Zooming In

September 8, 2005

What Would Sistani Do?

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Japan's Jayson Blair; robotic camel jockeys; the mobile phone throwing world championships; Dear Ayatollah; and China's newest pop idols.

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.


The national soccer team, known as the Harambee Stars, has been accused by the sports minister of throwing its matches against Tunisia (The Nation). Ochilo Ayacko claims that a sudden influx of money into the Kenya Football Federation—combined with the omission of a top striker from the roster and the federation's failure to appeal a decision by the sport's international governing body FIFA, to play the match behind closed doors and without fans—is ample evidence that the match, which Kenya lost 2-0, was fixed. Federation members have protested, as have the team's players and coaches, saying that they were simply unprepared (The Nation).


Costa Rica
Researchers at the National Biodiversity Institute have made a significant breakthrough in the country's battle against dengue fever (Tico Times). Dengue, which infects over 25,000 Costa Ricans a year and over one million people worldwide, is spread by dengue mosquitoes, whose population has been increasing exponentially since the early 1980s. While large-scale fumigation efforts have temporarily cleared areas of the bugs, the poison doesn't affect the larvae. So researchers have been trying to isolate anti-larvae agents in mushrooms, and have recently discovered a microfungus that kills 97% of the larvae in the laboratory. Researchers are now running tests to see whether widespread application of the microfungus is practical.

The image of Ernesto "Che" Guevera in a beret with a single star is one of the most reproduced photographs in the world, but now the widow and daughter of the communist hero want his likeness to stop being used for capitalistic purposes (Reuters). The photo of Guevera, shot in 1960 by fashion photographer Korda, has been used by Swatch watches and Smirnoff vodka, as well as numerous small vendors. Korda successfully sued Smirnoff in 2001, but with the popularity of The Motorcycle Diaries, Guevera has once again become a pop-culture icon. Though Guevera's family in Cuba are gathering lawyers in different countries to sue merchandisers, even Cuba itself is making money off of Guevera. "Postcards and posters of Guevara playing golf at the Country Club shortly after the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 are popular with tourists. So are Cuban banknotes issued when Guevara was Central Bank governor, simply signed 'Che'."

Predictably, the country's government organ, Granma, is extremely critical of the United States government's reaction to the destruction caused by hurricane Katrina, though this article's rhetoric, mainly a compilation of complaints culled from US publishers, is no different than most liberal bloggers. (Of course, most bloggers don't use the phrase "imperialist rulers.") The end of the article, though, is interesting, as Cuba toots its own horn about its response to hurricanes past. "The same kinds of mobilizations took place in 2004 and 2005 for two devastating hurricanes, Ivan and Denns. Dennis caused $1 billion in destruction, demolished 70,000 homes, and even razed entire mountaintops, but only 16 lives were lost. Cuba, a poor Third World nation with a 45-year economic embargo against it, does what the richest imperial nation in the world cannot, because of its very nature. Capitalism puts profits first. The Revolution puts lives first."

Universal Airlines, based out of Georgetown, is the country's only airline. For the last week, it hasn't had a plane, a glitch that has stranded passengers in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, and New York (Guyana Chronicle). TACA airlines pulled out of its deal with Universal, leaving no aircraft to bring the passengers to their destinations. After several days of debate, the government has decided to use the $17 million dollars that the airline deposited in escrow to pay to bring the passengers home (CarribeanNet News).


There are over 4,000 women working as beer promoters in and around Phnom Penh, and over 80 percent of them have been subjected to unwanted sexual touching by the men they serve drinks to in the city's beer gardens (Phnom Penh Post). According to a survey performed by CARE Cambodia, many of the women are willing to put up with what they term "squid hands" in order to sell more drinks because many of the women derive their earnings largely from commissions. This often leads to even worses offense, though; 60% of the women say they have been threatened by their clients, and 38% have been forced to perform coerced sex acts on the job.

