Zooming In

April 2, 2005

Zooming In 4/2/05

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local newspapers around the world. In this edition: Malawi's soccer odyssey, Japanese prisoners' uniforms get a redesign, April Fool's hoaxes in Europe and South Africa, and more.

Carl Bialik

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local newspapers. In this new feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.


Malawi: The national soccer team was not supposed to beat Tunisia anyway. Over the last ten years, their world ranking has plummeted to below 100, while Tunisia has consistently stayed above 40 (You can compare the teams at the FIFA website). But the Flames' latest trip up north was doomed well before the players took the pitch. The Nation describes the Odyssey-esque journey the Flames undertook on their way to a 7-0 shellacking in Tunis: Among other travesties, players flew to five different airports, slept on the floor of the Malawian embassy in Cairo, and were not fed lunch or dinner.

South Africa: Academics recently charged that official Department of Education statistics on adult literacy are "deliberate misinformation," the Mail & Guardian reported. A department official conceded to the newspaper that some statistics could be wrong; for instance, a survey that produced the frequently cited figure of 1.6 million adults reached by adult literacy programs "was not satisfactory." The M&G also noticed that the government claimed there were 85,219 adult-education trainers, yet a separate government estimate counted only 10,848—suggesting some double- (and tenfold-) counting of trainers.


Australia: Last fall, the Daily Telegraph published a photo showing soldiers dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, raising hopes of a full accounting of alleged racism in the military. (At the time, the photographer who snapped the photo told AAP it was all a joke.) But the Telegraph reports now that the military isn't sharing results of its internal inquiry, because of legal concerns. The paper calls this a "cover-up," citing the two-month delay in releasing the report.

Japan: Good news, prisoners: Your uniforms are getting a redesign. "Drab prison uniforms and bedding will be replaced by redesigned textiles in brighter colors in response to criticism from color therapists who said the current designs were depressing and would tend to make inmates aggressive," the Yomiuri Shimbun reports. Out with dark brown and grey; color therapists suggest light blue, mint green, and deep pink. The goals: improve sleeping and reduce aggressiveness and monotony.

Korea: Tension is building over Japan's high-school textbooks. Korean critics call the schoolbooks revisionist, claiming they whitewash Japan's aggressive history in Asia and claim the Dokdo islands as Japan's. China is joining the criticism of Japan. "South Korea had initially requested Japan, back in 2001, to revise a total of 35 portions of previous textbooks for accuracy," the Korea Herald reports. "But the Japanese Education Ministry is getting ready to approve Tuesday eight new textbooks to be used at secondary schools nationwide from next year. Two of the eight textbooks compiled by radical conservationists have long been criticized for whitewashing Japan's invasions of Asian countries, including Korea." The Korea Times, meanwhile, injects some context into the dispute by noting that less than 0.1% of schools adopted the first edition of the controversial textbook.

Malaysia: K. Kumaran learned the downside of a security feature on his S-Class Mercedes Benz that required his fingerprint to keep the car moving. Carjackers cut off the tip of accountant's index finger with a parang, the New Strait Times reports.

Sumatra: "Quake victims need water, Australia sends nappies," AAP reports, via the Sydney Morning Herald. Australian relief efforts for the Sumatra quake were being delayed by lack of transport and poor weather. "To add to rescuers' woes, one of the three pallets of emergency supplies consisted of disposable nappies, instead of the critically needed food, drugs and water," the AAP reported. " 'To call it a shemozzle doesn't go far enough,' one Australian doctor said. 'In Australia they probably think nappies are a good idea.'

Vietnam: Locals are outraged by reports that a salesman at a Singapore trade fair was selling Vietnamese girls as brides for about $6,000. Vietnam's Thanh Nien Daily reported on the bride sale two weeks ago. The Asia Times broadens the troubling story: "In recent years, an increasing number of Singapore men, unable to find love at home, have sought their brides in Vietnam, China and Indonesia. Many are convinced that foreigners make better wives because they are perceived as more domesticated, less arrogant or materialistic compared to their Singapore counterparts."


