brad brace

8/30/2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 4:41 am

Beijing Police Launch Virtual Web Patrol

Filed under: General,media,police — admin @ 4:40 am

BEIJING — Police in China’s capital said Tuesday they will start patrolling the Web using animated beat officers that pop up on a user’s browser and walk, bike or drive across the screen warning them to stay away from illegal Internet content.

Starting Sept. 1, the cartoon alerts will appear every half hour on 13 of China’s top portals, including Sohu and Sina, and by the end of the year will appear on all Web sites registered with Beijing servers, the Beijing Public Security Ministry said in a statement.

China stringently polices the Internet for material and content that the ruling Communist Party finds politically or morally threatening. Despite the controls, nudity, profanity, illegal gambling and pirated music, books and film have proliferated on Chinese Internet servers.

The animated police appeared designed to startle Web surfers and remind them that authorities closely monitor Web activity. However, the statement did not say whether there were plans to boost monitoring further.

The male and female cartoon officers, designed for the ministry by Sohu, will offer a text warning to surfers to abide by the law and tips on Internet security as they move across the screen in a virtual car, motorcycle or on foot, it said.

If Internet users need police help they can click on the cartoon images and will be redirected to the authority’s Web site, it said.

“We will continue to promote new images of the virtual police and update our Internet security tips in an effort to make the image of the virtual police more user friendly and more in tune with how web surfers use the Internet,” it said.

China has the world’s second-largest population of Internet users, with 137 million people online, and is on track to surpass the United States as the largest online population in two years.

The government routinely blocks surfers from accessing overseas sites and closes down domestic Web sites deemed obscene or subversive.

8/28/2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 4:59 am

WordPress Blocked in Thailand, Turkey

Filed under: General,media,thailand — admin @ 4:48 am

According to the watchdog website Don’t Block This Blog (DBTB.org), the nations of Thailand and Turkey just recently blocked the entire WordPress.com domain for all Internet users.

In Thailand, visitors to the blocked websites will see a message in Thai which translates as follows.

“Sorry. TOT Plc., as an organization of Thai people, has restrained the access to this website as it contains content, text, and/or picture that is unappropriated which affects the mind of Thai people all over the country and cannot be accepted.”

Therefore, the government has determined that the “mind of Thai people” is affected by “unappropriated” material at WordPress.com. It’s not clear what “unappropriated” means.

Regarding WordPress being blocked in Turkey, it appears that one blog owned by a proponent of creationism prompted a court order to block the entire WordPress domain. However, an effort has been launched to collect signature on a petition to unblock blogs in Turkey.

Meanwhile, it appears that all Blogspot blogs are still banned in Pakistan. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority initially instituted the ban in March 2006 on Blogspot as a result of one blog carrying the infamous cartoons of Muhammad. However, a savvy blogger block workaround for determined bloggers has been developed using Google Docs.

8/24/2007

Filed under: Film,General,nicaragua — admin @ 10:40 am

Nica Turtles

Filed under: General,global islands,nicaragua — admin @ 10:29 am

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Each year between July and December, hundreds of thousands of rare sea turtles visit Nicaragua to lay millions of eggs along the country’s coasts. Nicaragua, a country abundant in nature and adventure, is one of only four countries believed to experience turtle hatchings of such large proportions.

Nicaragua’s majestic turtle migrations occur in waves referred to as “arribadas”, or arrivals in Spanish. There is usually one “arribada” per month, but the exact date is influenced by a variety of factors, including the weather and moon. During each migration, several thousand turtles come ashore almost simultaneously and lay more than 100 ping-pong ball-sized eggs each. Remarkably, the turtles return to the exact same beach on which they were born, a phenomenon yet to be understood by scientists.

Both of Nicaragua’s coasts are popular sites for nesting turtles. The country’s less-developed Caribbean coast, specifically the Pearl Cays, is the nesting area of choice for thousands of rare Hawksbill, Green, Loggerhead, and Leatherback turtles. The warm water, inviting grass beds, and protective mangroves of these remote, white-sand beaches are also home to what is believed to be the world’s largest remaining population of Green Sea Turtles.

