Mardi Gras is traditionally celebrated the Tuesday before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. However, some Notre Dame students celebrated early by traveling to New Orleans last weekend to participate in the festivities.“Something that many people don’t realize is that Mardi Gras Day actually marks the end of weeks of celebration. The season officially starts on Jan. 6, ‘The Feast of the Epiphany,’” Elizabeth Owers, a senior from New Orleans, said. “The timing can vary depending on the length of the season, but generally the balls will be held during January, and most parades happen the two weeks before Mardi Gras.”Mariana Tumminello, a freshman from New Orleans, returned to New Orleans a few weekends ago for the ball of the Krewe of Janus. She said a krewe is an organization that puts on a ball and/or parade for the carnival season. Tumminello was Queen of the Ball, a position that she was put up for when she was five years old, she said.“This year, three of my friends from New Orleans came home for the ball with me. One of them, Courtney Denault, was a maid in my court. I also was able to bring four friends [from Notre Dame] back with me so they could come to the ball and experience a little bit of Mardi Gras,” Tumminello said.Tumminello said her favorite traditions included king cake, parades and watching the tourists.“Every year my entire family comes in town and we stay at a hotel downtown so we can go walk around the French Quarter and all be together, while my dad and my uncles ride in a parade called Hermes,” Tumminello said.Although Tumminello and Owers were not able to return home for the actual holiday of Mardi Gras, Tumminello said she plans to wear her purple, green and gold shirt and beads on Tuesday to connect with the celebration at home.“When you are not in New Orleans, it is very different. Tourists think Mardi Gras is a crazy drunk party … but it’s actually a very family-oriented event,” she said. “I’ve grown up going to parades with family, going to Mardi Gras parties with friends and just enjoying one of the most exciting times in my hometown.”Owers also said Mardi Gras is misrepresented as a holiday.“The images of drunken debauchery on Bourbon Street are not at all representative of most parades – they’re loud and crowded, but they’re a lot of fun and many areas are family friendly,” she said. “I loved being able to march and dance down the parade route, see my friends and family, and be part of such a unique tradition.“At its core, Mardi Gras is a community event that brings people together and allows them to spend a few days just celebrating life.” Tags: Mardi Gras, New Orleans
Geoff Cantrell, Public Communications Specialist at Western Carolina University shared his thoughts on WCU’s victory. CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THE 2020 WINNER Amidst this backdrop of Appalachian peaks, crystal clear trout streams and world class rivers, and seemingly endless singletrack, WCU has cultivated an outdoor culture that only gets richer with each passing school year. Cantrell:I would say three things: “Over a half-million votes poured into Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine’s Top Adventure Contest — the most ever in its seven-year history. Once again, Western Carolina rallied its students, faculty, staff, and alumni to a decisive victory. WCU boasts a premier location for outdoor adventure—with world-class whitewater, climbing crags, and hundreds of miles of trails in national parks and national forests surrounding the campus. It also offers outstanding outdoor education and adventure opportunities, such as Base Camp Cullowhee. Most importantly, perhaps, Western has a dedicated, outdoor-minded campus community that promotes and celebrates adventure. It’s not surprising that WCU has captured its fifth Top Adventure College title. They’ve definitely earned it. “–—Will Harlan, Editor in Chief BRO: Votes hit record numbers for our annual Top Adventure College Contest this year. Over half a million! How does it feel to be a part of the biggest voting year yet? Once again colleges and universities in the contest were selected for their outdoor clubs and curricula, their commitment to outdoor and environmental initiatives, the quality of their outdoor athletes and programs, and their opportunities for adventure, and once again WCU’s strengths shown through above the rest. BRO: What makes WCU stand out from the rest? What is its greatest and most unique quality? BRO: What percentage of the school’s population participates in taking advantage of WCU’s ideal outdoor surroundings? Second, opportunities. Base Camp Cullowhee, the university’s outdoor programming organization, offers equipment rentals, events and programs, recreational trips and experiential education services. Student clubs and organizations also provide outdoor excursions for members. Then there’s the topnotch curriculum available. Among the academic programs offered by WCU of interest to students pursuing careers in the outdoors are forest resource management, hospitality and tourism management, natural resources conservation and management, and parks and recreation management. Cantrell: Wow, that is a tremendous response, and good for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. Winning the online poll shows that Western Carolina University participates and is proud of our outdoor adventures, our campus, and the region. BRO: How has WCU grown since the first year they won? And third, involvement. WCU supports regional outdoors-based travel, tourism and industry, and the entities that are destinations for residents and visitors alike. For example, on Oct. 10, WCU will hold an Outdoor Economy Conference as the region’s premier outdoor industry and networking event to support businesses and entrepreneurs. Western Carolina