in their work. I’m told there are many women who do enjoy prostitution; I’ve yet to hear of one, though, and bear in mind that the average age of a woman entering the sex trade is fourteen.

The problem is that the legalising of prostitutes creates a higher demand for these women. That’s where human trafficking comes in, and Amsterdam – along with much of Eastern Europe – is one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world, according to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

A Dutch prostitute sits behind her window in the red light district in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A Dutch prostitute sits behind her window in the red light district in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Reuters)

In 2008, six men were convicted of the “largest case of human trafficking ever brought to trial in the Netherlands.

According to the investigation: “some of the victims were compelled to have breast enlargement surgery, and one defendant was convicted of forcing at least one woman to have an abortion.

“Women were beaten and forced to sit in icy water to avoid bruising. They also were tattooed.”

In 2009, two men were jailed for forcing around 140 girls between the ages of 16 and 23 into prostitution in Europe – and by controlling them using voodoo.

A now famous campaign from Stop the Traffik showed several window girls breaking into a dance routine; following the routine a huge screen displayed the message “Every year, thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe. Sadly, they end up here.”

Amsterdam’s human trafficking problem is out of control, and try as they might to maintain a facade of safety for sex-workers, the fact remains: it is one of the most dangerous professions in the world and there is no guarantee of safety.

Amsterdam’s attempt to legalise prostitution, ‘the oldest profession in the world’, has failed, resulting in the acceptance of selling under-age, trafficked women as a tourist attraction.

Traffickers are making a mint off slavery, thanks to this ‘liberal’ concept.

Before we can even begin to consider the successful legalising of sex work, we must find a way to end the exploitation rampant in the sex trade – for a start, those who pay to have sex with human beings are rapists and should be prosecuted as such. Having sex with someone just so you can pay your rent is not consent.

Despite its honourable intentions, Amsterdam’s legalisation of prostitution is not liberal or empowering – it perpetuates the notion that women are the oldest form of currency.

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Why Belgium? 5 Reasons Terrorists Hit Heart of Europe

via Why Belgium? 5 reasons terrorists hit heart of Europe – CNN.com

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Belgium is such a beautiful country, and it’s sad it’s been the target of many terrorist attacks. CNN gives 5 reasons why.

Twin bombing attacks in Brussels that killed 28 people and injured more than 300 sent shock waves throughout Europe and shone a spotlight on Belgium as a fertile ground for terrorism.

How did a small country about the size of the state of Maryland spiral from a renowned architectural and cultural hub to a hotbed of violent jihadist ideology?

Here are five reasons why terrorists struck at the heart of Europe:

1. Belgium has an abundance of foreign fighters

Per capita, more young Belgian men are traveling to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria than any other European country.

Experts believe that nearly 500 men and women have left Belgium for those two countries since 2012. At least 150 of them have returned, according to Belgian officials.

However, experts admit the numbers are on the conservative side; no one knows for certain exactly how many have gone and how many have returned.

As result, Belgian authorities and the public had for some time feared an attack by homegrown jihadists.

Sajjan Gohel, international security director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation think tank, said Belgium is not only the capital of the European Union but also “a central hub for ISIS,” a logistical base of operations for extremists.

Many extremists in Belgium have been inspired by the once-powerful radical group Sharia4Belgium, which targeted vulnerable and disenfranchised communities marred by rampant crime and unemployment.

The group gained prominence in 2010 and was disbanded five years later after a trial that resulted in its designation as a terror organization.

“The Belgian authorities did not take Sharia4Belgium seriously until it was too late,” CNN contributor Tim Lister said. “The damage had been done.”

Belgium Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the work of security forces to counter terror threats has had an impact but admitted ISIS recruiters still actively ply their trade in Belgium.

“Recruitment continues — at a much lower level than we were used to, for example two years ago — but yes, it continues,” Jambon said. “It is difficult to find the people.

2. Police resources are inadequate

Security forces carried out raid after raid in their hunt for Paris attacks fugitive Salah Abdeslam and those who plotted the carnage in the French capital.

During a search for evidence at what turned out to be at least one of Abdeslam’s safe houses last week, police were met with a barrage of gunfire that tipped them off that something inside — or someone — was important. Abdeslam, who had abandoned his suicide belt in Paris during the November attacks, escaped again — only to be cornered in a daring daytime raid a few days later in Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood, not far from his childhood home.