More than a haven for surfers, Nicaragua’s Pacific coast also welcomes millions of turtle hatchlings every year. Between one and two million baby turtles emerge from the sands of Nicaragua’s Pacific coast to begin their perilous journey out to sea. One of the largest turtle groups can be found at the La Flor Wildlife Reserve, a crescent of white sand beach lined by lush tropical rainforest and rocky cliffs. Just south of San Juan del Sur, this natural refuge covers only a mile and a half of beach, yet attracts an extraordinary number of turtles each year, including more than 200,000 Olive Ridleys, one of the world’s smallest species. Mother turtles literally crawl over each other to compete for a spot in the warm sand. Between the months of July and January, La Flor is also visited by an average of 3,000 Paslama Turtles as well as several Parrot Turtles, the largest and most threatened of all marine turtles. Visitors interested in witnessing this exciting phenomenon can reach La Flor from Managua in less than 45 minutes, enter the park for a small fee and enjoy plenty of beach. La Flor is currently being managed by Fundacion Cocibolca, a local NGO that is attempting to educate local communities.

Turtle migrations become increasingly rare with each year due to the endangered status of the sea turtle. Though poaching remains a constant threat for turtles around the world, the Nicaraguan government is working with agencies such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to help educate communities about the importance of protecting these turtles for future generations.

8/23/2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 7:14 am

Survey Says Kenya Corruption As Bad As Ever

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:34 am

A new study of corruption in Kenya shows there has been little progress despite repeated promises by President Mwai Kibaki’s government to crack down on graft. Everyday Kenyans can expect to pay bribes at least a couple of times a year.

The report from Transparency International’s Kenya branch says that Kenyans have largely come to accept the petty corruption that is part of their lives. They can expect to pay at least 2.5 bribes each year, double what they paid in 2005.

The trend is a setback, because President Kibaki came to power in part on his pledges to eradicate corruption in Kenya, which ranks 142nd among 163 countries on Transparency International’s global corruption list. Posters have been put up in offices and on billboards to raise public awareness, but to little effect.

Yet the anti-corruption drive has slowed, and many government ministers have been embroiled in allegations of graft.

“Looking at the statistics that we received from this report, the situation is as bad as it was four years ago,” said Richard Leakey, the head of the Kenya branch of Transparency International.

“The Kibaki government seems to have been totally unable to address corruption at the basic level. It’s clear that you can deal with corruption and an awful lot of it has to do with making people more aware and participatory,” he continued.

According to the survey, the biggest bribes were paid when high school students sought to enroll in Kenya’s overcrowded university system. People also reportedly paid large bribes when seeking jobs. And Kenya’s police force was seen as the most corrupt agency in the country, the sixth year in a row it has attained that dubious honor.

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, which will soon release its own figures, says the public is partly to blame because people who are stopped by the police will often offer a bribe to avoid long court proceedings.

The Anti-Corruption Commission’s spokesman, Nicholas Simani, says people must learn to say no to paying bribes.

“Majority of the general public, they’re the ones who basically induce this kind of activity. So we need to have a two-way understanding here,” said Simani. “You can say the police are the most corrupt, but they are being corrupted because the public actually are the ones who are also giving it out. So the public also needs to be educated on this. Then we are saying that both of them are guilty. The giver and the taker is guilty of an offense.”

Transparency International did not touch on larger issues of government corruption. For the report, the group asked 2,400 ordinary Kenyans across the country about their perceptions of corruption and whether they thought it had eased.

Arrest Reported in Kenya Beheading Spree

Filed under: General,global islands,kenya — admin @ 5:30 am

NAIROBI, Kenya – Police arrested a suspected leader of an outlawed Kenyan group blamed for a string of beheadings and fatal shootings this year, the man’s family said Wednesday.

Ten officers in a special squad formed to combat the Mungiki gang arrested Njoroge Kamunya, in his mid-40s, at his home in Ongata Rongai, 12 miles from Nairobi, said a cousin, who insisted on speaking anonymously for fear of reprisals from the authorities.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe refused to comment on the report.

The gang has been accused of killing 15 police officers from April through June and 27 civilians during the year, many of them in beheadings.

Kamunya has been on the run since April, when police issued an arrest warrant for him and two other men who have since been arrested.

Mungiki was once a quasi-political sect that drew thousands of unemployed youth from the Kikuyu community, Kenya’s largest tribe. Its name means “multitude” in Kikuyu, and members promote traditional Kikuyu practices, including female genital mutilation.

The government outlawed the group in 2002 after its members beheaded 21 people in a Nairobi slum following a turf war with a rival group called the Taliban, which drew its members from the Luo community.

Kamunya’s younger brother, 36-year-old Maina Njenga, was one of Mungiki’s founders but later publicly denounced it. He was jailed for five years in June for illegal gun possession and drug selling.

At least 112 people have died during a police crackdown on the group over the past three months.

8/22/2007

Belize Bracing For Dean

Filed under: belize,General,global islands,weather — admin @ 5:20 am

21 August – Belize is beginning to feel the first effects of Category 5 Hurricane Dean as the storm nears landfall just north of Belize’s northernmost town Corozal on the Belize-Mexico border.

