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September 24 2014

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February 12 2014

An “Increasingly Uncertain” Future for Central Asia's Fergana Valley

On the Caravanistan blog, Cycloscope writes about radioactive landfill sites in the Fergana Valley, a region “absurdly divided between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan”:

Unaware of the dangers of radioactivity, the locals take the equipment in the old abandoned mines and sell them as scrap, risking not only their own lives but also the spread of radioactivity. A further problem is the use of rock from landfills as a building material for houses and roads.

The threat coming from radioactive waste is aggravated by unsettled borders, water scarcity, and a history of ethnic riots, making the future of the region “increasingly uncertain”.

February 11 2014

South Korean Film About Samsung Worker's Death Slowly Winning Over Moviegoers

A film about the tragic death of a Samsung worker is slowly gaining traction in South Korea, the birthplace of electronics giant Samsung and a country notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung“ for the corporation's enormous power and influence there. 

“Another Promise” faced many hurdles from the very beginning. According to an extensive interview with local media [ko], the director recalls getting countless rejections from investors and production houses, adding that without the help of many generous citizens, the movie would not have been possible.

Poster Image of movie Another Promise, Fair Use Image

Poster for the film “Another Promise.” Fair use.

The film, which depends entirely on crowdfunding and small, private donations, tell the story of a Samsung worker who died from acute leukemia and her father's draining legal battle with the corporation as he struggled to prove that disease was linked with the company's harsh and unsafe working conditions. A series of legal fights continue between Samsung and labor groups who allege that employees suffering from leukemia and other rare diseases contracted them because of working at the company's factories.

Amid rising suspicions [ko] that some multiplex theaters are too afraid to expand the number of screens showing the movie even without pressure from Samsung, the movie seems to have deeply touched and inspired moviegoers, many of whom took their reviews to Twitter and popular South Korean online venues, encouraging other users [ko] to see the movie. 

After his daughter died in the back seat of his own taxi, the father calls the labor attorney and says, “Yumi has just passed away. There is no one around I can tell this.” No one to complain to, no one willing to take their side. There are over 58 cases of similar deaths. Watching this movie is listening to those voices.

It's my second time watching the movie. Since it is so realistic, it almost felt like watching a documentary, especially since I witnessed that particular scene with my very own eyes – where people blocked with the bus. But back then, I merely found that people's cries coming from inside were just bit too noisy. Why did I not take interest in what was going on in this society back then?

After watching a romantic film, people wish it would happen in their real life. However, after watching movies depicting ugly facts of reality, they wish to keep them where they were, as something that exists only on the screen. But actually, when these responses are reversed, people can bring positive changes to the real world. “Another Promise” is a reality which needs to be changed outside a movie theater.

Many of the comments were about the seemingly unfair treatment that the movie is getting – less active promotion by distributors and not many screens are showing the film. People also mentioned that the title of the movie, “Another Promise”, is a satirical use of Samsung’s famous advertising slogan “Another Family”. 

That ad slogan “Another Family” – they would have never imagine this would come back to bite them like a boomerang. I really hope they pay the full price for taking advantage of their “family” in the ad without really taking responsibility for the customers, labor workers and victims.

With members of my group “Power to the People”, I watched the movie “Another Promise”. I've tried to take a confirmation photo proving that we watched it, but there was no movie poster displayed inside the theater, and not even one banner stand. And they say the movie is screened only twice a day. What a pathetic situation. 

February 10 2014

Remembering the Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82 in England; netizens and academics all over the globe were shocked by the news, though Hall had been ailing for some time. He reportedly died of complications arising from kidney failure.

The UK Guardian's obituary described Hall as an “influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review”. One of the founders of British Cultural Studies, he regarded popular culture as capitalist and dominated by the ruling class. He studied media and its impact on ideology, becoming a major proponent of reception theory and expanded the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender. His work was particularly meaningful to black West Indian immigrant communities, as he explored ideas of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, especially as they related to the diaspora experience. Rather than viewing identity to be determined by history and culture – and therefore fixed – he saw it as fluid, ongoing and subject to change.

