Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Zooming In

May 15, 2008

Those Crazy, Murderous Austrians

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Lithuanian bathhouse protesters; porn addiction in Japan; and the unsung contributions of Irish earthworms.

Michael Gluckstadt

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders. Unfortunately, world news has been in the spotlight lately, with a string of catastrophic events. There are tens of thousands dead and dying from the effects of a cyclone in Burma and from an earthquake in China, and hundreds more in attacks in Lebanon, Iraq, and India. Here, Gelf looks at some of the stories from around the world that you might have missed.

Austria

Austria
What the hell is going on in Austria? While the country has hardly been known as a bastion of nonviolence in its history, recent grisly crimes are leading the press to question Austrians' national identity. A man in Vienna hacked five family members to death with an axe, including his seven-year-old daughter. Just a few weeks before that, it was revealed that 73-year-old Josef Fritzl had locked his daughter in a basement for 24 years and fathered seven children with her. Three of those children lived upstairs with the rest of the family, and while Fritzl's wife claims she had no idea about the dungeon, she must have wondered where the kids had come from. The house has since become a destination for "catastrophe tourism." Two years prior to Fritzl's arrest, in another gruesome case, it was discovered that a different Austrian man had held a girl hostage for eight years before killing himself after her escape. These murders have had a compounded effect on the way people view the Austrian psyche. The Associated Press quotes an editorial in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard as saying, "The entire nation must ask itself just what is fundamentally going wrong." Meanwhile, Andreas Whittam Smith in the Independent (the British press is all over this; what does that say about their culture?) writes in an editorial, "In 1943, a Swedish journalist reported that many ordinary people [in Austria] were asking themselves: 'Are we really the same people as the Germans?' Now they have a different question to ask: are we really the same people as Herr Fritzl?" And the press must ask themselves this question: Are we really going to associate an entire country's population with the deranged crimes of a few lunatics?

Lithuania

Lithuania
A group of naked protesters should be taking to the streets of Klaipeda, "any day now," reports the Baltic Times. Residents were outraged by the decision to privatize the only public bathhouse of the seaside city. And so, in a move "which is sure to attract widespread media attention" when it occurs, bathhouse employees have made it known that the protesters are serious about their threat to run naked through the city. Negotiations regarding the privatization of the bathhouse began in 2002, when the plan initially was suggested, though the city council has recently re-examined the situation. The manager of the bathhouse estimates that up to 50,000 of the city’s 187,000 residents frequent the bathhouse each year. Vello Vikerkaar, editor of the irreverent Baltic blog Baltlantis, tells Gelf, "Bathhouses are an integral part of Baltic culture, though ironically, bathing is less so. Still, we're pleased that Lithuanians are baring all for public cleanliness and will support them on the same day by bathing twice in their honor."

India

India
The Citizen News Service is demanding the release of human-rights activist Sapam Kangleipal Meitei, who was arrested following a rally in Manipur, a state in northeast India. The 27-year-old's apparent crime was speaking out against the government, under the "Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act." He had just finished speaking at an event called "Arming the Civilians and Its Possible Consequences in Manipur," in which he called for the resignation of the chief minister of Manipur for mishandling a volatile situation. According to the Assam Times, after gunmen from the People Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), an armed opposition group in Manipur, had reportedly shot and killed two children and injured another, the state government of Manipur decided to issue 500 additional gun licenses to civilians. Kangleipal, a youth leader, organized this event in protest of the decision. When he was taken away after a dramatic standoff, he reportedly said, "If we could not discuss and express regarding a decision of a Democratic Government, what is the meaning of democracy?"

Japan

Japan
The AP reports that a Japanese civil servant was demoted for logging 780,000 hits on pornography websites from his work computer over a span of nine months. The man logged 170,000 hits in July alone. A little quick math reveals that, assuming the man worked 22 days in that month at a rate of 40 hours a week, that comes out to roughly 3.2 hits per minute. Throw in the fact that his coworkers say they had no idea this was going on—meaning he could only peruse for porn when he was alone by his computer—and the rate is even higher. Forget about porn addiction—this man has some serious issues with ADD. But, alas, no man is actually that click-happy. The AP tells us that "one click on certain types of pornographic sites registers multiple hits." The man's computer was checked after being infected with a virus, which may have been caused by, or helped to increase, the absurdly high number of hits.

Ireland

Ireland
The Irish economy is expected to grow steadily over the next decade, reports the Irish Times. And that’s a good thing, if the Irish government is going to continue to fund studies like the recently released "Benefits and Costs of Biodiversity in Ireland," which estimates that earthworms provide a service to the country worth roughly €700 million (approximately $1,000,000,000). The 197-page report was commissioned by the country's environment minister, and concludes that the marginal value of biodiversity in Ireland is roughly €2.3 billion (around $4 billion). Apparently, the worms provide a valuable function of dung burial and the study may actually be understating their value. Such a study may have been useful if the worms were under threat from a preventable human force, but that does not seem to be the case. Also, it is unclear if the study may have accidentally included some British worms that have crawled their way out of Belfast. The environment minister is currently deciding whether his next report should be on the economic value of water or sunlight. Not really, but I would not put it past him.

New Zealand

New Zealand
The New Zealand government played down the negative effects of its new climate-control tactic known as the emissions trading scheme (ETS), by assuring that it will only target "higher net-worth individuals," or, as they are referred to in The Press "rich pricks." ETS seeks to charge corporations a fee for the use of land that has been deforested since 1990. According to a spokesman for the Flexible Land Use Alliance, a group of prominent New Zealand land-owning companies, roughly $3 to $4 billion of land value has been destroyed by the government's decision to impose retrospective liabilities on those who harvest pre-1990 forests and convert the land to other uses. The government has received over 100 submissions for exemptions from the scheme, many from large companies which warn about the consequences for the economy if they are forced to pay. One company estimates a $100-million loss from the new policy. Corporations will have the opportunity to offset some of the cost by planting forests in a different spot. Finance Minister Michael Cullen said, "We are getting to the point where people are arguing we must do something to stop climate change but it must not in any way have any impact on anybody that is in any way negative. That's not possible." For his sake, he should hope the negative impact is on the country's carbon imprint, and not its economy.

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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