Thousands of Belizeans and tourists have been evacuated from the areas most likely to be affected in northern Belize including Corozal town, Orange Walk town and the tourism resort area at Ambergris Caye.

Reporters on Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island, describe the area as a virtual ghost town. The water on the island is already three feet high in some areas with winds in excess of 60 miles per hour. Several piers and dive shops have been washed away by pounding wave action. Some residents are reporting the start of roof failures as corrugated metal roof sheets are starting to be detached by the high winds.

In Corozal town located 12 miles from the Mexican city of Chetumal, electrical power has gone down in most areas and strong winds and torrential rains have started even though hurricane Dean is yet to make landfall.

Belize’s local Meteorological Service is forecasting a storm surge of up to 14 feet along the northern coast and hurricane force winds from Corozal town down to Belize city. Rainfall of as much as 20 inches along with flash floods are expected in inland Belize.

8/20/2007

Little Eden Cay off the coast of Nicaragua

Filed under: General,global islands,nicaragua — admin @ 7:34 pm

A Wellington, NZ family are selling their Caribbean island after an idyllic but at times nightmarish experience living there for two years.

They are asking $5.4 million for the island they bought for about $1 million – the difference being the cost of developing a five-star luxury residence with all mod-cons including staff quarters and helipad.

In 2002, Martin and Jenifer Thomas of Paraparaumu bought Little Eden Cay, a remote island off Nicaragua, and took their four young children there for the dream lifestyle.

Initially, all six had to stay in a rat-infested hut, plagued by stinging sandflies and waiting many months for their house to be built.

Materials were delivered by canoe but the Thomas family’s presence was challenged.

They hit the headlines when a national Nicaraguan newspaper declared Depredan los Cayos! (Our cays are being destroyed).

Officials from the police or marines, environmental activists and journalists arrived from Managua with cameras and guns to challenge the family’s presence and question their ownership.

Martin Thomas wrote in his book A Slice of Heaven, that the officials and media were horrified but also fascinated that so much building work was taking place and that foreigners had bought one of the precious Pearl Cays of Nicaragua.

The officials claimed the family did not own the island – they said the state did – and they should leave.

But Mr Thomas said he was the seventh owner and he took a peaceful but strong line, having been advised by lawyer Peter Martinez that threats were a common tactic and foreign island ownerships were being upheld in courts there.

So the officials left the family in peace and they got on with developing a luxurious residence.

And eventually they created their own private paradise – with all conveniences.

They installed a 30,000 kilowatt power generator, septic tank, telephones, high-speed internet access from a satellite dish and the helipad.

Only the birth of a fifth child and concerns for the older children’s education forced them to leave.

The family are back at Paraparaumu and hope to sell the island soon. In the meantime, they are planning to shift to France, near the Spanish border, buying a house there to renovate.

* Little Eden Cay was previously called Wild Cane Cay.
* Situated in the Caribbean’s idyllic Pearl Cays archipelago.
* Said to have been owned by a king of the Miskito ethnic group.
* 10ha island bought in 2002 for US$500,000 ($1 million at the time).
* Now selling for ¬3 million ($5.4 million).
* A two-hour speedboat trip from Nicaragua mainland.

Filed under: art,General,global islands,nicaragua — admin @ 6:12 am

8/18/2007

Arctic sea ice shrinks to lowest level on record

Filed under: General,global islands,weather — admin @ 8:16 am

There was less sea ice in the Arctic on Friday than ever before on record, and the melting is continuing, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported.

“Today is a historic day,” said Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist at the centre. “This is the least sea ice we’ve ever seen in the satellite record and we have another month left to go in the melt season this year.”

Satellite measurements showed 5.2 million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic, falling below the Sept. 21, 2005, record minimum of 5.3 million square kilometres, the agency said.

Sea ice is particularly low in the East Siberian side of the Arctic and the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, the centre said. Ice in the Canadian archipelago is also quite low, it said.

Along the Atlantic side of the Arctic Ocean, the amount of sea ice is not as unusually low, but there is still less than normal, according to the centre, located in Boulder, Colo.

The snow and ice centre is part of the Co-operative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado. It receives support from NASA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Scientists began monitoring the extent of Arctic sea ice in the 1970s when satellite images became available.

The polar regions have long been of concern to climate specialists studying global warming because those regions are expected to feel the impact of climate change sooner and to a greater extent than other areas.

Sea ice in the Arctic helps keep those regions cool by reflecting sunlight that might be absorbed by darker land or ocean surfaces.

Arctic snow and ice reflect 80 per cent of the sunlight they receive, compared with only 10 per cent by open ocean water. That, in turn, causes the ocean to heat up and raises Arctic temperatures.