The scope of jihadist activity across Belgium appeared to blindside authorities.

“They don’t have enough law enforcement officers, and they haven’t been able to ramp up at the same rate as foreign fighter recruitment has ramped up,” said William Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. “It’s a math game. It’s resources.”

It took authorities four months to capture Abdeslam, the most wanted man in Europe.

The inability to apprehend the Belgian-born French citizen of Moroccan descent was particularly irksome because police stopped him the morning after the November 13 attacks near the Belgian border but did not detain him.

He is believed to have called friends to take him to Belgium after the attacks. They passed through police checkpoints, but Abdeslam had not yet been identified as a suspect and they were allowed to continue on their way.

Are Belgian authorities responsible, at least in part, for this rupture?

Jambon suggested Thursday that Belgian authorities may be responsible, at least in part, for some of the failings in stopping the bloodshed, especially after Turkey’s presidency revealed that it had captured bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui in June 2015 and deported him to Europe, where he was set free.

Bakraoui, 29, is the suicide bomber shown in the middle of the airport photograph released after this week’s attack. He was the brother of Khalid El Bakraoui, who blew himself up in the Brussels subway train.

3. Many Muslim youth there feel marginalized

Like the fabled Dutch boy who saved the Netherlands from flooding by putting his finger in a dike, Belgium has sought to hold back another force of nature: a disaffected, disassociated youth, warped and wrapped in ISIS’ corrosive ideology, according to CNN’s International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson.

Their numbers have outstripped the country’s counterterrorism efforts.

“Belgium is playing catch-up,” Lister said.

A young man from Belgium named Ali (not his real name) agreed to speak to CNN on condition of anonymity. He sobbed as he told of how two of his brothers, members of Sharia4Belgium, made the trip to Syria, where one was killed.

He believes discrimination and a “lack of opportunities” have driven many young men into harm’s way, even though they are second or third generation, because they simply don’t feel accepted in Belgium. Jihadi recruiters exploit this sense of marginalization.

“The Belgian state rejects children and young people; they say, ‘They are all foreigners, why should we give them a job?,'” he said. “They fill us with hate, and they say we aren’t of any use, so when young people see what’s going on over there [in Syria], they think ‘Well OK, let’s go there and be useful.'”

Jambon insists the government is working hard to prevent radicalized youngsters from leaving the country.

“One-and-a-half years ago, we had 15 persons per month leaving for Syria or Iraq, now it’s less than five,” he said. “Five is too much, I am aware of that. … If you see that people are still leaving to join ISIS, we didn’t do enough. That’s clear. The aim, the goal, is zero people.”

Molenbeek has a large, predominantly Muslim population of immigrants from North Africa. The neighborhood also suffers from soaring youth unemployment estimated at more than 40%.

While unemployment is rampant, online propaganda for ISIS’ bloody interpretation of jihad is often only a click away.

Family and community members who to try to stop the radicalization open themselves up to threats.

“We live in an era where everybody that tries to speak out and stand up for the truth will find people trying to stop him from doing so,” Belgian Imam Sheikh Sulayman Van Ael said.

4. Belgium is divided by geography and language

Belgium is a small country of 11 million people that’s divided by language and culture. Slightly more than half of Belgium’s population is Flemish. They speak Dutch and live in the north, in Flanders. Less than half are French and live in the southern region of Wallonia.

“The construct of the Belgium government makes it possible for these kind of attacks to happen,” said Gohel, adding that the country’s security and intelligence agencies are divided internally.

The country at every level and almost every public service — schools, hospitals, even policing — is split along the lines of language. There are French schools and Flemish schools, French hospitals and Flemish hospitals.

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and Flanders, but Brussels is French-speaking.

It was only in 2011 that Belgium ended a record-breaking 589 days without an elected government. Iraq had the previous longest record without a functioning government.

A temporary caretaker government had been in place since Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation was accepted on April 26, 2010, with politicians locked in a stalemate between Flanders and Wallonia.

5. It’s close to big European cities

Brussels’ proximity to major European cities and historic lack of internal cohesion makes it enticing to jihadists who move about with relative ease.