Sweden: All alcohol here must be sold by the government-owned systembolaget, which runs over 400 shops throughout the country. (See this importer's website for stats about systembolaget.) The monopoly allows the government to monitor and substantially tax the wine, liquor, and beer sold in the country. The Local reports on a new poll in which Swedes were asked about whether systembolaget should stay. The poll, suspiciously commissioned by the Swedish Spirits & Wine Suppliers, found that 55% of Swedes were in favor of continuing the monopoly, though the proportion of yea votes was much lower among young and urban populations. Perhaps more telling: The Local reports that one-fifth of Swedes circumvent the system by buying in bulk from abroad. (The Associated Press, via BusinessWeek, has more details on Swedes' alcohol purchases abroad.)

United Kingdom: Two years ago, London's mayor Ken Livingstone introduced a £5 charge for vehicles in the city center, to reduce congestion. Now he's raising that charge to £8, despite polls showing 75% of the public opposes the fees. "Critics suggested that Mr. Livingstone was losing sight of the charge's original purpose of cutting traffic jams in favor of using it as a device to boost his coffers," the Guardian reports.

Middle East

Israel: The Jewish nation's right of return, guaranteeing a home to all Jews, creates some awkward legal issues. For instance, since 1989 Israel has recognized non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism performed outside its borders but not within them. A High Court ruling this week extended that recognition to conversions that occur during brief trips abroad. "Once, people only went abroad to get married," Ha'aretz's Shahar Ilan writes in a news analysis. "Now they'll go there to convert as well." The Jerusalem Post reports that religious parties are seeking ways to nullify the ruling. The head of one such party called the decision an "explosives belt that has blown up, causing an identity terrorist attack against the Jewish people."

Saudi Arabia: In the Arab News, Khaled Batarfi asks why tens of billions of dollars of influx into the Kingdom after the Sept. 11 attacks, helped in part by high oil prices, haven't aided the plight of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed Saudis. His answer: a mix of bad investments and an unfriendly atmosphere for capital. "The money that stayed home went mostly three ways: The inflated Saudi stock market, real estate and money investment funds. Some, especially smaller capitals, were wasted on hasty, badly studied projects and fraudulent schemes. Many unneeded shops were opened everywhere, especially in the communication and food sectors."

United Arab Emirates: Mohammed A. R. Galadari, the editor of the Daily Khaleej, cautiously suggests a new approach to dealings with Israel, in an opinion column. His prescription: engagement through business. "If there is contact between the Arabs and Israel, that can work positively," Galadari writes. The rationale: Other countries have benefited economically from engaging Arab countries. "We all know Israel was blocking a solution all these years. Once contacts are there, they will see for themselves and know it is no good to be remain isolated." How to move forward, given Arab emnity for Israel? Galadari says the media can play a role, by being more open-minded. (Agence France Presse noted the unusual column.)

April Fool's

Croatia: "An April Fool's joke nearly caused a riot in Croatia after thousands of protesters took to the streets after an online news service claimed the country faced being banned from the 2006 World Cup finals unless it handed over fugitive general Ante Gotovina," the Sofia News Agency reported.

Germany: "Bayern Munich's website carried what it claimed on Friday was a dramatic transfer coup—the signing of England captain David Beckham from Real Madrid," Reuters reported. It was a hoax.

South Africa: The Mail & Guardian rounded up hoaxes in the nation's media: "Swaziland closing its borders with South Africa? Michael Jackson seeking asylum in Zimbabwe? Jean-Bertrand Aristide appointed Minister of the African Diaspora in the South African Cabinet? Composer and pianist Christa Steyn moonlighting as a page-three girl? It's that time of the year when gasps of disbelief are quickly replaced by a collective slapping of the forehead—April Fool's Day."

David Goldenberg contributed to this article.

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Article by Carl Bialik

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