‘Very strong evidence’ of greenhouse warming

Unusually clear sky conditions have prevailed in the Arctic in June and July, promoting more sunshine at the time when the sun is highest in the sky over the region. The centre said this led to an unusually high amount of solar energy being absorbed by the Arctic ice surface, accelerating the melting process. Fairly strong winds also brought in some warm air from the south.

But, Serreze said in a telephone interview, while some natural variability is involved in the melting, “we simply can’t explain everything through natural processes.”

“It is very strong evidence that we are starting to see an effect of greenhouse warming,” he said.

The puzzling thing, he said, is that the melting is actually occurring faster than computer climate models have predicted.

Several years ago he would have predicted a complete melt of Arctic sea ice in summer would occur by the year 2070 to 2100, Serreze said. But at the rates now occurring, a complete melt could happen by 2030, he said Friday.

There will still be ice in winter, he said, but it could be gone in summer.

Inside Thailand's Amulet Craze

Filed under: General,global islands,thailand — admin @ 5:20 am

NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, Thailand — Not so long ago, Nakhon Si Thammarat was a sleepy town with no obvious tourist attractions — or tourists. Its economy revolved around shrimp farming and fishing.

Now this provincial capital in southern Thailand is crawling with thousands of visitors each week. The big draw: amulets, some as small as three centimeters wide, called Jatukam Ramathep.

Thais are big believers in the supernatural. Amulets, which come in various materials and sizes and are usually worn around the neck, are basically lucky charms thought to have magical powers that protect from physical and spiritual harm as well as bring good fortune. Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country and the amulets usually depict famous monks or the Buddha.
[Amulet map]

Thailand has seen its share of amulet crazes over the years. But the Jatukam Ramathep medallion — which depicts a mythical figure that resembles a Hindu god with multiple arms and heads — has set new heights in the annals of amulet history. And at its birthplace in the town of Nakhon Si Thammarat, most buyers seem to be snapping them up more for their supposed power to deliver instant riches than for their promise of good health.

“Every province has its amulets, so I’ve asked myself, ‘Why this one, and why has it become so popular now?'” asks Patrick Jory, a history professor from Australia who teaches at Walailak University in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. The answer, he thinks, lies in Thailand’s weak economy and the political instability gripping the country, particularly a Muslim insurgency in the area around Nakhon Si Thammarat, a Buddhist stronghold that so far hasn’t seen conflict. There is “this sense that maybe we’re losing the south,” Mr. Jory says, so many Thais are turning to the supernatural world for help. Popular demand for Jatukam Ramathep amulets also might be a way of expressing solidarity with the beleaguered Buddhists in the southernmost provinces, he adds.

Nithit Somsimme, who has traveled to Nakhon Si Thammarat to shop for an amulet, is a believer. Mr. Nithit owns a real-estate valuation business in northeast Thailand. After his father-in-law gave him a Jatukam Ramathep amulet a few years ago, his business boomed — an outcome he attributes “100%” to the amulet. Mr. Nithit now plans to expand his business, and he wants to buy another amulet before going ahead. He’s willing to pay up to 100,000 baht ($3,200) — in cash — for the right one. “It has to be a special one,” he says before strolling off to peruse the town’s wares, which include medallions with auspicious-sounding names such as “Enormously Super Rich” and “Get Rich Quickly.”

Gold and Ivory

To the untrained eye, Jatukam Ramathep amulets might not look like much: the most popular size is five centimeters in diameter but they can be bigger. Most are decorated with a many-armed Hindu-esque god on one side and on the other, a demon-god eating the moon or a mandala, a geometric pattern that represents the universe.

Some are fashioned out of ivory and gilded in gold, silver or bronze. Typically, though, they’re made of more humble materials, such as dried jasmine, tree bark, sacred soil, medicinal herbs and holy water, all of which are mixed together and pressed into a mold, often by monks. The amulets are then glazed or touched up with gold and silver paint. They are often marketed in series, and prices start at less than $2 (about double the price of other kinds of amulets), and can go up to several thousand dollars. And as prices have climbed, speculators and investors have jumped in.

Fake plastic versions abound, especially in Bangkok’s night markets. But unless a Jatukam Ramathep amulet is registered and consecrated at Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, a 13th century temple in Nakhon Si Thammarat, it isn’t regarded as being official, and is believed to have fewer magical powers.

As to who exactly Jatukam Ramathep is, no one knows for sure, says Narong Bunsuaikhwan, a sociologist from Walailak University. Some people say it’s the spirit of a 17th-century king. Others believe the figure represents two princes from the 13th century. And there is a coterie of academics and local town officials who are bent on proving that the figure is a genuine Hindu god.

