Zooming In

June 25, 2005

Zooming In 6/24

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: www.sell.bm, a Gaelic controversy, and some trouble for Japan's Peeping Toms.

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.


Zambia: An average family of six in the capital of Lusaka needs just under $300 a month to pay for food and other essential items, according to a survey done by the Social Conditions Research Project of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (Daily Mail). Adding in school fees, health and transport fares, that number rises to almost $400, making Lusaka the most expensive place in the country to raise a family. The survey also found that the government pays its teachers between $100 and $200 and month and its police officers less than $150 a month.


Bermuda: In Bermuda, no less than four websites are dueling to be top dog in the islands' online classified market. According to the Bermuda Sun, eMoo is currently way out in front, with over 12,000 registered subscribers. Bermuda eClassifieds is a new startup, as are slickly-styled Bermuda Adz and the Daily Classifieds, which also goes by the unfortunate url of http://www.sell.bm/. "Bermuda has a lot to offer and on an island that doesn't have any real natural products per se, technology is a place where we can level the field," says Aubrey "Kevin" Mayes of Bermuda Adz.

Asia and Oceania

Cambodia: The international school siege in Cambodia that left a two-year old Canadian boy dead was orchestrated by a disgruntled man seeking to extract revenge on his former employee by killing his two children (Xinhua). Chea Sokhon, 23, organized a group of friends to go to the school to find the young children of a Korean restaurateur for whom he used to work as a driver. In a confession to police, Sokhon said that he was angry that the man had slapped him. Sokhon and his friends took over 70 hostages at the school, but were unable to locate the Korean man's children, as they were in another building. In the ensuing standoff, after which the four men were arrested, they killed the Canadian toddler.

Guam: A million-gallon water reservoir collapsed, prompting an editorial in the Pacific Daily News calling for the government to get out of the water business altogether. The collapsed tank was over 30 years old and rusted out, and the paper worries that there are other disasters waiting to happen. "The Guam Waterworks Authority, under government management, CAN'T get the many, many problems with the island's water and wastewater infrastructure fixed. We need to bring aboard a private company that has the experience, expertise and assets needed to upgrade our water and wastewater systems. The longer we wait, the greater the chance of the occurrence of further disasters that, under proper management, are preventable."

Indonesia: An emerging corruption scandal threatens to envelop the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is charged with misappropriating over $70,000,000 in fees that were paid by people going to Mecca for Haj (Jakarta Post). Pilgrims are routinely asked by the ministry to pay up to ten times the amount required and to do so up to three years before their journey. "This is questionable, because why then does all the money have to be deposited in the first place?" asks Lukman Hakim Nyakne of the haj pilgrimage guidance group Iskandariah. Once they reach the Holy Land, pilgrims also complain of terrible food and accommodations. This has promted calls for the privatization of the whole haj industy in Indonesia, but Lukman is not sold. "The private sector is not necessarily corruption free, which means government should also control them. But the government must manage the haj system professionally and transparently," he says.

Japan: Con artists are starting to take advantage of Peeping Toms and other perverts, using newly toughened obscenity laws to extort money from their marks (Japan Times). Extortionists find voyeurs peering into parked cars at known make-out sites, for example, and threaten to turn them in unless they are given a considerable cash payment. Other extortionists use help to take down their prey, like Takashi, who has his female friends dress up in high-school uniforms to attract the attention of the notorious train gropers, or Chikan. "I've gotten to know how to spot potential chikan," he says. "If there's one on the platform, we follow right behind him when he boards and then wait for him to take the bait." Takashi says this happens about half of the time. From the article: "When that happens, a chain of events ensues: The girl complains loudly; Takashi announces that he witnessed the whole thing; the chikan is hustled off the train. Then the negotiation begins. For a payment, the "victim" and "witness" agree not to report the incident to the station chief, who in turn would be obliged to hand the case over to the police." Takashi claims he makes up to $3,000 a month from such scams. "Interestingly, some of those amateurs think they are actually doing society a favor—by targeting lawbreakers. 'It feels good,' says Ichiro, 23, who waylays middle-aged men as they emerge from love hotels with underage prostitutes. 'You actually feel like you're helping out the women.' "

Mongolia: At the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004, Otryad Gundeegma, the tiny 27-year old pistol marksman, was thought to be Mongolia's best hope to bring home the first gold medal in the nation's history. She led the world cup standings and had captured the Asian Shooting Championships, and was favored in both the ten and 25 meter pistol shooting events. Instead, she faltered miserably, gaining only a 6th place showing at best, and Mongolia left the Athens with only one medal, a bronze in freestyle wrestling. The most international press the country got was when Otgonbayar Luvsanlkhundeg stumbled across the finish line of the Women's marathon in last place, almost an hour and a half after the winner (BBC). Since the Olympics, Gundeegma has been on a terrible skid—she hasn't won an event since May of 2004, finishing 12th in recent competitions. She wasn't even planning to enter last week's World Cup event in Milan. But, at the last minute she did, and as the UB Post reports, she made the most of it, taking the championship to secure an automatic place in Beijing in 2008.