Facebook was overflowing with status updates that reflected the respect and admiration people had for the man and his work. Upon hearing the news of Hall's death, Rhoda Bharath said:

I can't even begin to describe how bereft I feel about Hall's passing… What a loss!

Arc Magazine posted a striking portrait of Hall by Antonio Olmos, adding:

We have just learned of the passing of Stuart Hall, champion of cultural studies and one of the Caribbean's leading intellectuals.

Our condolences are extended to those whose lives he touched with his generous work.

Rest well in peace Sir.

Arc's Facebook update directed readers to its website, where it posted about Hall's life and work in greater detail.

From Jamaica, Annie Paul referred to his death as “horrible news”, and proceeded to post a series of links and photos about his life and work as part of her mourning process, including this video of Hall speaking with C.L.R. James:

In another update, Paul admonished the Jamaican media for not picking up on the significance of his death:

Have yet to hear any announcement on local media of the passing of Stuart Hall…

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004.  Photo by Annie Paul.

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004. Photo by Annie Paul.

In a blog post that was published soon after the 2012 debut of John Akomfrah‘s film about Hall, “The Unfinished Conversation”, cultural studies professor Nick Mirzoeff wrote:

It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.

There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.

He commented on other revelations in the film:

It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.

Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that

for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.

Out of that anger came the New Left Review.

Mirzoeff continued:

Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:

Another history is always possible.

The film ends with this caption

For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.

My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.

On Twitter, condolences streamed in from all corners of the globe:

Some Twitter users shared the aspects of Hall's work that affected them the most:

Others suggested what they felt were the most appropriate ways in which to honour his memory:

Some just admitted that the world – and its intellectual space – felt emptier without him:

Gerry Hassan acknowledged Hall's astute analytical powers:

One Twitter user, Sean Fernyhough, quoted director John Akomfah:

Akomfah's latest documentary about Hall, The Stuart Hall Project, can be viewed here. A shorter clip is here.

@cfidelmorris acknowledged the great impact of jazz music in Hall's life – specifically the music of Miles Davis:

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff summed up the general feeling with this tweet:

The photograph of Stuart Hall used in this post was taken by Annie Paul; uploaded by Nicholas Laughlin and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Nicholas Laughlin's flickr photostream.

February 08 2014

Legalizing And Regulating The Sex workers in Sri Lanka

Shilpa Samaratunge, a development worker, discusses in Groundviews about the problems surrounding the sex workers in Sri Lanka. Instead of abolishing and criminalizing them, which is the path Sri Lanka currently is on, she suggests to legalize the profession and impose regulation and provide health-services for the sex workers.

Patients in Uzbekistan “Have Nobody to Rely on Except for God”

On Registan.net, Gulnoza Saidazimova paints a bleak picture of the healthcare system in Uzbekistan (part onepart two):

[The system is so inadequate and outdated that] a wealthy few head to foreign countries for medical treatment, drawing on their own savings and often those of their close relatives, whereas the majority poor can only hope not to get sick. They have nobody to rely on except for God.

February 05 2014

Caribbean Diaspora Blogger Makes Meatless Monday Meaningful

Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella usually blogs about all things glamourous – fashion, beauty, fitness – but occasionally, she will wax poetic about food, which, of course, has a glamour of its own. Her culinary interests lie Caribbean food, usually, and the challenges she faces finding the right West Indian ingredients while living in a North American metropolis. She manages, though, and today she shares her recipe for a Rainbow Pizza recipe that does something extraordinary, at least in Caribbean menu terms: It offers a tasty meal – without meat – which is perhaps the most loved staple of West Indian diets.

Her post begins by acknowledging the genesis of the Meatless Monday concept:

[It] dates back to conservation efforts during World War 1, but regained popularity in the last decade as a public health awareness initiative. The idea behind it is to improve public health by going meatless once a week, to reduce risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes while reducing your carbon footprint and improving the environment.

She continues:

I love the idea, and have been wanting to eat less meat and more veggies for a while. My husband is totally not cool with it and wants to eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. It makes things challenging for me. It means that I have to try that much harder to create something delicious and healthy that we’ll both enjoy.