But there is one thing most people agree on: It was the death about a year ago of the man who created the amulet, Phantarak Rajadej, the town’s former police chief, that sparked the current craze. An imposing figure with a handlebar moustache, he was said to have practiced black magic and could disappear into thin air at will. According to one story, the police chief created the amulet 20 years ago as a way to raise money for a city shrine.

Mamat Pengsut, a senior government official from a nearby district, swears by a Jatukam Ramathep amulet for its protective powers. Mr. Mamat wears one around his neck on a heavy chain. A few weeks ago, he contends, the amulet saved him — and eight other people who each were wearing one as well — from harm in a three-car pileup. Another person, the only one in the accident who wasn’t wearing a Jatukam Ramathep amulet, sustained a shoulder injury.

Stories like that keep people pouring into Nakhon Si Thammarat to buy the medallions.

The extent of the craze is far-reaching — stoked by marketing campaigns. According to Neilsen Media Research in Thailand, amulet purveyors spent $5 million between January and March this year alone on TV, radio and newspaper advertising for Jatukam Ramathep amulets. It’s even swept up tourists from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong who are beating a path to Nakhon Si Thammarat.

In Bangkok, for instance — 780 kilometers north of Nakhon si Thammarat — Chinese-Thai businessmen in suits as well as noodle vendors proudly wear the medallions, sometimes more than one. Military figures and politicians are also believers. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont presided over several unofficial Jatukam Ramathep amulet blessing ceremonies in June at a beach getaway destination near Bangkok favored by Thai high society.

About 70% of the people buying Jatukam Ramathep amulets are speculators who are betting that their value will skyrocket, says Paka-on Tipayathanabaja, a senior researcher for Kasikorn Research Center, a Bangkok financial-information company, who has tracked the amulet market for the past five years.

Consider the gain an investor could have made on the first edition of a Jatukam Ramathep amulet. When it was issued in 1987, the amulet cost about $1.30, says Mr. Narong, the sociologist from Walailak University who has a collection of rare Jatukam Ramathep pieces he says is worth more than $160,000. Today, Mr. Narong says that same medallion has been appraised by amulet experts at nearly $13,000. “Look at me,” says Mr. Narong, chuckling. “Even Ph.D.s have lucky charms.”

Online Amulets

Thailand’s amulet trade is well established. Every major Thai town has shops that specialize in selling medallions. Amulets also are sold on eBay. There are magazines — almost 40 in all, available at mainstream bookstores nationwide — and Web sites devoted to the lucky charms. The opinions of amulet appraisers are quoted in publications, on Web sites and in Thai-language mass media. Kasikorn Research Center estimates that the total amulet market will be worth about $1.5 billion this year, more than double the total in 2005, driven largely by the demand for Jatukam Ramathep amulets. By comparison, according to the latest government figures available, in 2005 Thais spent $1.8 billion on books and newspapers.

“I feel a little weird about it,” says Watcharapong Radomsittipat, an amulet expert who has been in the business for 15 years. “Like people are too crazy about it. It’s almost overshadowing Buddhism.”

Not everyone has succumbed to Jatukam Ramathep fever though. To Buddhist purists, the big emphasis the amulet puts on wealth is anathema. They argue it is unseemly for monks to participate in such an overtly commercial venture.

At Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, for instance, the temple where all true Jatukam Ramathep amulets are blessed, sponsors give the temple $1,600 to $3,200 for each incantation ceremony. The temple holds the ceremonies, during which many amulets are blessed at once, four or five times a day. Officials at the temple say they have no idea how much money such services bring in.

As much as the Jatukam Ramathep amulet frenzy reflects “a degree of hopelessness in Thai society,” says Mettanando Bhikku, an Oxford- and Harvard-educated physician-turned-monk, “it also reflects the decadence of monks’ morality.”

Moral issues aside, Nakhon Si Thammarat’s economy is booming. While local government authorities won’t say how much the town has earned, the amulet’s effect is impossible to miss: Along the road from the airport, billboards advertise the latest series of Jatukam Ramathep amulets. In town, nearly every business along the main drag has banners emblazoned with images of medallions as well as glass display cases holding a dozen or so for sale.

Besides tourists, the craze is attracting attention from another quarter: Thailand’s tax authorities recently sent a team to town to study imposing a special tax on shops that sell the amulets.

Inside Thailand’s Amulet Craze

Filed under: General,global islands,thailand — admin @ 5:20 am

NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, Thailand — Not so long ago, Nakhon Si Thammarat was a sleepy town with no obvious tourist attractions — or tourists. Its economy revolved around shrimp farming and fishing.