Brussels, the capital of the European Union, is just a short drive away from a host of major cities: Paris and Strasbourg, of course, but also Amsterdam and, in Germany, Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin. Hop into a car or onto a train and you can be in any number of European cities within a few hours. Only recently, especially after the Paris attacks, did some European nations begin implementing immigration checks.

The inability of Belgian officials to quell the flow of fighters traveling to ISIS territory, and — perhaps more worryingly — their inability to track them once they return, mean many jihadists have gone unnoticed. Authorities in several neighboring countries believe other attacks are likely.

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Why Spain Plays a Crucial Role in Whether United Kingdom Stays Together

via Why Spain plays a crucial role in whether United Kingdom stays together

Committed supporters of Scottish independence may be dusting down their 2014 memorabilia and rehearsing their arguments now that the Brexit vote has raised the prospect of another referendum north of the border. Yet despite much talk about the sovereign will of the Scottish people, the gift of holding a referendum belongs to Westminster. As Enoch Powell claimed, “power devolved is power retained”.

When deciding how to respond to a demand for another referendum from Scotland, the UK government need not just rely on theories. It has a real example with the Spanish state’s handling of the Catalan question.

In 2012, the main nationalist parties in Catalonia won a decisive majority of the vote in the regional elections. They supported holding a referendum on self-determination in 2014 but this was vetoed by Madrid.

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Artur Mas. Image Credit: Juankey Pamies Algobilla

As a result, support for a referendum rose to 80% and backing for independence hardened, while the nationalists were threatened with prosecutions if they went ahead. They were reduced to holding the referendum as a symbolic non-binding vote (80% voted for independence, though those in favour appeared overrepresented – the split is usually

Even this informal vote led the Spanish authorities to accuse the organisers of breaches of electoral law and misusing public funds. The then president of Catalonia, Artur Mas, was threatened with a trial which could have resulted in a ten-year bar on holding electoral office and 12 months’ imprisonment.

The two main nationalist parties next formed an alliance that called for an early election for September 2015. Running under the name Junts pel Sí (“Together for Yes”), the plan was to turn it into a plebiscite on independence and secede by 2017 if pro-independence parties won a majority.

In the end they won 53% of seats but only 48% of votes, and only then in combination with a smaller pro-independence party on the far left. There was some debate about whether an electoral or absolute majority was necessary to trigger secession. Nevertheless, the new Catalan government decided to push ahead.

Since then, its efforts have been delayed by the fact that new Catalan president Charles Puigdemont has ruled out secession during this term, as have the far left grouping. It looks as though the nationalists have lost momentum and a unilateral declaration of independence next year looks unlikely, though the longer-term picture is far from certain.

Westminster: weighing the options

But what lessons can the UK government take from all of this? It has good reason for refusing to grant the Scots another referendum. It may well have agreed to the last one assuming little risk of Scottish independence, and may not be so obliging in future.

A new prime minister will hardly want to start their tenure by losing part of the country. There may also be Westminster resistance to another Scottish referendum so soon after the last one, regardless of the circumstances.

Yet granting a referendum in 2014 set a precedent and demonstrating the same lack of flexibility as Madrid could easily backfire. Spain is testing to the limits the old claim of Irish nationalist Charles Stuart Parnell that no one can hold back the march of a nation. In the long term, Spain may even have made an independent Catalonia more likely.

On the other hand, the Spanish example does demonstrate that the state has considerable advantages in a constitutional dispute – not least having electoral law on its side. At the very least, a state can slow the process of statehood considerably.

In volatile times, a newly elected Conservative prime minister may decide that placing obstacles in the path of Scottish independence will convince enough risk-averse voters to think again. With the SNP accustomed – like their Catalan cousins – to behaving in a constitutionally legal manner, it is not entirely clear how they would react. The nationalists’ best hope is to gain enough allies in the EU beforehand to make such a move extremely difficult.

Spanish interests

One handicap for Scotland is that Spain and the UK share an obvious interest in obstructing regions with ambitions to become states. Spain is already intervening as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holds meetings in Brussels to try and retain EU membership for Scotland.

