Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Call

(By Will Mathonsi)

The first call came when I was about to leave the house. The year’s most anticipated blockbuster was playing in the local cinema, and I had been eagerly looking forward to seeing it. I glanced at my phone. It was an unknown number. I was already running late so I chose to ignore the call.
A minute later the phone rang again. It went on vibrating and ringing with an irritating din, sending my patience plummeting down to its lowest level. Since I was running late I convinced myself I really didn’t have time to deal with calls from unknown sources. Who could this be? What does he or she want? I wondered…

Monday, 30 January 2012

A window on the life of immigrants in the 1800s

These remarkable photos provide a window on the life of immigrants in 19th century New York. Captured in black and white, the photos highlight the tough life immigrants had: sweat shops, shanty towns and slums.

Three children huddle together over a grate for warmth in an alleyway off Mulberry Street, Manhattan

Around the World in Five Minutes

Amnesty uncovers torture in Libya

According to Amnesty International, several people in Libya's detention centres have been tortured to death by security officials and armed militia.
Amnesty  said its researchers in Libya met prisoners in and around the cities of Tripoli, Misurata and Gheryan who bore injuries consistent with torture, including open wounds on their heads, limbs and back.
 Most of the victims were Libyans believed to be Gaddafi loyalists, but some were sub-Saharan Africans believed to be mercenaries. NGO Human rights Watch has also documented ongoing torture in Libyan prisons.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has expressed concerns regarding the matter.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Around the World in Five Minutes

Nigeria: Death toll nears 1,000 
According to the Human Rights Watch, at least 935 people have been killed by the Nigerian Islamist sect, Boko Haram, since it began its campaign of violence in 2009. This year alone at least 250 people have died.

 The group, which opposes western education, has claimed responsibility for bombing military facilities, churches and police stations in the north of the country. On the 20th of January Boko Haram launched its deadliest attack to date in Kano - Nigeria's second largest city - killing 186 people.

The Human Rights Watch has called on the Nigerian government to end the campaign of terror and bring those responsible to justice. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Truth about Human Zoos (conclusion)

It is an extravagant misconception to think that human zoos equal rounding up natives in a confined space and subjecting them to the glare of curious audiences. It is much more than that. 

Human zoos are the everyday photos we see in news reports capturing the pain and suffering of the ‘other’. The ‘other’, who may not necessarily be called primitive, native or be a protected tribe, is still exploited by charities, photographers, news agencies and individuals.

Chinese New Year Begins Today

Today (Monday 23rd January) marks the beginning of the Chinese new year. On the Chinese calendar, 2012 - known as the year of the dragon - is the year 4709.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Broken Heart

My heart is broken
By the tears in your eyes
My heart is broken
By the ululation on your lips
Last night I saw you
Looking at me
I saw the questions
Blazing through your eyes

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Around the World in Five Minutes

Heavy Snowfall kills 16 Afghans

In Afghanistan, at least sixteen people have died and many are missing following heavy snowfall and avalanches in the province of Badakhshan.

Officials say at least 72 houses in one village have been buried by an avalanche, and 7-10ft of snow has fallen in some areas. 

Badakhshan's disaster preparedness director Ihsanullah Amiri told BBC news that blocked roads, combined with a shortage of snow clearing equipment, meant that people in areas worst affected were trapped and urgently needed food and medical supplies.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Truth About Human Zoos (1)

‘Dance!’ a policeman urged the girls dressed in loin cloths singing, clapping and swinging their hips from side to side.
They are one of India’s protected ancient tribes and, in the video that surfaced last week, were dancing for tourists in exchange for food.

Charities, media organisations and government officials were breathing fire when the video emerged on the net. The Jarawa tribe from India’s Andaman Island has just 403 members, and under Indian laws photographing or coming into contact with them is illegal. 

That is why The Guardian newspaper (UK), which first broke the story and other news organisations condemned the actions of the tourists and greedy policemen. Words like ‘disgusting’ and ‘exploitation’ were thrown about. Some headlines even went as far as describing the reaction as ‘outrage at human zoo’. 

Human Zoos
The concept of human zoos was prevalent in the 19th and 20th century when European explorers returned from continents like Asia, America and Africa with natives who were put on display for curious spectators.

 Human zoos were popular in cities like Paris, Antwerp, London, Hamburg, New York and Warsaw where up to 300,000 visitors flocked to see the exhibitions.

A famous example of a human exhibit was a woman called Sara Bartman who was uprooted from the east cape of South Africa and displayed in exhibitions around England and France until her death in 1815.  Exhibitors were particularly fascinated with her unusual anatomy.

