Zooming In

June 19, 2005

Zooming In 6/19

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Killer deer, controversial musicians, and an uninhibited soccer coach.

David Goldenberg

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.


Jamaica: It's not everyday that someone breaks the 100-meter dash record, but Asafa Powell's coach isn't that impressed by Powell's 9.77-second time in Athens last week, the fastest recorded 100-meter time in history. "I may be seem a bit underwhelmed about all of this but the truth is that it was not really that big a surprise," Stephen Francis told the Jamaica Gleaner. Francis, who has been coaching Powell in Jamaica for the last four years, took the opportunity to thank those who were instrumental in convincing Powell to stay on the island. "A lot of other parents would have shipped him off to the States ... but his brother Donovan (Olympian), parents and Nigel (brother) took the decision that Asafa was going to stay here," Francis said. He also thanked World Championships 100m hurdles silver medallist Brigitte Foster-Hylton, whom he also coaches. "She was the first person to show that we can be on top of the world right here," he said.


Bangladesh: While sorting out the identity of the mysterious "piano man," the mute and amnesiac virtuoso who was found wandering on a beach in Britain, has become a matter of intense debate in Europe (CNN), a 24-year old in Bangladesh is looking for a little bit of publicity that might sort out his own personal, intense mystery. Jahangir, who works in various jobs at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, has spent the last 19 years looking for his family, with whom he lost contact after a train he was playing on with his friends started moving. While everyone else got off in time, Jahangir ended up in the urban center of Dhaka, and subsequently got knocked unconscious by a vehicle. When he regained consciousness, the boy remembered only little detail from his previous life, and forgot where he was from. In a plea to the Daily Star, Jahangir says, "After a long struggle, I got a government job in the hospital, but I always feel an emptiness for my parents, brothers, sisters and relatives. Can anyone give me the location of my village, surrounded by trees with the rail tracks running by my school?"

China: The China Daily News, a government paper, isn't giving away much about the Beijing's preparations for the upcoming Olympics. Consider the recent article "No corruption found in Games preparation." A recent update describes how Chinese authorities are working together with Greek law-enforcement officers to put together a safe production. Not particularly revealing. But take a look at the photo in the article, which features an afro-wearing "tourist," to get a better idea of how the Chinese police force is preparing for the games.

Philippines: Of all of the text-addicted cellphone users in the world, Filipino short-message service users may be the most caught up in the craze. A campaign coordinated via SMS was considered to be largely responsible for ousting then-President Joseph Estrada—back in 2001. And it's estimated that each user in the country sent approximately 2,300 messages in 2003 (Wikipedia). So it's unlikely that most users are un-savvy to SMS 411 scams, like this one:

Congrats your cell roaming no. won P2 million ($36,101) during the electronic raffle drawn from the Central Bank of the Philippines. Call now Governor Rafael Buenaventura at this number: +639156907234.

Nonetheless, the government felt compelled to issue a formal statement about the scam—after one of its foreign diplomats almost fell for it. The naíve victim, Attaché Donnie Fetalino, communications officer of the Philippine Embassy in Egypt, even called the Central Bank before realizing the prize was fraudulent. Perhaps the $800 processing fee tipped him off. Gelf's attempted phone call to the above number didn't go through.


Denmark: Just when people thought it was safe to go running in Copenhagen's Deer Park, a white deer with a fawn attacked a female jogger. "We have received many tips on it in recent weeks, but we can't point it out," forest ranger Torben Christiansen told the Copenhagen Times. "It runs after horses and riders and kicks walkers at random, and it's dangerous." The deer, which sports no antlers, is one of ten does in the park, so authorities want to make sure they take out the right one. "We keep a close eye on the deer," Christiansen said. "If we find one that comes too close, we instantly shoot it."

Germany: Is Rammstein simply the best-selling German-language band in history —or are they the face of neo-nazism? In Azure Magazine (partially reprinted in the Jerusalem Post), Claire Berlinski details the Nazi symbolism invoked by the metal band—like clips from old propaganda films used in their music videos and exhortations to Rammstein's audiences to "think with your heart," a phrase used by the Nazis. Berlinkski ends up attributing the popularity of Rammstein to recent gains by far-right parties in Germany's regional elections. Band members don't dwell on atrocities of the past. "It's time to stop being ashamed about what comes out of Germany," guitarist Landers tells Berlinski, "and to establish a normal way of dealing with being German. Our music is about the revival of a healthy German self-esteem."

Hungary: Former German soccer legend and current Hungary national team coach Lothar Matthäus will never be accused of keeping his thoughts to himself. In the Budapest Sun, Matthäus railed at the critics of his underwhelming team, which has dropped 15 spots to number 69 in the FIFA rankings in the 17 months he's had the job. "I will not be deterred by stupid television commentary, malicious articles or the implied threats of a member of the presidency of the Hungarian Football Federation," said the world footballer of the year in both 1990 and 1991. "I refuse to be offended by the actions of spineless simpletons." Matthäus added, "I do not want to comment on the opinions of idiots." (Here's his official site.)

