Zooming In

August 26, 2005

Loan a Lesbian

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: A country bans lip-synching; a band gets portrayed as a gang; Coke's PR problem; and Australia's drug problem.

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.



In an effort to restock the elephant population of Tsavo East National Park, which was decimated by poaching throughout the 1980s and '90s. Kenyan authorities decided to import 400 elephants from the Shimba Hills National Reserve, an eight-hour drive to the south. The project, though, has hit an early snag, as the first bull to be tranquilized and loaded onto the trailer was too heavy and broke the trailer with its weight (Associated Press). If you're willing to sit through an extremely long advertisement, there is some captivating video of the bull being tied up and loaded on the site (though none of the truck breaking).

South Africa

A white American male has been named dean of humanities at Wits University, sparking protests by some critics within the university (Mail & Guardian). Timothy Reagan was appointed over two black African women, prompting protests by student council president Nyiko Shivambu, who claims that "there is a need to prefer qualified and appointable candidates from designated groups, and that's females, blacks and disabled persons (M&G)." Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa, disagrees, pointing out that a white British guy, Stewart Baxter, is the coach of the South African national soccer team (Bafana Bafana). "So I don't think we have reached a stage where we say white people are not going to be appointed," he adds.



Four years ago, the Coca-Cola company set up a $25 million bottling plant in the Palakkad district in an effort to increase its presence throughout the country. That effort has failed miserably, according to the Asia Times. First, Coke was blamed for stealing water from the farmers of the Kerala region. Then, local activists, with the help of groups such as Greenpeace, started calling for a boycott of the company; sales of the beverage in the country dropped 14% last quarter. In an effort to curry favor with its neighbors, Coke started distributing its sludge and waste water as free fertilizer, but scientists have recently found that the waste, besides being useless as fertilizer, contains high levels of cadmium and other toxic metals. As a result, the local pollution control board has moved to shut down the plant.


Piyarom Sports Club driving range is the first golf course in the country to feature golf balls with microchips in them (Bangkok Post). After each shot, the balls wirelessly beam back information to a screen next to each golfer. Certainly, the technology can be used to measure the length of drives, but because the balls can report their exact positions, golfers can also play competitions to improve their accuracy and their short games. Top Golf, which developed the technology behind the system, also has a range in the UK and another in Virginia.


President Saparmurat Niyazov has ordered a ban on lip-synching, or what he calls phonograms, at all parties and cultural events in the country. Niyazov, who has run the country for the last 20 years, has previously outlawed ballet, opera, and gold teeth. As Turkmenistan.ru reports, the president is worried about "negative effect of the use of phonograms on the development of the song-musical art in the period of independence." A BBC report adds that he said, "Don't kill talents by using lip-synching...create our new culture."



In an effort to promote their new music video and clothes line, Azim Tariq and his bandmates conducted a mock interview with state-owned broadcaster TV2 and provided the station with access to scenes from their new video, in which they brandished guns and pretended to fight. But the report that aired used the interview and footage as evidence for a new immigrant gang in town, called Triple A (Copenhagen Post). "Young immigrants are gearing up for war. They are armed to the teeth and fearless," said a voiceover on the report. Tariq was arrested and his house ransacked by Danish police. He is now suing the station for $82,000.


Toyota took a full-page ad out in the local newspaper Budstikka seeking workers for its new factory. But it was who they didn't want that generated the most controversy. As Aftenposten (The Doorway to Norway) reports, smokers were told not to apply. While the manager of the plant points out that the factory has large open areas and thus cannot accommodate smokers, social medicine professor Per Fugelli sees an ominous precedent being set. "This can be the first warning sign that we—following a pattern from the USA—are heading towards a situation where the employer invades a person's lifestyle and private life in a sinister and offensive way," he said.


Almost one year after the siege of the school in Beslan (Wikipedia), new evidence is emerging about how Russian authorities dealt with the attack. In particular, several people are starting to question why Russia continued to say that there were only 354 hostages in the school, when in reality there were almost four times that many. Writing in the Moscow Times, Masha Gessen reviews the testimony of witnesses and concludes that the number was used by Russian officials for two reasons. "Law enforcement officials and Kremlin representatives seized on it out of a combination of laziness and expediency: No one could be bothered to get the true figure, and the low estimate was handy," Gessen writes, and explains how this low number affected the crisis. "Former hostages have testified that when the hostage-takers heard the figure on television, they concluded that Moscow was laying the groundwork for a planned storm of the school by lowering the estimate of potential casualties. This, say the hostages, was when their captors stopped giving them water."


Hedgehogs on the Uist Islands north of Scotland (see this map) are decimating the native wading bird population by eating their eggs, so the local government has decided to do something about it (Grampian TV). Using dogs and shotguns, the Scottish Natural Heritage will cull the hedgehogs—which are not native to the island—next month, but this plan has provoked outrage among animal-rights groups, who advocate trapping the animals and releasing them on the mainland.


The Malmö Library is attempting a novel venture. In addition to the books and tapes it regularly loans out, the institution has also embarked on the Living Library project, in which people are allowed to "borrow" human beings for a 45-minute chat in the library's outdoor cafeteria (The Local). In an attempt to allow people to confront their prejudices, the library offered for loan last weekend: a homosexual, an imam, a journalist, a Muslim woman, an animal-rights activist, and a gypsy. One reader writes on The Local's website, "The loan-a-lesbian idea is silly because the people who should learn more about others won't bother, and decent people don't need it." Perhaps this is true—another commenter writes, "I wonder what the late fee is for not returning a lesbian?? ;-)"

Middle East

United Arab Emirates

As the war in Iraq drags on, the six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia) have been getting richer and richer. Over the last year, the gross domestic product of the countries grew 17%, and is likely to grow even more this year. In Al Jazeera, economist Emilie Rutledge takes a look at how the Iraq war has affected oil prices. She notes that OPEC states have increased their oil production by 4%, in part to make up for the fact that, due to 257 different attacks on its pipelines, Iraq is exporting less than half of the oil it did before sanctions. More important, Rutledge notes, is an unfounded belief that the world has reached peak oil production and has consumed more than 50% of the resource. This, combined with rising demand from China and India, will continue to keep barrel prices high; even if Iraqi oil production returns to normal, it will simply fill the gap in between current production and expected demand for next year.



Among the latest string of Australians arrested in Indonesia for drug passion is Adelaide model Michelle Leslie, who is awaiting sentencing after being caught with a couple of ecstasy pills (ABC News). Leslie's arrest follows the outcry surrounding the 20-year incarceration of Leigh Schapelle Corby, a beauty-school student arrested with a surfboard bag full of pot earlier this year (for more background, see this earlier Zooming In). At the time, Prime Minister John Howard said of Corby, "Guilty or innocent, I feel for this young woman." In response to the latest arrests, though, his comment was, "It's beyond belief that any Australian could be so stupid as to carry drugs into any country in Asia." Bond University criminologist and forensic psychologist Professor Paul Wilson told the AP that Howard's latest comments reflected a swing in public opinion away from Corby. But he also noted that Corby and Leslie have one thing in common that could attract a large media following: their good looks. "The record shows that young, attractive females get enormous media publicity and how they act with the media influences whether that support is negative or positive," he said.

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