Now this provincial capital in southern Thailand is crawling with thousands of visitors each week. The big draw: amulets, some as small as three centimeters wide, called Jatukam Ramathep.

Thais are big believers in the supernatural. Amulets, which come in various materials and sizes and are usually worn around the neck, are basically lucky charms thought to have magical powers that protect from physical and spiritual harm as well as bring good fortune. Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country and the amulets usually depict famous monks or the Buddha.
[Amulet map]

Thailand has seen its share of amulet crazes over the years. But the Jatukam Ramathep medallion — which depicts a mythical figure that resembles a Hindu god with multiple arms and heads — has set new heights in the annals of amulet history. And at its birthplace in the town of Nakhon Si Thammarat, most buyers seem to be snapping them up more for their supposed power to deliver instant riches than for their promise of good health.

“Every province has its amulets, so I’ve asked myself, ‘Why this one, and why has it become so popular now?'” asks Patrick Jory, a history professor from Australia who teaches at Walailak University in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. The answer, he thinks, lies in Thailand’s weak economy and the political instability gripping the country, particularly a Muslim insurgency in the area around Nakhon Si Thammarat, a Buddhist stronghold that so far hasn’t seen conflict. There is “this sense that maybe we’re losing the south,” Mr. Jory says, so many Thais are turning to the supernatural world for help. Popular demand for Jatukam Ramathep amulets also might be a way of expressing solidarity with the beleaguered Buddhists in the southernmost provinces, he adds.

Nithit Somsimme, who has traveled to Nakhon Si Thammarat to shop for an amulet, is a believer. Mr. Nithit owns a real-estate valuation business in northeast Thailand. After his father-in-law gave him a Jatukam Ramathep amulet a few years ago, his business boomed — an outcome he attributes “100%” to the amulet. Mr. Nithit now plans to expand his business, and he wants to buy another amulet before going ahead. He’s willing to pay up to 100,000 baht ($3,200) — in cash — for the right one. “It has to be a special one,” he says before strolling off to peruse the town’s wares, which include medallions with auspicious-sounding names such as “Enormously Super Rich” and “Get Rich Quickly.”

Gold and Ivory

To the untrained eye, Jatukam Ramathep amulets might not look like much: the most popular size is five centimeters in diameter but they can be bigger. Most are decorated with a many-armed Hindu-esque god on one side and on the other, a demon-god eating the moon or a mandala, a geometric pattern that represents the universe.

Some are fashioned out of ivory and gilded in gold, silver or bronze. Typically, though, they’re made of more humble materials, such as dried jasmine, tree bark, sacred soil, medicinal herbs and holy water, all of which are mixed together and pressed into a mold, often by monks. The amulets are then glazed or touched up with gold and silver paint. They are often marketed in series, and prices start at less than $2 (about double the price of other kinds of amulets), and can go up to several thousand dollars. And as prices have climbed, speculators and investors have jumped in.

Fake plastic versions abound, especially in Bangkok’s night markets. But unless a Jatukam Ramathep amulet is registered and consecrated at Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, a 13th century temple in Nakhon Si Thammarat, it isn’t regarded as being official, and is believed to have fewer magical powers.

As to who exactly Jatukam Ramathep is, no one knows for sure, says Narong Bunsuaikhwan, a sociologist from Walailak University. Some people say it’s the spirit of a 17th-century king. Others believe the figure represents two princes from the 13th century. And there is a coterie of academics and local town officials who are bent on proving that the figure is a genuine Hindu god.

But there is one thing most people agree on: It was the death about a year ago of the man who created the amulet, Phantarak Rajadej, the town’s former police chief, that sparked the current craze. An imposing figure with a handlebar moustache, he was said to have practiced black magic and could disappear into thin air at will. According to one story, the police chief created the amulet 20 years ago as a way to raise money for a city shrine.

Mamat Pengsut, a senior government official from a nearby district, swears by a Jatukam Ramathep amulet for its protective powers. Mr. Mamat wears one around his neck on a heavy chain. A few weeks ago, he contends, the amulet saved him — and eight other people who each were wearing one as well — from harm in a three-car pileup. Another person, the only one in the accident who wasn’t wearing a Jatukam Ramathep amulet, sustained a shoulder injury.

Stories like that keep people pouring into Nakhon Si Thammarat to buy the medallions.

The extent of the craze is far-reaching — stoked by marketing campaigns. According to Neilsen Media Research in Thailand, amulet purveyors spent $5 million between January and March this year alone on TV, radio and newspaper advertising for Jatukam Ramathep amulets. It’s even swept up tourists from Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong who are beating a path to Nakhon Si Thammarat.