Afrobella succeeds, though – after checking out a few recipes on Pininterest, she gives the pizza dish her own special flair by “up[ping] the ante and add[ing] some roasted veggies”:

When I shared the photo on my Instagram and Facebook pages, the response was huge! Everyone’s asking me for the recipe. And it’s SO EASY. Like, stupid easy. Let me share it with you!

Rainbow Pizza, a la Afrobella.

Rainbow Pizza, a la Afrobella.

You can check out the recipe and follow the method here. Then, add the veggie ingredients in the sequence of rainbow colours:

Decorate in rainbow stripes! Like I said, I used the following, in order from right to left – mushrooms, broccoli, yellow bell pepper, red bell pepper, roasted tomatoes, and red onion. Some of my veggies were roasted veggie leftovers…so effortless and delicious every single time!

Then you taste the rainbow (sorry, I couldn’t help it)!

There was one challenge with the pizza, though:

Because it’s in veggie based stripes, depending on how you arrange your veggies, your slices probably won’t include all of them. The next time I make this pizza, I’m making it on a circular crust so I can get all my veggies on one slice.

It was yummy, easy, and if you have kids, they’ll probably love it.

Here's hoping that meat-lovers, or as they're called in the Caribbean “meat-mouths” will agree. Enjoy!

The image used in this post is by Afrobella, used with permission.

February 04 2014

Jamaica: Third World Front Man Dies of Cancer

Jamaican View notes that Bunny Rugs, leader of the reggae band Third World, has passed away after a long battle with cancer.

February 03 2014

Searching for Solutions to Open Defecation in Ghana

Open defecation is a huge health problem facing Ghana. Sixteen million people in Ghana use unsanitary or shared latrines, while 5.7 million have no latrines at all and defecate in the open. This has led to outbreak of diseases such as cholera when human excreta and urine pollutes water bodies. Open defecation costs the nation a whopping sum of 79 million dollars per year.

An article published by SpyGhana indicates that:

Although Ghana has chalked tremendous progress in some of the eight areas of the development goals including MDG 7, Target 7c, which is to: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation”, whereas it has already surpassed its target of 78% for water, the country has failed woefully in increasing access to improved sanitation.

Crawling at a snail’s pace of one percentage point increase each year, access to improved sanitation in Ghana is now at 15% according to the latest Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) report released few days ago.

This means only 15 out of 100 Ghanaians now have access to improved sanitation, which is 39% short of Ghana’s sanitation MDG target of 54% that expires in 2015.

To further compound Ghana’s unenviable sanitation status, the open defecation rate in Ghana has now increased from 19 per hundred Ghanaians to 23 per 100, according to the MICS report.

But Clean Team Ghana is a sanitation company in Ghana that is working to change that by providing innovative and affordable in-house toilet facilities to urban communities. The YouTube video below shows how Clean Team is improving urban communities in Ghana by helping households have access to safe and clean toilet in their homes:

The company organised a Twitter debate on the 24 January 2014 to engage sanitation experts, government, social enterprises and the online community to deliberate on how open defecation can be eradicated in Ghana. The debate was organised using the hashtag #OpenDefecationGh.

In response to why people defecate in the open, Green Ghanaian (@GreenGhanaian) tweeted:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) commented:

Valeries Labi (@ValerieLabi) agreed:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) emphasised:

How can open defecation be eradicated in Ghana? Ghana Wash Project (@Gwashproject) suggested:

Naomi Kokuro (@Naamsb) argued:

   Edu Afrique (@EduAfrique) tweeted: 

Gameli Adzaho (@Gamelmag) pointed out that:

Asante Pious (@Asantep2005) noted:

Delali Kumapley (@DKumapley) remarked:

Valeries Labi (@ValerieLabi) wrote:

Francis Kumadoh (@Kumadorian) commented:

Replying to Francis Kumadoh (@Kumadorian) tweet, Ghana Wash Project (@Gwashproject) wrote:

MIT Environmental Engineering student J Knutson (@JKnoot) advised that:

Co-founder of Clean Team Andy Narracott (@AndyNarracott) wrote:

Nii Kwade (@Niikwade) emphasised the need for collaboration:

Grace Aba Ayensu (@Aba_Ayensu) complimented the effort of Clean Team:

Victoria Okoye (@Victoria_Okoye), media and communications expert, noted:

Peter Jones (@HCPeterJones), British High Commissioner to Ghana, tweeted:

A “Freedom Train” for the Sexual and Reproductive Rights of Women in Spain

Tren de la Libertad

Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Minister of Justice in Mariano Rajoy’s government, is spearheading a bill that seeks to repeal the existing standard in Spain—the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Law (VIP) and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) 2010— by promoting a reform that would mean a 30 year setback in the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights in that country.

A campaign opposing this bill, which has not yet been approved, has been spearheaded by feminist movement of Asturias, specifically the Tertulia Feminista les Comadres [es] led by the florist Begoña Piñero Hevia. Named by its creators “The Freedom Train” [es], the initiative was launched through social networks on January 2:

Las mujeres de la Tertulia Feminista les Comadres y de Mujeres por la Igualdad de Barredos consideramos que la reforma de la ley del aborto planteada por el Gobierno de Rajoy constituye un ataque injustificable a la libertad de decidir de las mujeres.

Invitamos a la sociedad asturiana a sumarse a las acciones que se organicen desde los distintos grupos, asociaciones y colectivos de mujeres para conseguir la retirada de ese Anteproyecto de Ley.

The women of Tertulia Feminista les Comadres and Women of Barredos for Equality believe that reforming the abortion law proposed by Rajoy’s government constitutes an unjustified attack against the free will of women.

We invite Asturian society to join actions organized by various groups, associations and women’s collectives to achieve the withdrawal of this proposed law.

Leaving from Asturias and arriving in Madrid on February 1st, the “Freedom Train” comprises a series of actions and activities, and the creation of supporting materials such as banners and bibs, all  created and run by the participants themselves.

Imagen tomada del sitio de la iniciativa

Begoña Piñero Hevia wearing the Freedom Train bib

From the start, the initiative has found support in several countries, and has inspired other activities and collateral actions. The text “Because I Decide” [es], which has been translated into seven languages, will be delivered to the Spanish Council of Deputies. One of the paragraphs says:

Porque yo decido, soy libre y vivo en democracia exijo del gobierno, de cualquier gobierno, que promulguen leyes que favorezcan la autonomía moral, preserven la libertad de conciencia y garanticen la pluralidad y diversidad de intereses.

Porque yo decido, soy libre y vivo en democracia exijo  que se mantenga la actual Ley de salud sexual y reproductiva y de interrupción voluntaria del embarazo por favorecer la autonomía moral, preservar la libertad de conciencia y garantizar la pluralidad de intereses de todas las mujeres.

 

Because I decide, I am free and I live in a democracy, I demand that the government, any government, enact laws that promote moral autonomy, preserve freedom of conscience, and ensure plurality and diversity of interests.

Because I decide, I am free and I live in a democracy, I demand that the current law on sexual and reproductive health and abortion is maintained, fostering moral autonomy, preserving freedom of conscience and ensuring the plurality of interests of all women.

Activists from 13 Spanish communities will come together to take the text to the Council.

Tweeted from Galicia:

We’ll see you on February 1 in Atocha. Not one step back. I’m going, are you?

And from Granada:

Coming with us on the Freedom Train? We're leaving on February 1 at 6 a.m. We'll expect you there!

A group of women filmmakers [es] (directors, producers, photographers) joined the mobilization to film and record the events of February 1st, when the “Freedom Train” arrived at the Atocha terminal in Madrid. Some of these women artists are: Inés París, Gracia Querejeta, Chus Gutiérrez, Ángeles González-Sinde, Iciar Bollaín and Isabel Coixet.

