Zooming In

July 31, 2005

From PlayStation to NASCAR

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Baseball scandals; a curious (and sort of sexy) Chinese woman; and family planning, Cold War-style.

David Goldenberg

Zooming In
Paul Antonson
Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.


Uganda: While Uganda has made a name for itself for its effective campaign against AIDS using the A (Abstinence) B (Be faithful) C (Condoms) approach, recent research has shown that the only part of that strategy that has been truly effective is condom usage (Washington Post). That hasn't stopped conservative politicians, including George Bush and Senator Sam Brownback, from hyping abstinence, though. LifeSiteNews quotes Brownback saying that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is "in a battle with Western donors" to keep condom promotion out of the program. So perhaps he'll be excited by the newest idea being batted around by Bbaale county MP Sulayiman Madaada. Madaada has pledged to pay the university fees for all female students in his district who are certifiable (yes, that's right, a health worker has to check them out) virgins (New Vision).


Cuba: After a secret vote in Singapore, the International Olympic Committee decided to eliminate baseball and softball from the Games starting in 2012 (CNN). While Australian Olympic Committee chairman John Coates told CNN that the MLB doping scandal was probably one of the reasons baseball was dropped, Cuba's officials argued otherwise, blaming the owners of major-league teams for failing to release their players (Granma). While Granma, a government-run agency, often contains over-the top criticisms of the United States—check out this blatantly exaggerated account of a speech by Robert Byrd—its criticism of Major League Baseball for failing to accommodate the Olympics is spot-on. Without the involvement of big-league players, Cuba has won three of the four gold medals given out since the sport was added in 1992.


Cambodia: The Forestry Administration is fining Koh Kong Safari World $57,000 for illegally importing 36 orangutans from Thailand, according to the Phnom Pen Post. Over the last few years, hundreds of orangutans have been illegally imported into the country to entertain tourists at shows where they box one another, as well as ride bikes and skateboard. While CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) officers and conservation workers hail this most recent fine as a breakthrough, it is unclear whether the animals will even be seized or whether they will undergo DNA testing to determine if they were born in the wild. Fewer than 20,000 of the animals still exist in the wild, the majority of them on the island of Borneo.

China: The strange tale of Sister Lotus, a young woman who has gained internet fame throughout the country for her naïve and (slightly) sexy postings, is covered in a Washington Post article that describes her incredible rise to celebrity-dom. She now regularly appears on television and magazine covers. The China Daily picks up the Post story, and adds several interesting photos of Sister Lotus, which, in typical fashion, show her fully clothed in a quasi-martial-arts position. Most notable about the story in the Daily (which is run by the government), though, is what it is missing. The story removes several lines from the original article, including:

For reasons that, as is customary, they did not explain, Communist Party censors recently barred the broadcast of a Sister Lotus program prepared by China Central Television, the government-run network. They also made it clear to Web site operators that the fun had gone on long enough. By then, however, the phenomenon appeared to have taken on a life of its own.

India: Someone Photoshopped Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat's head onto the body of a woman in a porn film and uploaded the footage onto India's Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) cellphone network. In the Asia Times, Siddharth Srivastava writes about the impact of this particular flick on India's attempts to deal with the porn industry. While viewing porn is not illegal in India, doing so in public is, as is any transmission or hosting of the material. Thus, Indian police are raiding internet cafes and checking people's cellphones; late last year, Indian authorities arrested the head of the country's eBay division after it was discovered that someone was selling a voyeur porn tape on the site (ComputerWorld). "The younger generation is growing up exposed to the kind of porn which the older people find very difficult to digest as they never had such access during their time," Srivasta tells Gelf. "The system in India is doing all it can to curb porn, but controlling it is very difficult with the Internet." Srivasta estimates that on the day the Mallika Sherawat video came out, 300,000 MMS messages containing the video were sent.

Taiwan: Ten members of the Chinese Professional Baseball League are being questioned by Yunlin prosecutors for their involvement in a multimillion dollar game-fixing scandal (Tapei Times). While none of the players and coaches have been formally charged, none of the foreigners involved, including a Dominican pitcher and two Americans, are allowed to leave the country. In the last game-fixing scandal to rock the island, 22 players were sentenced to jail terms of between seven months and two and a half years. In this most recent scandal, two La News Bears players, including American Victor Rodriguez (here's his minor league page from last year), were pulled from their dugout right before a game to answer questions. A Taiwan News article explains in more detail why the government deals with game-fixing so severely. One reason: Large criminal gangs are thought to be manipulating the league by bribing and threatening players.