In Bangkok, for instance — 780 kilometers north of Nakhon si Thammarat — Chinese-Thai businessmen in suits as well as noodle vendors proudly wear the medallions, sometimes more than one. Military figures and politicians are also believers. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont presided over several unofficial Jatukam Ramathep amulet blessing ceremonies in June at a beach getaway destination near Bangkok favored by Thai high society.

About 70% of the people buying Jatukam Ramathep amulets are speculators who are betting that their value will skyrocket, says Paka-on Tipayathanabaja, a senior researcher for Kasikorn Research Center, a Bangkok financial-information company, who has tracked the amulet market for the past five years.

Consider the gain an investor could have made on the first edition of a Jatukam Ramathep amulet. When it was issued in 1987, the amulet cost about $1.30, says Mr. Narong, the sociologist from Walailak University who has a collection of rare Jatukam Ramathep pieces he says is worth more than $160,000. Today, Mr. Narong says that same medallion has been appraised by amulet experts at nearly $13,000. “Look at me,” says Mr. Narong, chuckling. “Even Ph.D.s have lucky charms.”

Online Amulets

Thailand’s amulet trade is well established. Every major Thai town has shops that specialize in selling medallions. Amulets also are sold on eBay. There are magazines — almost 40 in all, available at mainstream bookstores nationwide — and Web sites devoted to the lucky charms. The opinions of amulet appraisers are quoted in publications, on Web sites and in Thai-language mass media. Kasikorn Research Center estimates that the total amulet market will be worth about $1.5 billion this year, more than double the total in 2005, driven largely by the demand for Jatukam Ramathep amulets. By comparison, according to the latest government figures available, in 2005 Thais spent $1.8 billion on books and newspapers.

“I feel a little weird about it,” says Watcharapong Radomsittipat, an amulet expert who has been in the business for 15 years. “Like people are too crazy about it. It’s almost overshadowing Buddhism.”

Not everyone has succumbed to Jatukam Ramathep fever though. To Buddhist purists, the big emphasis the amulet puts on wealth is anathema. They argue it is unseemly for monks to participate in such an overtly commercial venture.

At Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, for instance, the temple where all true Jatukam Ramathep amulets are blessed, sponsors give the temple $1,600 to $3,200 for each incantation ceremony. The temple holds the ceremonies, during which many amulets are blessed at once, four or five times a day. Officials at the temple say they have no idea how much money such services bring in.

As much as the Jatukam Ramathep amulet frenzy reflects “a degree of hopelessness in Thai society,” says Mettanando Bhikku, an Oxford- and Harvard-educated physician-turned-monk, “it also reflects the decadence of monks’ morality.”

Moral issues aside, Nakhon Si Thammarat’s economy is booming. While local government authorities won’t say how much the town has earned, the amulet’s effect is impossible to miss: Along the road from the airport, billboards advertise the latest series of Jatukam Ramathep amulets. In town, nearly every business along the main drag has banners emblazoned with images of medallions as well as glass display cases holding a dozen or so for sale.

Besides tourists, the craze is attracting attention from another quarter: Thailand’s tax authorities recently sent a team to town to study imposing a special tax on shops that sell the amulets.

8/15/2007

5,749 Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka – Amnesty International

Filed under: General,global islands,sri lanka — admin @ 8:08 pm

“Enforced disappearances are not a thing of the past. They continue all over the world – in Algeria, Colombia, Nepal, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia – to name but a few countries. The USA, sometimes acting with the complicity of other governments, has carried out enforced disappearances of terror suspects. Those who commit these crimes have done so with almost complete impunity.

”In Sri Lanka, the Vice-Chancellor of Eastern University, Sivasubramanium Raveendranath, was reportedly abducted while at a conference in the capital, Colombo, on 15 December 2006. He was in an area of the capital tightly controlled by the army; it is likely that his captors were military agents. He has not been heard from since.

”There are currently 5,749 outstanding cases of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka being reviewed by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Since 2006, hundreds of people have reportedly been abducted and forcibly disappeared by the security forces or armed groups in areas in the north and east of Sri Lanka, as well as in Colombo. Often taken in “for questioning” and held incommunicado, no records of their detention are available. Many cases implicate members of the security forces, others implicate armed groups including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Karuna group.”

5,749 Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka – Amnesty International

Filed under: General,global islands,sri lanka — admin @ 8:08 pm

“Enforced disappearances are not a thing of the past. They continue all over the world – in Algeria, Colombia, Nepal, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia – to name but a few countries. The USA, sometimes acting with the complicity of other governments, has carried out enforced disappearances of terror suspects. Those who commit these crimes have done so with almost complete impunity.