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Sturgeon with EU’s Jean-Claude Juncker. Image Credit: PA Images

She is pushing a model similar to that of Denmark, an EU member whose Greenland and Faroe Islands territories are not in the EU. Spanish leader Mariano Rajoy is opposed to any equivalent scenario whereby Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the EU while England and Wales moved outside. It is clearly not in Spain’s interest for the EU to be discussing a special deal with nationalists who favour independence.

In one sense it’s not entirely clear if this Spanish intervention is against UK interests, since it depends on what type of relationship with the EU the UK ends up negotiating. Should England and Wales end up outside the single market, it wouldn’t be workable for Scotland to be in the same state but with a customs border as a result of different policies on free movement. Either way, however, Spain’s intervention at this stage may have the perverse effect of making an indyref2 more likely.

On the other hand, Madrid could end up helping the British unionists by taking the line that Scotland would need to wait until after the UK has left the EU before it applies for membership. That could both reduce support for the referendum and reduce the nationalists’ chances of winning in the event that it went ahead.

For these reasons, Spain both provides a lesson for Westminster in its treatment of Catalonia and is potentially its most important ally in heading off this second push for independence at the pass.

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Why You Should Visit Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016

via 10 reasons why you should visit Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016 | Travel | Lifestyle | London Evening Standard

Turquoise rivers, medieval castles and tumbling waterfalls. It sounds like something out of a fairytale, but the craggily beautiful lands of Bosnia and Herzegovina are real – and they’re one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

Just two and half hours away by plane from London, well-seasoned travellers that have tired of neighbouring Croatia are now finally rediscovering the beauty that has always lay hidden within this exciting and mountainous country, 20 years after civil unrest tore it apart.

Few places can boast being the cross-cultural centre of Eastern Europe – the place where East meets West – but this heart-shaped country can. You’ll find a mix of influences at its most spectacular, born from its blended Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian histories.

Strolling the streets of Mostar feels almost like stepping back in time, with gushing streamlets, cobbled lanes and unspoiled nature surrounding its reincarnated medieval towers and enchanting stone buildings.

But there’s more to this former Yugoslav Republic than its fascinating, and often turbulent, history.

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Click through the Evening Standard’s gallery to discover 10 reasons why this underrated paradise should be on top of your 2016 travel bucket list.

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Why Japan Is Not as Safe as We Think It Is

For modern travellers, Japan has always enjoyed a reputation as being the safest country in Asia. On this list, Czech Republic ranks higher than Japan, which goes to say that this “safety index” is but relative (Don’t want to put into detail and put Czech Republic in a bad light, but you can just ask me privately).

If there’s one country I’ve never felt so safe in, this would be Japan. In my mind, there is this sort of assurance that should I get lost, lose my phone, or drop my bag, I will not have to worry with people being so nice, friendly, respectful and helpful.

But Japan, as we know from history, suffered a long, dark, arduous past. From feudalism, the country went on to wage numerous wars against their neighbors, then to joining World War 1 and 2. The pre-WW2 Japan is anything like the Japan we know of today.

In this video courtesy of Journeyman Pictures, we’ll be travelling through the world of the Yakuza (ヤクザ), a 400-year old ancient society that has evolved from being the citizenry’s protector, to now being protector of the few.

Watch the video here:

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Is Japan As Safe As We Think? Watch on Journeyman Pictures.

Though it was disturbing to watch, the short film is far from being demystified. I hope, though, it does not stop you from wanting to visit Japan🙂

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Greatest 101 Questions of All Time – Telegraph

(Work has been really hectic lately and as I type this I’m on to doing my last stretch of writing tasks for today. It’s 3 AM and I’ve been working since 10 AM. Okay, I had a 2-hour lunch break but yes, breakfast and dinner while working. But don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy with where I am now! It’s just that I haven’t been able to manage my time this week to do an article for Anthroonfoot😦 However, whenever this happens which I hope does not happen often, I make it a point to post something worthwhile to read. I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did! – R.)

Telegraph aims to answer questions that many would scratch their heads into finding answers to. Even with our friend Google at hand, sometimes, the answers do not seem to satisfy.

In this article, you will find answers– rather, another perspective– to questions like, “Why is sea air good for you?” and “Can germs catch germs?”

I hope you’re excited!❤

Here it is:

telegraph.pngThe series of articles can be found on Telegraph’s page. Enjoy! :)