At the same time, a group of approximately 1500 intellectuals, at the initiative of Yo Decido Tren de la Libertad Pilar Aguilar, analyst and critic, have signed a manifesto [es]. Writers Mercedes Abad, Lola Beccaria, Isabel Cienfuegos, Laura Freixas, Rosa Montero and university professors Carmen Valcárcel and Almudena Hernando are among the supporters of this manifesto.

The Freedom Train also features a song, expressing the dissatisfaction of women with the law promoted by Mariano Rajoy's government:
  
Compinchado con Rajoy y sus muchachos  
ha tomado nuestro cuerpo de rehén  
con una aberrante ley demoledora  
que pretende sin empacho denigrar a la mujer.  

Rajoy in cahoots with his boys
have taken our bodies hostage
with a devastating, abhorrent law
which aims to shamelessly denigrate women.

The initiative has also had an impact in Latin America, mainly Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, noted in the publication of several messages on the social network Twitter. In Ecuador, through the Slut Walk, the plan is to go to the Spanish Consulate in the capital city of Quito and demand that the permanence of current law on sexual and reproductive health.

From the Caribbean:

Also, there have been petitions for asylum based on health issues linked to abortions by a group of people at the French Embassy in Spain:

More than 200 petitions for abortion asylum at the French embassy. This Saturday we get on the Freedom Train.

Besides the Gallic nation, other European nations will be protesting, among them Belgium and Italy. In Brussels, on January 30 a demonstration was held against the so-called Gallardón reform, with thousands in attendance.

Support from Italian and French women

Here, the The Freedom Train theme song:  

 

January 31 2014

Have Acne? South Korea Will Tax Your Treatment

Who has the right to tax your pimple outbreak? In South Korea, it is the finance ministry.

Beginning of February, a new tax system that imposes a 10-percent tax on surgeries having to do with appearance and beauty will go into effect in South Korea. This so-called beauty tax not only includes well-known plastic surgeries such as nose job, double-jaw surgery or lip augmentation, but also ordinary skin care, such as acne treatment.

New taxation which was introduced last summer claims that it would rein in the country's rampant cosmetic surgeries, but it has been widely unpopular from the moment of its proposal. Critics argue [ko] that the scheme is simply a plan to increase tax revenue decorated as a public health law. Several web users pointed out [ko] that the tax won't tackle society's obsession with looks and people who have the means or who desperately want such procedures will not be affected. 

One the eve of the plan going into effect, one tax – 10 percent on pimple treatments – seems to have rekindled people's opposition to the bill. Below are some tweets from frustrated net users: 

As if it is not bad enough to have acne and hair loss. Now, we have to pay a tax for having those.  

The hyenas prowling, looking for things to tax, finally found the item – pimples!

To @mosfkorea [the official account of Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance]: Who do you think you are to tax my pimples? 

So the Ministry of Strategy and Finance's logic is this: Since they don't think acne is a serious case of skin disease, whatever that cure the acne problem is categorized as a “beauty-related” surgery, it will be taxed. It was ridiculous enough to hear about the tax on cosmetic surgery and now this! Whatever the reason you give, will you just please stop taxing more? 

The medical community seems enraged by the news as well. The Korean Medical Association circulated the poster below explaining their frustration. The first sentence in bold letter laments that it is not the medical professionals, but the finance ministry who is making a judgement call on how to understand acne – not as a serious skin condition, but as a beauty-related inconvenience. Net users shared the image via Twitter and made fun of the current government's economic motto of “Creative Economy”, one user even invoking current President Park Geun-hye's notorious nickname “chicken”:

Taxing pimples… That is indeed “Creative”. 

Imposing an additional tax on skin treatment is bit too much. Acne patients are already paying considerable amounts of money to get proper treatment. And most of them are either teenagers in puberty or in their early 20s. It turns out that the chicken administration's “creative economy” actually means “creative ways to tax things”.

There is no country like ours where society is completely obsessed with looks. And the ones who helped shaped our society into how it this now tax each item related to enhancing ones look. This is ridiculous. 

Wow… How far will they go? Will the next step be taxing nail care and body slimming? It is not a sin to have some pimples. 

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