Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Zooming In

July 3, 2007

The Newest Way to Go Dutch

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: A Hungarian journalist gets beaten; the Ukraine bans grain exports; massive lightning strikes in China; and more.

Michael Gluckstadt

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.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"Apparently, the specially designed Dutch toilets—similar to ones used in hospitals to keep medical chemicals out of the water supply—have a higher degree of difficulty than the average urinal, and so require the user to aim sitting down."

Graphic created by Paul Antonson


The Daily Yomiuri reports that a joint medical committee has declared that doctors are required to perform blood transfusions on children under 15 years old when deemed necessary, even if their parents are religiously opposed. The committee's decision is particularly damaging to Japan's large community of Jehovah's Witnesses, members of an international Christian sect that believes the Bible prohibits any consumption, storage, or transfusion of blood. Until now, doctors were instructed to prioritize saving lives and to perform a blood transfusion when necessary only for children under the age of 12, and to grant patients over the age of 18 the right to refuse blood. Teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 had an unclear status. Now, according to the new guidelines, children under 15 will receive treatment, and young adults between 15 and 17 have the choice to refuse as long as they have parental consent. The committee, which is comprised of Japan's five prominent medical societies, will finalize its report after hearing opinions from religious leaders and bioethicists. According to data from 2005, there are more than 218,000 Jehovah's Witnesses or "Publishers" in Japan.


Over the span of a few days, 40 people in Eastern China have been killed by lightning. According to reports from the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency, 35 people in Jiangxi province were killed, including 14 workers who had been working in a field with no shelter. In nearby Zhejiang province, five people who had been building a tomb were killed instantly when lightning struck. Local meteorological officials in Jiangxi had warned of the impending lightning storms, but many villagers were unable to take shelter, and other victims unwisely took refuge under an iron roof or a tree. Including those struck by lightning, more than 50 people died in rainstorms in Central and Eastern China over the past week. Additional heavy rains and flooding have affected more than 600,000 residents in Central China's Hunan province.


Fearing a grain shortage in the wake of last month's drought, the Ukrainian government has imposed a virtual ban on all grain exports. With elections coming up later this year, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is worried that a grain shortage could lead to higher bread prices and lower approval ratings (Kyiv Post). Ukraine's command-economy approach is certain to have disastrous effects on local farmers who stood to gain from worldwide rising grain prices, and it will diminish the country's standing as the world's sixth largest grain exporter. The restrictions have been met with harsh criticism from many different sources, including domestic and foreign market insiders, ambassadors from the US, Germany, the Netherlands, and even Ukrainian President—and government foe—Viktor Yushchenko. Most importantly, the move could undermine Ukrainian efforts to gain entry into the WTO.


A Hungarian journalist who had worked to expose the influence of the Hungarian Oil Mafia was found bound and badly beaten on the banks of the Danube (Budapest Sun). Last year, Irén Kármán published a book on corrupt oil dealings in the 1990s. The book, titled Facing the Mafia, reported on the practice of "oil bleaching," or the removing of red dye from government-subsidized heating oil in order to sell it as diesel at a higher price. According to the Hungarian news agency MTI, Kármán's investigations—which were collected both in her book and a soon-to-be-released documentary film titled Oiled Relations—implicate Hungarian politicians and police officials in collecting unlawful profits from the scheme. A parliamentary investigation into the matter had been conducted in 2000 and immediately classified, but due to increased attention and pressure in the wake of the attack, major parts of the investigation are going to be declassified (Hungary Around the Clock). The Committee to Protect Journalists quickly condemned the brutal attack.

While the assault on Kármán is shocking in its own right, it also seems to be a part of an alarming trend (and historical tradition) of targeting journalists in Eastern Europe and Russia. Just last week another Hungarian journalist, László Tolcsva, was beaten up by three Roma youths in response to his coverage of a lynching. Last October, Russian journalist and outspoken critic of the Russian campaign in Chechnya Anna Politkovskaya was murdered, prompting wide suspicion and a wave of outcry from voices including Gelf writer Joshua Gardner's. Gardner argued in favor of an organized, drawn out response to the murder in the press, as a way of showing would-be attackers that targeting journalists does not silence them, but rather only serves to amplify their voices


The Daily Dutch newsletter reportsreports that in the soon-to-be-built residential area of Meerstad in Groningen, all men will be required to urinate while sitting down. Meerstad is a communal development that utilizes many cutting edge features of contemporary design and architecture. The development, which will contain more than 10,000 housing units, has been designed to take into account suggestions from a participatory planning group that consists of local government, societal organizations, and citizens. Looking to create a "green" town, the developers of the Meerstad project took great care to make it environmentally sound. Part of the plan is to create toilets with a separate repository for urine, so that it can be used as fertilizer for maize and cabbage (24 Oranges).

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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