Zooming In

September 30, 2005

You Must Be This Tall to Enter the Factory

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Volvo gets taken down a notch; panda pornography; seditious bloggers; a new name for new Danes; and Egypt's superheroes.

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.


Police and the Ministry of Ethics and Integrity are investigating Gold Friends Ltd. for exporting local women into an international prostitution operation. According to the Monitor, the company, whose slogan is "changing lives everywhere," is an open prostitution ring. A follow-up article reveals a little bit more: "Gold Friends International is a business recruiting young women and men wishing to have love partners through their adverts on posters throughout Kampala city calling for lovers to report to their office located at Kirumira Towers on second floor."


"Arturito" is an often-used, corrupted-Spanish form of the word for loyal Star Wars bot "R2-D2." It's also the name of the robot who discovered over 600 tons—$10 billion—of Incan gold, silver, and jewelry that had been buried on Chile's Robinson Crusoe Island for almost 300 years (Santiago Times). Arturito uses a new technology that enables it to scan the atomic composition of
minerals up to 50 meters underground. The treasure won't be dug up until October, but Wagner Technologies (which invented Arturito) is currently debating with local and federal officials about how to split up the loot. In other Robinson Crusoe Island-related news, Daisuke Takahashi, a Japanese archeologist, just discovered the base camp of marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, whose story led Daniel Defoe to write the famous book (Scotsman).


The prime minister signed over 30 square miles of Cambodian jungle to Acacia tree growers without consulting with officials from the Ministry of the Environment (Phnom Penh Post). While Chan Suran, the minister of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, told the paper that the terrain was not very fertile, Mok Mareth, the minister of the environment, disagreed. He also decried the destruction that comes from these types of concessions. "Planting too many acacia trees causes increasing losses of the underground water source and other environmental impacts," Mareth said.

On the surface, this is a link to a cool (if somewhat confusing) Reuters article about how Chinese and American scientists have teamed up to use satellite technology to spy on the mating habits of pandas in order to prevent extinction of the tiny wild population. In actuality, the link is to the picture of outright panda pornography—Ping Ping and Qing Qing caught in flagrante delicto. Gelf apologizes to our readers who are offended by the look on Ping Ping's face.

The newest hot business opportunity in China? Budget hotels. According to an article in the Asia Times, Super 8 is taking advantage of a dearth of cheap accommodations in the country to franchise its brand. While there are fewer than 20 Super 8 hotels today, the company plans to have over 300 in China before the 2008 Olympics, to be hosted by Beijing. Oddly, over a quarter of the hotels in China are luxury hotels, compared with less than 10% in Western countries, and perhaps for this reason, the hotels in the country are on average only 60% occupied. In the first year of Super 8's experiment, their franchises, with rooms costing about $25, have been 85% full.

What do Indian tennis phenom Sania Mirza and Osama bin Laden have in common? They are both on the receiving end of fatwas issued by Muslim clerics in response to their actions. Bin Laden received his from Spanish muftis after the Madrid train bombings. Mirza got hers for wearing revealing clothes. A Hindustan Times feature labeled "Oh, Those Fatwas" takes a look at these particular fatwas, as well as a few others. It also does a little bit a fatwa myth-dissembling: "Contrary to what is believed by many non-Muslims, and even by the majority of Muslims, a fatwa is not binding on all persons professing the Muslim faith. The only ones who are obliged to obey any specific fatwa are the Mufti who issued it and his followers."

Ok, so this deviates somewhat from our mission to bring you "overlooked coverage from local media around the world." An article in the Los Angeles Times can't exactly be overlooked. But it is still a fascinating window into Japanese culture, or more specifically, the other cultures that Japanese look to to promote their products. For years, that culture was Hollywood, as stars took ridiculous amounts of money to promote products on the condition that those ads would never be seen state-side. (For a great collection of those ads, check out Japander.com. Sadly, it does not include Ben Affleck's famous "Here comes the science" shampoo commercial.) Nowadays, though, Japanese firms are using Chinese and Korean stars to promote their products. "The Hollywood brand isn't the best anymore, and Hollywood actors aren't effective enough anymore," Yukio Mori, president of Systrat Corp., a marketing and promotion consultancy in Tokyo, tells the L.A. Times. "Consumers are in favor of singers or artists who are familiar, rather than foreign movie stars."

Three people have been arrested under the sedition act (Sinsingapore.com) for posting racist remarks on the internet. It appears that the initial posting came after Zuraimah Mohammed wrote a letter to the Straits Times (reproduced at Singapore Ink) complaining about dogs in taxis. This seems to have set off a chain of explosive postings against Muslims, first by Nicholas Lim Yew at the site www.doggiesite.com and later by Benjamin Koh Song Huat on his blog, Phoenyx Chronicles (New Strait Times). Both posting have been removed, so it's unclear to Gelf exactly what was said, beyond Koh's "Thanks for ruining my day."

The Council of Grand Justices has decided to strike down a law that would have allowed the new national ID cards to feature compulsory fingerprints from the island's 23 million citizens. An editorial in the Taiwan News Online applauds the decision, stating, "Wednesday's decision by the Constitutional Court will not end the controversy over fingerprinting or the official collection, storage and use of biometric data, but at the very least confirms that democratic Taiwan will not blindly follow the drive to establish a 'global surveillance society.' "


The Danish Language Council is urging journalists and politicians to stop referring to people of foreign origins as "bilingual," saying it confuses an already complicated issue. " 'Bilingual' is a strange, indirect term, which focuses on linguistic aspects," Niels Davidsen-Nielsen, chairman of the Danish Language Council tells the Copenhagen Post. "I could claim to be 'bilingual' because I've worked with English my entire life, and some of the people described as 'bilingual' really only speak one language." Some of the terms proposed by scholars for the Ministry of Education, including "linguistically disadvantaged" and "Perker"— which according to the paper means "Darkie"—have been rejected. The most acceptable phrase: New Danes.

A woman who had been banned from working at Volvo because of height has successfully sued the company for gender discrimination (Agence France Presse). Citing a link between shortness and work injuries, the car company had previously only allowed people over 5'4" to work at the factory. The 5'2" plantiff was awarded $26,200 after the court decided that the practice was unfair to women. In Sweden, 28.2% of women would not meet the height requirement, while it would restrict fewer than 1% of men.

Middle East

The first Arab superheroes arrived in a batch of 400 comic books in early 2004. The latest edition of the monthly comics, featuring a rotation of warriors, princesses, and pharaohs, sold 11,000 copies (Al Jazeera). Perhaps the most popular hero—at least in Egypt, the home of the creator of AK Comics, 36-year-old Ayman Kandeel—is Jalila, the Savior of the City of All Faiths. (If you guessed that's Jerusalem, you might be right. Even though Kandeel refuses to mention religion and says that all of his characters are fictional, Jalila's parents were killed in an explosion of the Dimondona nuclear reactor, which sounds a lot like Israel's Dimona reactor, and her sworn enemy is Jose Darian, whom Al Jazeera thinks is reminiscent of the late Israeli general Moshe Dayan.) Other Gulf states have picked up the comics as well, but some of them, including Saudi Arabia, have censored the parts that have to do with heroines. A Savior of the City of All Faiths, as far as they are concerned, can't have breasts under that Lycra.

Spot an overlooked news story from outside American borders? E-mail Gelf with your find.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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