University has further proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with in the outdoor community. The Catamounts have earned the title of Top Adventure College for a fifth time in our annual Top Adventure College Contest, edging out a solid effort from last years winner Lees-McRae College. Cantrell: Potentially, everyone. We know from invitations to participate and other publicity, students, faculty and staff are engaged in birdwatching, organic gardening and more vigorous pursuits like hiking and mountain biking. When the weather warms, students stretch out in a hammock at WCU’s Electron Garden on the Green, a solar power-generating facility and green space on campus with a multifunctional design that includes outdoors relaxation. There are academic programs that utilize the outdoors, like recreational therapy, geology, and Cherokee studies. Some training and exercises that are outdoor-oriented take place indoors, like our climbing wall and kayak roll clinics. So, really, enjoying the outdoors is an individual thing in how you choose to participate. Then you can find a group or network to pursue it if you’d like. First, location, location, location. The Cullowhee campus is in a natural setting that has many great things to offer, with a short list including the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, Chimney Rock and Gorges state parks, DuPont State Forest and numerous lakes, rivers and creeks. There’s a natural environment for practically anything you want to experience. Cantrell: If you had to point to only one activity or event that brings everyone together and is representative of this university and its connection to the outdoors, it would probably be the Tuck River Cleanup. On Saturday, April 13, the 35th annual cleanup will take place, with hundreds of volunteers expected to raft or walk along the Tuckaseigee River between Cullowhee and Whittier, collecting litter and debris. It is believed to be the nation’s largest single-day effort to remove garbage from a waterway. BRO: What outdoor program is WCU most proud of? BRO: Describe what downtime looks like for an outdoor enthusiast at WCU. Cantrell: Entering the 2018 fall semester, WCU for the third consecutive year and the seventh time in the past eight years has increased in both the size, with an 11,639 fall enrollment to be exact, and academic qualifications of the student body. University officials attribute the enrollment surge over the past several years to several factors, including several high-demand degree programs, new and renovated residence halls and dining facilities providing the type of amenities demanded by today’s students, and as you might have guessed, the campus’s mountain location and access to outdoor adventure activities. One reason that WCU is revered as a top outdoor college is its proximity to renowned outdoors adventure havens like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. Cantrell: Downtime? What downtime?
By Marian Romero / Diálogo June 09, 2017 Testing, please do not approve. The Armed Forces of Colombia launched in January the National Instant Response System for Stabilization Progress (SIRIE, per its Spanish acronym) as an instability monitoring tool for the country. The system is operating nationwide with the purpose of monitoring, verifying, and analyzing factors of instability in regional security in order to adopt appropriate measures that will help improve the quality of life of the citizens. “SIRIE was planned as a tool for building communication bridges with the civilian population, community leaders, indigenous reservations, and other organizations. They can provide valuable information on alleged factors of instability,” said Major General Juan Pablo Amaya, inspector general of the Armed Forces of Colombia. Colombia is going through a period of significant transformation. The end of the armed conflict and the implementation of the accords established in Havana have created rapid changes that are new for everyone in the country. “The speed of these transformations demands efficient adaptations, from an institutional point of view, in order to face persistent threats and emerging threats, and to ensure that the agreements between the national government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC, per its Spanish acronym] are fully implemented,” said Maj. Gen. Amaya. “With SIRIE, we are looking to have a more complete overview and to restore trust with the population through efficient solutions.” Command center The system has a national call center that can be used by any citizen to report any irregular event that threatens his or her peace or safety. It relies on 13 verification teams for nationwide coverage. Each problem is handled by the general command, which strategically checks the call. It coordinates inspections of the Army, Navy, Air Force, National Police, and Attorney General’s Office. Additionally, the Strategic Command for Transition is charged with securing the Provisional Demobilization Zones (ZVTN, per its Spanish acronym). All of these government entities have a very valuable pool of information. Each one provides solutions to problems within its specialty. “When a call is received, the information is corroborated with government institutions and citizens who can provide details pertinent to the case. When possible, there is a military deployment to the scene of the crime to confirm the situation and to obtain a complete overview,” Colonel Daniel Ricardo Morales, deputy inspector of the General Command of the 7th Army Division, told Diálogo. “Later, an analysis is done at central command and the most efficient strategy is chosen to resolve the problem. From the time the call is received until a solution is found, there is a maximum period of 24 hours,” he added. The SIRIE information network