Nepal: The Raute are a small group of hunter gatherers who live in the forests, but recently, their leaders have been in Kathmandu, campaigning to keep their nomadic way of life (Nepali Times). Even though they have been in contact with modern societies for over 30 years, the Raute by and large want nothing to do with them, perhaps the only reason that the tribe of less than 1,000 has been able to survive. Now, with the Maoist uprising, some officials want them to be forcibly settled, or at least subject to limitations within the national forests. The Nepali Times talked with an influential Raute Mukhiya (patriarch). Here's a sample:

Nepali Times: Has the conflict affected you?

Main Bahadur Shahi: Yes. The sirs who fly the gaadi (helicopters) should be careful. What if we Rautes are completely wiped out when they are trying to kill Maoists? However, the CDO has assured us that our areas won't be bombed. Just to be sure, when a helicopter flies overhead we wave our turbans to notify the sirs that we are not Maoists but Raute and to leave us in peace.

Taiwan: How should the government protect its fisherman, who are often rounded up and fined by Japanese authorities after straying into contested waters? One solution is to send out a naval battleship, replete with several legislators and Defense Minister Li Jye (China Post). While this journey did not please the Japanese and many members of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, many members of the main opposition party, Kuomintang, are pleased that the government is finally standing up for fishermen's rights. Next month, Taiwan and Japan will meet to discuss the situation in the 15th round of fishery talks. One solution, by Premier Frank Hsieh, is to outfit all fishing boats with GPS (Taipei Times). "Whenever a dispute like this takes place, our fishermen always say that they did not intrude into another country's economic waters, but the countries always claim that our fishermen did," Hsieh says. "If we have evidence, it will be easier for us to decide who is right and who is wrong." Another, less technical, solution is for the governments to create joint fishing grounds in disputed areas.

Thailand: The government has shut down two separate websites critical of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and is planning to close down a radio station. The website of community radio station FM92.25 (yes, that's .25) has already been closed down, and the station itself should be done by the end of the month (The Nation). Thaiinsider, the website run by anti-corruption crusader Ek-kayuth An-chanbutr was also shut down, at least temporarily. The article also noted that a political scientist is alleging that the "Thaksin administration hired a large number of students to scrutinize various websites and respond with counter attacks to those criticising the government." 2Bankok.com, a media watchdog, compares the coverage of the closings in The Nation with that of the other English-language paper, the Bangkok Post.

Vanuatu: A seven-year old New Zealand girl was killed by a shark in Vanuatu as her entire family watched, and a frantic effort to save her was to no avail as the animal took her entire leg and part of her torso. In the Vanuatu Daily (click on "cover story"), tourism coordinator of the Malampa province Kevin Endrell indicated that although there have been other attacks in the area in the recent past, this attack was random, and that the shark bypassed several locals in deep water before taking the girl. The New Zealand Herald, though, quotes a Vanuatu teacher, who says that he twice warned the family, who had entered the bay on a yacht, not to swim there, as it was the same place where fishing vessels were routinely washed down. "We are really, really down in our hearts because we told them not to swim," he said. "People here realise it's not safe."

Vietnam: Le Minh Ngoc was born in Bat Trang, a village famous for its pottery. Instead of taking a general approach to the craft, though, Ngoc focused on one specific niche: the giant flower vase market (Vietnam Pictorial). For the last ten years, he has built bigger and bigger vases in an effort to take the world record. His current biggest is almost ten feet high, but refuses to slow down until he has taken the crown with a vase over 18.5 feet tall. A rich Japanese businessman has offered Ngoc over $40,000 for one of his gargantuan products, but the potter refused. "I make these vases not for money," he said.


Cyprus: What should the government do to counteract what seems to be a speeding epidemic? Since the beginning of this year, over 100,000 speeding tickets have been handed out on the island, which boasts a population of less than 800,000 (Cyprus Mail). Two legislators feel the best way to solve this problem is to give people what they want, so they are proposing a bill to create a racetrack on the island. "I cannot say that the building of the racetrack will solve of all of the problems that we have on the roads," says Justice Minister Doros Theodorou. "All we can do is look at other countries that have built racetracks as an example. It has been shown that they have been effective in some forms and are seemingly a good outlet for drivers who love speed."

"Rather than having youngsters using normal roads for racing," adds Minister of Communications and Works Haris Thrasou, "it is better that they use proper track under the protection and criteria of European safety measures."

Ireland: Irish, or Gaelic, received a boost when Sinn Fein`s Bairbre de Brun became the first MEP to address the European Parliament in the language since the European Council recognized it as an official working language (UTV). "This international recognition will have a very great influence not only on the language but on those of us who speak the language and who wish to be on an equal footing with our fellow Europeans," de Brun says. Other MEPs were not impressed, noting that less than 1/3 of Ireland's people can understand the language. "The push to have Irish upgraded was a purely political campaign," says British MEP Jim Nicholson. "It will only serve to overburden a linguistic regime, which is already struggling to cope with 20 official languages." Adding to the outcry over Irish is Paul MacDonnell, director of the Open Republic Institure, who wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal that the Irish government's compulsion to insert the Irish language into every aspect of life was a way of "ethnically cleansing Ireland" and added that, as a result, "Irish life has come to imitate a parody of itself."

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Article by David Goldenberg

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