Another famous example is Ota Benga who was taken from the Congo in 1906 and put in a cage at a monkey house in New York’s Bronx zoo. Scientists at that time believed certain races were evolutionary inferior and Benga was living proof. The New York Times reported that around 40,000 people flocked to the park to see ‘the wild man from Africa.’

Benga on display with monkeys at Bronx zoo
Benga showing off filed teeth before he left Congo
 On the whole, some 35,000 people were said to have taken part in the human zoo displays and were viewed by approximately 1.4 billion spectators.
The exhibitions were first banned by Hitler and steadily declined after World War II.

Today it is inconceivable to think that such acts of depravity were widely accepted. No one would permit or tolerate such inhumane acts. But here’s the truth about human zoos: they might no longer appear in the same crass form that they did in the past, but they are still in existence.

Generations have passed and attitudes about race have changed, but people have not changed. They remain opportunistic. That means that people will exploit situations for their benefit if given the chance. And that is exactly what The Guardian and other media outlets (I am not exempting myself) are doing.

I admire The Guardian but found it ironic that they were condemning a video showing a protected dwindling tribe exploited by tourists on one hand, and on the other hand were milking it for all its worth.  

If it is so exploitative why show it in the first place? Would the ‘more than half a million viewers’ who clicked on the video have something to do with it? And why the thirty-second commercial before the video?
human zoo
Members of Jarawa tribe dancing for tourists
On the face of it, the media and charities are drawing attention to a social malaise that needs to be tackled. But on the flipside, they are also constructing an 'exotic' story that will lure their readers to their papers/sites, thereby boosting their audience.

Without knowing it, we the readers become voyeurs who avidly consume images of the 'other'/native/primitive just like the spectators did hundreds of years ago. We are gawking at them from our privileged positions. Our curiosity is fuelling their exploitation, while inwardly we feel things are faring much better. That is an illusion.

(to be continued)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Freak snow traps thousands across Europe

While heavy snowfall is the delight of every skier, this week thousands of skiers across  parts of Europe got more than they bargained for when heavier than usual snowfall left them trapped in their hotel rooms.
Freak snowfalls dumped up to 18ft of snow blocking roads and railways in Austria, southern Germany, France and Switzerland.

One skier told a radio station, "It's a bit like being trapped in paradise."

Deluge: A man shovels snow from a roof in Hochfilzen in the western Austrian province of Tyrol

A pedestrian walks past snow piled up on a street of Mittenwald, southern Germany (© CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

A pedestrian walks past snow piled up on a street of Mittenwald, southern Germany (© CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

A pedestrian walks past snow piled up on a street of Mittenwald, southern Germany (© CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

A pedestrian walks past snow piled up on a street of Mittenwald, southern Germany (© CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

A pedestrian walks past snow piled up on a street of Mittenwald, southern Germany (© CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

Around the world in five minutes

Two-thirds Indian milk contaminated
Chinese officials seize tainted milk in 2008
A survey by an Indian watchdog has found that more than two-thirds of milk sold in the country is contaminated with substances ranging from salt to detergent and may be unsafe to drink.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India conducted a survey in 33 states and found that more than 68 per cent of 1,791 milk samples were contaminated. Milk powder, fat and glucose we among substances found in milk. Only two states - Goa and Pondicherry - sold unadulterated milk.

India is not the only Asian country to contend with the problem of contaminated milk. In 2008, six babies were killed and 300,000 people in China fell ill after taking milk tainted with with melamine. 

ICC extends Libyan deadline

The International Criminal Court has extended a deadline for Libya to provide information on the health and status of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan president. 

The deadline was originally Tuesday but has now been extended to the 23rd of January.

The ICC, based in in The Hague, has indicted him for crimes against humanity but Libya's new leaders say they want him to stand trial in Libya. Saif Gaddafi was captured in southern Libya in November.

The court could refer Libya to the UN Security Council if there is no response to its request for information.

Guinea-Bissau: opposition reject interim President

In Guinea Bissau, a coalition of opposition groups has rejected plans to appoint the national assembly speaker as interim president following the death of the nation's leader.

President Malam Bacai Sanha died in Paris on Monday after a long illness. Under the constitution, the national assembly speaker is to be appointed interim leader and organise elections within 90 days.But on Tuesday, a coalition of opposition parties threatened to stage protests if Raimundo Pereira takes over as interim president. The parties questioned whether Pereira would faithfully carry out the constitution.

Sanha is the fourth president in a row not to serve out his term - the others were either killed or ousted. 