The first season of the Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest is over. The "American Idol" rip-off was watched by over 400 million viewers throughout the country and made instant celebrities of the finalists. The New York Times claims that Li Yuchun, the eventual winner based on SMS votes, initially attracted attention because her short frizzy hair gave her an "androgynous" appearance, at least to those Chinese who are used to the typical beauty norms in the country. The state-run China Daily has a pretty good round-up of photos from the event, and points out that anything related to the finalists is in such high demand that "a cell phone number—13801841011—that includes the birth date of third place finisher Zhang Liangying, who was born on October 11, 1984, had attracted a top bid of 190 yuan ($23) at eBay Eachnet.com yesterday."

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the second largest in the country with a circulation of over 12 million, has uncovered a fabulist in its midst. Taku Nishiyama, who headed local politics coverage for the Nagano branch of Asahi Shimbun, wrote that Nagano Governor Yasuo Tanaka had held a meeting that never took place and that the governor had said several things that he did not. Tanaka later held a press conference to say he had never been questioned by Nishiyama. "I wanted to show my boss at the Nagano bureau that I had access to this kind of information from Gov. Tanaka," Nishiyama reportedly told investigators at Asahi Shimbun, according to the Mainichi Daily News. "Thinking now, I suppose I did it because of my aspirations." As part of the fallout from the revelations, Asahi Shimbun's executive advisor resigned as chairman of the Japan Newspaper Publishers & Editors Association (Japan Times).


Czech Republic
Somehow, a savvy Czech politician managed to attach a seemingly counterintuitive rider to an anti-smoking law recently adopted by parliament. After being outlawed for 16 years, beer can once again be sold at soccer stadiums throughout the country (Prague Post). Though some stadiums have flouted the law for years, others have been strictly on the wagon, making some stadium advertisements appear misplaced. "It looked bizarre that the league was named after a brewery and beer was not available at all the stadiums," Alexej Bechtin, a spokesman for the Gambrinus brewery, which sponsors the first division, told the Post. Vendors are excited, and expect the new legislation to drive several more fans to the games.

In the home of Nokia, a sport has evolved that demonstrates Finland's ambivalence towards technology. The 6th International Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship took place in Savonlinna last week, and native son Mikko Lampi set a world record with a toss of just over 104.5 yards—longer than a football field. (More results are here.)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has dismissed his entire cabinet, including Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on grounds that the government has become corrupt (AP). Before that, though, the Culture Ministry took the time to ban George Romero's Land of the Dead, as it contains scenes of cannibalism that members of the ministry thought would invoke memories of Holodomor, a 1933 famine that induced the starving to engage in widespread cannibalism (BBC). The editorial page of The Kyiv Post is quick to criticize. "One of the things about censorship is that one person's cultural outrage is another's finely wrought work of art. Romero is no James Joyce, but Land of the Dead has been lauded by reviewers for, among other things, its black humor and its parody of contemporary U.S. societal divisions... Free speech rights should be sacred and near-absolute. The government should get its hand off of [Ukrainian distributor Bohdan] Batruch, and off the zombies."

Middle East

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is perhaps the preeminent voice of Shi'ite Islam today, and his website, based in Qom, Iran, receives over 15,000 visitors a day (Asia Times). Many Muslims write in to Sistani—who used his influence in Iraq to help set up the current government—to ask questions about what their faith permits. Sistani weighs in on anal sex (permissible but undesirable), chess (absolutely forbidden), masturbation ("You are not allowed to do it with hand, but your wife is"), and copyrights ("If someone else has cracked the software, you can use it but you are not allowed to copy or burn it").

United Arab Emirates
Having been vilified by the international press for using child slaves as jockeys in one of the country's most popular sports—camel racing—UAE authorities, as well as those of other countries in the region, are in the process of sending several groups of the boys back to their homes, generally in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Recently, the governments banned the use of children in the dangerous sport, especially as many young boys were kidnapped, then sequestered and starved in an attempt to keep their weight down (Arabic News). In an attempt to keep their sport functional, Qatari camel racers have been testing the use of remote-control robots as jockeys, which have human-shaped torsos but are connected to the saddles by mountain-bike suspension (Voice of America). They'll be competing when the camel-racing season begins in October.

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- Zooming In
- posted on Jan 30, 11

worst article, disrespect to journalists and writers all over.

Article by David Goldenberg

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