is quite broad. It receives data from the Organization of American States’ Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, government institutions, and the community at large. All of these elements make SIRIE invulnerable to possible disinformation. Immediate response in Chocó The Pacific department of Chocó has Panama at its northern border, where the so-called Darién Gap — a jungle area that acts as a natural barrier — is located. On its eastern border is the western Andes mountain range. Throughout its history, these geographical conditions have made Chocó a propitious area for armed organized groups to operate in. In March, there were deployments in the municipality of Alto Baudó, in Chocó, due to fighting between the National Liberation Army (ELN, per its Spanish acronym) and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. Because of the fighting, 500 people moved to the municipal seat of government. To get a more complete view of the problem, Gen. Amaya visited Chocó with a special team and independently met with military, police, and civil authorities. “From all of these conversations, we obtained a truly comprehensive view of the situation. Thus it was possible to formulate a rapid analysis tailored to the circumstances. Of course, it wasn’t an in-depth investigation but rather rapid responses to a crisis moment,” Gen. Amaya said. “In this case, an order was given to increase the operation, to move the Pacific Naval Force’s river units to the river, to control the drug-trafficking routes through military operations, to secure the population, and to move up by one day our development aid for the population. All of that on the same day,” Col. Morales said. The rapid response of the military forces and the strengthening of the military presence made possible the liberation of eight people kidnapped by ELN, the return of people to their homes, and the re-establishment of security in the area. Gen. Amaya stated that the case of Alto Baudó is emblematic because it is a region where trust in the military has been historically low because of the influence of armed organized groups. “Getting to this region involves a change; it means breaking the old paradigms in a population that is warned against the legitimate forces of the state. But when they see that there are quick solutions, they start to trust in lawful channels again. SIRIE is the beginning of that return of trust,” Gen. Amaya concluded.
International regulators must monitor pension funds in their ‘search for yield’ as they try to secure benefit promises by investing in increasingly risky assets, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned.The Paris-based think tank published a paper looking at whether pension funds and insurance companies would be able to maintain promises made in higher-interest-rate times, given the current low-yield environment.In a stark warning, it said regulators should be more lenient on forcing solvency requirements in times of market stress while ensuring pension funds were not taking excessive investment risks that could lead to insolvency.It said there was a serious concern for the financial longevity of pension funds should they become embroiled in an “excessive search for yield” to cover promises made when interest rates were higher. In its Business and Finance Outlook 2015 report, the OECD said pension funds, by increasing the risk profiles, could be “seriously compromising their solvency situation” if a financial shock such as a liquidity freeze took place.Its data showed that, while the overall investment in alternatives had increased, this could be down to overall larger portfolios, with the exception of the UK.The OECD’s UK data showed pension funds clearly engaging in the search for yield, with an upward trend in private equity and structured products.Given the prolonged effect of low interest rates on pension funds, the OECD highlighted duration-matching assets, renegotiating promises, increasing contributions and easing regulation as solutions to alleviate concerns.It echoed calls for regulatory requirements to fund solvency shortfalls to be counter-cyclical, meaning additional funding should be made when pension fund liabilities are not being exacerbated by falling rates.The OECD’s call for leniency in solvency, and focus on investment risk, goes against the rhetoric seen from Europe’s government and regulators.Solvency requirements were discussed under the previous European Commission, while work on a risk-focused solvency framework – which may require additional funding in riskier times – is being worked on by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA).The OECD said: “The outlook is troubling for pension funds, as solvency positions will deteriorate unless they actively adopt risk-management strategies.“However, the lack of good quality, very long-term financial assets in sufficient quantities poses serious problems to these risk-management strategies.”It said pension funds should look to close the duration gap between assets and liabilities, while policymakers should avoid excessive pressure on pension funds to correct solvency in times of weak markets.“The regulatory framework and policymakers have an important role to play in [ensuring pension funds do not take excessive risk] and need to remain vigilant to prevent excessive ‘search for yield’,” it added.However, Charles Cowling, director at UK consultancy JLT, sounded a note of caution on the OECD’s proposals.He said: “If [regulators] responded to concerns from the OECD on the poor level of funding of pension schemes and increased pressure on employers to take less risk and fund their pension schemes better, this could force some of the weaker employers into bankruptcy and put downward pressure on equity prices and make matters worse – as deficits widen as a result.”