N.Korea’s Jong-il made ‘eternal leader’

North Korea has announced that the body of late leader Kim Jong-il will lie in state permanently at a palace in the capital, Pyongyang.

According to the state news agency KCNA, the decision to preserve Jong-il was made to show "the unanimous desire and ardent request" of the ruling communist party to esteem him as "the eternal leader of the party".
Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on 17 December at the age of 69.

Price of orange juice soars globally

The price of orange juice on the global markets has hit a record high, after surging over the past few days.
Traders say the main reasons are safety concerns about juice from Brazil, the world's largest producer of orange juice, and cold weather in Florida.
The US Food and Drug Administration said carbendazim, a fungicide, has been found in shipments from Brazil.Carbendazim is banned in the US, but is used legally in Brazil to treat black spot, a type of mould that grows on trees.
Orange juice has risen by about 25% since the beginning of the year, to $2.12 a pound.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

We Want a Life!

There is however a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue
-Edmund Burke

Nigeria fuel protests: A man carries a placard during a demonstration

Everyone has a breaking point no matter how resilient a person might be.

For years the Nigerian people have endured untold economic hardship: high unemployment, bad roads, a lack of security, erratic power supply and poor living conditions. All they have had to ride on is the false hope embedded in grandiose government promises that are dished out year after year.

However yesterday Nigerians united as one big family as people took to the streets in a massive protest that ground activities nationwide to a halt.

Nigeria fuel protests: Protesters gather at Gani Fawehinmi square in Lagos

Young, old, rich and poor united to protest against the removal of fuel subsidies by the government that has caused the price of fuel to rocket - a litre of fuel sells for more than twice the original price.

 The Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress flagged off strikes yesterday demanding the reinstallment of subsidies.

Demonstrations continued for a second day today. Here are more photos curtsey guardian.co.uk

Nigeria fuel protests: A minibus carries protestors through Lagos

Nigeria fuel protests: Demonstrators march through Ikorodu road in Lagos

Nigeria fuel protests: Angry youths set up burning barricades in Lagos

Nigeria fuel protests: Demonstrators gather at a barricade at Gwagwalada

Nigeria fuel protests: A protester waves a flag on an empty road

Nigeria fuel protests: A police armoured vehicle

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Insanity is a virtue

 The world is turning crazy. 

While the Libyans are still picking through the smoldering ruins of their battered country, overtones of another war are growing louder by the day.

It is not as if invasions are a novelty – far from it – but the frequency at which they are occurring at the moment is worrying.

 First it was Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Libya, and now (if things escalate any further) Iran might be the next country to bite the dust.

Its crime? Developing  nuclear weapons. Unfortunately the charge brought forward by the United States and bolstered by a report by the U.N nuclear watchdog, the Atomic Energy Agency, is very thin on evidence.

Since the accusation, the war of words between both countries has escalated.

We know they’ve been at each other’s jugular for decades, but now rhetoric is morphing into action. Notable examples include  U.S’  increased surveillance of Iran’s nuclear sites; Iran’s capture/seizure of an American spy drone; E.U’s proposed sanction against Iran, and Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil-trade route.

The most worrying developments of recent are:
  • ·         An upcoming joint military exercise between Israel and the States – the biggest of its kind – that will simulate ballistic missile defence
  • ·         A U.S deal with Saudi Arabia to supply $30 billion worth of weapons
To me, that signals one thing: conflict.

U.S invasion = World War III 

Many commentators have dismissed the talk of war as unlikely saying it would be profound foolishness on the part of U.S, and tantamount to starting world war III. After all Iran has the world’s fourth largest oil reserves; and if the Hormuz strait is closed in the event of conflict, a barrel of oil could sell for as much as 200 US dollars; leading to worldwide inflation.

I desperately hope they are right. 

In any event, it looks like a lose-lose situation for Iran. 

Because whether Iran steps up or steps down the rhetoric, it cannot wriggle out of the impossible situation it is trapped in. As the saying goes, give the dog a bad name and hang it. Iran is stuck with the ‘axis of evil’ sobriquet which dogs its steps like a shadow. 

Iran has been known to sponsor terrorism; it has taken hostages and bombed U.S embassies, but has not invaded any country in modern history. That will not save its skin.

It is stuck with two unsavoury options:
  1. ·         Giving up its nuclear programme OR
  2.       Carrying on with it at the risk of treading the same path as its neighbour, Iraq
If Iran gives up its nuclear programme , it will be caving into the demands of imperialist countries and will personify weakness.