Middle East

Iran: Want a Cliff's Notes-style guide to the Iranian election, which was held on June 17? Check out the informative guide at the Middle East Times, which breaks down the often-confusing Iranian style of campaigning and government. The guide also discusses the candidates and their campaign themes, including the omnipresent willingness to resume dialogue with the U.S. Here's the guide on Akbar Rafsanjani, the favorite: "Seen as a pragmatic conservative, he has attempted to win over Iran's political center with a slick campaign that has sought to play up his caring side and dispel the widely held belief that he has amassed a huge personal fortune."

Jordan: A new amendment to the penal code means that witnesses under the age of 18 no longer have to face those they are accusing in court, according to an article in the Jordan Times. Instead, children can now give their testimony via closed circuit television in a teched-out new courtroom replete with flat screen TVs fitted with cameras and microphones. Research by Jordan's Family Protection Project led to the conclusion that it was more important to make the children feel comfortable, especially in abuse cases, which are rampant in the country, than to give the defendant the right to face his accuser.

Lebanon: While the world comes to grips with graying rocker and former Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof and Live 8, it's important to remember that there are other aging stars out there, making impassioned pleas for the betterment of the world. One such singer, Algerian Rachid Taha, brought the funk to Beirut, mixing punk rock with Arabic-style music, and added in a dash of liberalism (Lebanon Daily Star). "Looking like the last rock 'n' roll star Taha rolled on stage a gaunt figure, his leather pants hanging loose, his long greasy hair pasted around his brow," the Daily Star author wrote. "Yet if the intended effect was dark and dangerous as he has pulled off in the past, what he achieved here was something far more clownish." Though Taha's adherence to Arab rock clichés may have been a bit much—he even played "Rock the Cashbah"— he did get through to the audience, saying, "There is no democracy in the Arab world," and making his fans repeat the name of Samir Kassir, a Lebanese journalist who was killed by a car bomb earlier this month (see more on Kassir at Reason).

Saudi Arabia: Over five million foreign workers live in Saudi Arabia, forming over 20 percent of the kingdom's population (CIA World Fact Book). The country actively recruits foreign workers in almost every field through the Saudi Arabian National Recruitment Committee, issuing visas and contracts for specific types of work. Over the last few weeks, several thousand workers who broke their contracts were rounded up, and the government was rumored to be putting immigration bans on workers from several countries. In the Arab News, Waleed Al-Soweidan, chief of the Recruitment Committee, said, "There is no basic change as far as the recruitment policy is concerned," but he was clearly worried about the trend of workers leaving their jobs almost as soon as they entered the country. "Runaway expatriate workers especially housemaids had often found 'excuses,' he added, such as maltreatment or non-payment or delay of salaries, to escape from the employers."

Turkey: Halil Mutlu, Turkey's 4'11" three-time Olympic champion weightlifter, tested positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, in both samples he provided for the European Championships in Bulgaria (Turkish Daily News). When the first result came back a couple of weeks ago, Mutlu, known as the "Little Dynamo" for his ability to lift over three times his body weight, told the Daily News, "This substance is amongst the easiest to detect. Who would think I would do something so stupid?" Mutlu faces a two-year ban if he is found guilty of doping; he has suggested that Bulgarian authorities, who are miffed that Mutlu competes for Turkey as opposed to his birth country, might be involved in a plot against him. During the Athens games, Mutlu was held up as one of the few inspirations to emerge from the doping-plagued weightlifting competition (Rediff).

United Arab Emirates: The Gulf Cooperation Council, comprised of government representatives from six small, wealthy Middle East states, is considering limiting the number of years vehicles can be considered road-worthy (Khaleej Times); according to the proposal, cars older than five years would have to be junked. In Dubai, which boasts a huge used-car import-and-export trade, merchants are understandably worried. "We bring in used cars that are models as old as even 1986, 1989 and as of today, we have between 120 to 150 cars," Asif Ali, a Dubai car dealer, told Gulf Today. "So, if decision comes into effect now, we will suffer a loss amounting to Dhs one million ($272,257) of our own money."

Yemen: In an effort to combat the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the government has closed all religious schools in the country. In the Yemen Times, Hassan Al-Haifi states that this ban has had little effect on the well-funded and secretive extremist institutions. Instead, he argues that the schools that have been affected most are the local community summer schools that are often attached to mosques but do not have any sort of fundamentalist agenda. Children who used to attend these schools are now roaming the streets and getting into trouble, especially in places like Sana'a, where there are few parks and playgrounds. Ironically, writes Al-Haifi, the government ban is ultimately going to aid extremists, who can now find children to recruit on the streets, or get pupils sent to them by exasperated parents.

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Article by David Goldenberg

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