Czech Republic: During the Cold War, sex was a taboo subject throughout much of the Eastern Bloc, and, as a result, abortion was the only type of birth control used. A new report issued by the Czech Statistical Office documents the tremendous change in birth-control methods used over the last 30 years (Prague Post). In 1989, prior to widespread use of the pill, nine out of every 10 pregnancies were aborted—over 116,000 each year. With increasing use of contraceptives, that number has been reduced to under 28,000. "Withdrawal is risky, and the rhythm method was no good for young Czechs [back then]," says Radim Uzel, executive director of the Czech Family Planning Association. "They didn't want to have sex according to a calendar. They wanted to have sex when their parents weren't home."

Denmark: Though it once controlled much of the Arctic, Denmark is increasingly in a weakened position in that area, according to its former minister for Greenland affairs (Copenhagen Post). While debating over who owns giant blocks of ice was once an almost theoretical discussion, recent conflicts—like the one Denmark is currently engaged in with Canada over the ownership of Hans Island— are becoming increasingly important as globalization continues and natural resources (including potentially hidden reserves of oil) become scarce. One other reason: With the advance of global warming, the Arctic region could become a major shipping lane.

Hungary: György Makai is the first Hungarian to be offered a testing deal in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Veteran driver Bobby Dotter invited Makai to join his Green Light Racing crew after seeing the 20-year old dominate the domestic single-car series in Hungary (Budapest Sun). Remarkably, Makai was merely a videogame fanatic until two-years ago, when his PlayStation skills won him a contest whose prize was a chance to compete in a real-life race—the Hungarian Renault Clio Cup. Makai, racing for the first time in his life, took second place and earned a spot on the circuit. "I never thought I would get this far, a dream has come true for me," he says.

Middle East

Egypt: The outgoing US ambassador is billionaire playboy Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, a friend of the Bushes, a former fighter pilot, and an accomplished diplomat. The incoming ambassador, Prince Turki Bin Faisal, is the former head of the Saudi intelligence agency, who together with the CIA helped to fund the mujahideen as they took on the Soviets in Afghanistan. A fascinating Middle East Times article gives details on the new ambassador, and hypothesizes on his role in turning Osama bin Laden against the United States. In 1990, after Saddam invaded Kuwait, bin Laden approached Faisal:

Bin Laden told Turki he knew the royals were thinking of inviting the US Army to the kingdom to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait, but that this was not necessary as Bin Laden's "Afghan Arab" fighters could do the job. Turki laughed and a furious Bin Laden stormed out of his office.

That was a crucial turning point in the history of the world. Bin Laden concluded the royal family was conspiring with Washington to facilitate the occupation of Saudi Arabia and the control of its oil-production facilities. Bin Laden also became convinced Saddam had been entrapped into invading Kuwait to provide a pretext for US occupation. That was when he decided to take on the royal family—and later became the world's most-wanted terrorist.

Turkey: An article in the Turkish Daily News makes the case that terrorism's most powerful stronghold is among European Muslims. Unlike most American Muslims, those in Europe tend to be poorer and clustered in small closed communities. According to the article, while older immigrants maintain their traditional lifestyles, newer ones "live with a peculiar sense of double alienation: neither the lands of their fathers nor the new countries of residence seem a true home to them. They are, as the French political scientist Oliver Roy says, 'culturally uprooted.' " This leaves them open to manipulation by neo-fundamentalist imams who preach that the poverty inherent in much of the Islamic world is a result of a giant Western conspiracy.

Yemen: 72 people were killed and over 300 were injured in protests last week after the government cut fuel subsidies, effectively doubling the price of petrol in the country. In response, the government lowered its prices again during the week (Al Jazeera). This is a disturbing pattern in a country in which 42% of the people live below the poverty line; similar fuel protests in 1998 led to 34 deaths before the government lowered gas prices. The new price for petrol is $1.25 per gallon, still high compared to other petrol-producing countries. (See this CNN chart to see how Yemen's gas prices stack up against the rest of the world's.)

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Article by David Goldenberg

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