If it does not, it could be invaded. A new government will be installed (by western countries), rubber-stamped by the UN, and maintained by a western military presence.

There are two worlds

It is happening to Iran right now but other non-conforming (Southern) countries should not watch on distantly. 

They could be next. 

Today's world operates under two domains: the imperialists’ who are simply the dominant class that  write world rules. The rules favour them politically and economically and marginalise the other domain (the non-imperialists) who must either bite the bullet or face the consequence.

Political analyst Michael Parenti describes the non-imperialists as ‘comprador’ classes. 

A comprador is one that cooperates in turning its own country into a client state for foreign interests.
A client state is one that is open to investments on terms that are decidedly favorable to the foreigner.
These are old realities, but ones that need to be tackled if not resource-rich countries from the South will continue to be subsumed by a system that does not favour them.

Former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli once said it is easier to be critical than correct. Anyone can criticise but not everyone can proffer solutions. I don’t know what solution you have in mind but here’s mine:
There should be a new law – the law of reaction.

Law of reaction: to every action there is (should be) an equal and opposite reaction.

To every superpower/world power/imperialist/northern alliance there should be an equal and opposite reaction – the building of a Southern alliance/superpower/world power, if things are to even out.

That could cost the non-imperialist world a leg and an arm. It would resemble insanity, but in this case, insanity will be a virtue.

Question is, how can it be achieved and will it work?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Laugh your head off!

An angry judge in the UK told prosecutors to 'act more seriously' after he was handed court papers which included the words 'blah blah blah' and 'yakkity schmakitty.'

Francis Gilbert was heairng an assault case when he was handed official paperwork which read:

"On 29th day of October, knowing or believing that blah, blah, blah was assisting in the investigation of an offence, did an act, namely yakkity schmakitty, which intimidated and was intended to intimidate blah, blah, blah, intending thereby to cause the investigation to be obstructed, prevented or interfered with."

A "church" whose central tenet is the right to share files has been formally recognised by the Swedish government.

The Church of Kopimism claims that "kopyacting" - sharing information through copying - is similar to a religious service.

The church holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols and focuses on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

Don't know about you, but these stories made my day. What funny stories do you have to share?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Around the World in Five Minutes

Chile Battles Wild Fires

Firefighters in Chile yesterday battled three massive wildfires that have burned around 90 square miles of forest, destroyed more than 100 homes and driven away thousands of tourists.

Chile’s normally rainy southern regions are suffering from a nationwide heat wave as well as a drought, which makes fires increasingly likely. On Sunday alone, Chile was battling 48 separate fires, and red alerts were declared for the regions of Magallanes, Bio Bio and Maule.

U.S signs $30bn deal with S.Arabia

The United States last week signed a $30 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia to supply the kingdom with eighty four F-15 fighter jets and assorted weaponry.

Under the agreement, the U.S will modernise 70 existing aircraft, supply ammunitions and spare parts, offer training and carry out maintenance.

Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs told reuters news agency, “This sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the Gulf and broader Middle East.”

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S ally in the Middle East.

Turkey compensates mistaken killings

Turkey will compensate the families of 35 civilians mistakenly killed in an air strike meant for Kurdish rebels, the deputy prime minister has said, even as he insisted that military officials followed proper procedures.

The air strikes, guided by intelligence from drones and fired by Turkish F-16 jets, hit a group of Kurdish smugglers in northern Iraq last week.

Kurds make up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s 74 million people; some of them have been agitating for autonomy in the south-east region where they dominate.

 2011 'disastrous year' for Rhinos & Elephants

A record number of rhinos were killed in South Africa last year as demand for their horns rose in Asia, a report has said.
According to the National Geographic News Watch, last year at least 443 rhinos were killed in South Africa, home to the greatest number of the animals.

 The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65,000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold and platinum.

A similar report has rated 2011 as a disastrous year for elephants, following a large number of seizures of elephant tusks.

Libya: group slams female parliamentary quota

A Libyan rights organisation has slammed a proposed election law that gives women just ten per cent of parliamentary seats.

The Libyan Human Rights Alliance said the draft law circulated by the National Transitional Council was unreasonable and ‘extremely outrageous’, considering women made up 50 per cent of the population. The alliance demanded that Libyan women are not sidelined but supported in their involvement in Libyan politics in upcoming elections.

The draft released by the election preparatory committee states that candidates must be more than 25 years of age and should have held no position of responsibility under Muammar Gaddafi’s government.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a fabulous new year and many blessings for the year ahead. Thanks a million for all your support.

Fireworks over Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo: Chrissie Thoo