”In Sri Lanka, the Vice-Chancellor of Eastern University, Sivasubramanium Raveendranath, was reportedly abducted while at a conference in the capital, Colombo, on 15 December 2006. He was in an area of the capital tightly controlled by the army; it is likely that his captors were military agents. He has not been heard from since.

”There are currently 5,749 outstanding cases of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka being reviewed by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Since 2006, hundreds of people have reportedly been abducted and forcibly disappeared by the security forces or armed groups in areas in the north and east of Sri Lanka, as well as in Colombo. Often taken in “for questioning” and held incommunicado, no records of their detention are available. Many cases implicate members of the security forces, others implicate armed groups including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Karuna group.”

Bangladesh's Refugees Dream of Pakistan

Filed under: bangladesh,General,global islands — admin @ 4:45 am

DHAKA, Bangladesh – They call themselves the forgotten refugees, dreaming of a land many have never seen – Pakistan.

Crowded into impoverished shanty camps across Bangladesh, they are remnants of the mass migration that accompanied the break-up of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines at independence from Britain in 1947.

Bangladesh is often the forgotten third country of partition. The departing British lumped what is now Bangladesh together with Pakistan because of their shared Islamic religion. But the two regions are more than 1,600 miles apart on either side of India and have a different languages, cultures and histories.

Bangladesh – then known as East Pakistan – revolted and won its independence with India’s help in 1971. The nine-month conflict pitted East Pakistan’s Bangla-speaking majority against Urdu-speaking Muslims who had fled from India at partition and wanted to remain part of Pakistan.

Calling themselves “stranded Pakistanis,” about 500,000 Urdu-speakers decided to depart for Pakistan rather than join newly independent Bangladesh. But in 1993, Pakistan halted the repatriation process, saying it did not have the money or land to house them.

That left some 250,000 refugees and their descendants to languish in 70 government-run camps across Bangladesh. They are not citizens and cannot vote or apply for government jobs.

“I’ve been dreaming of going to Pakistan for years,” said Mosammat Rahima, 50, standing outside the tiny hut she shares with seven other family members. “There they speak my language, Urdu.”

Rahima’s camp has become another sprawling slum in the capital of Dhaka, a city of 10 million people. Many live without electricity, water or adequate health care. Illiteracy, unemployment and malnutrition are rampant.

“Can you imagine, we have only 150 toilets for 25,000 people of the camp?” says Abdul Jabbar Khan, who has led protests and a media campaign for repatriation to Pakistan.

“Nobody thinks of us, not Bangladesh, not Pakistan,” he added. “We know there’s no hill of gold for us in Pakistan. But still we want to try our fate there. We aren’t accepted here, we’ll never be.”

Barred from applying for government jobs, many in the camp eke out livings as day laborers or cleaners.

Rahima and her 60-year-old husband often sleep outside when their shack becomes too crowded on muggy nights.

“Do you think we’re human beings?” she said. “Even dogs at many homes in this city live in better places.”

Bangladesh and Pakistan say they are looking for a solution, though it appears remote.

“Both governments believe that we need to resolve this issue,” Iftekhar A. Chowdhury, foreign affairs adviser to Bangladesh’s interim government said. “On a recent visit to Pakistan, I raised the issue with my Pakistan counterpart, and he was of the same opinion.”

As the years pass with no solution, however, the dream of Pakistan grows increasingly less appealing to younger generations. Many youth now speak Bangla and feel accepting Bangladeshi citizenship would give them a chance at a better life.

“Why shall we call ourselves Pakistanis? This is absurd,” says Sahid Ali Babul, 25. “We should be given Bangladeshi nationality, since we were born and brought up here.”

Bangladesh’s Refugees Dream of Pakistan

Filed under: bangladesh,General,global islands — admin @ 4:45 am

DHAKA, Bangladesh – They call themselves the forgotten refugees, dreaming of a land many have never seen – Pakistan.

Crowded into impoverished shanty camps across Bangladesh, they are remnants of the mass migration that accompanied the break-up of the Indian subcontinent along religious lines at independence from Britain in 1947.

Bangladesh is often the forgotten third country of partition. The departing British lumped what is now Bangladesh together with Pakistan because of their shared Islamic religion. But the two regions are more than 1,600 miles apart on either side of India and have a different languages, cultures and histories.

Bangladesh – then known as East Pakistan – revolted and won its independence with India’s help in 1971. The nine-month conflict pitted East Pakistan’s Bangla-speaking majority against Urdu-speaking Muslims who had fled from India at partition and wanted to remain part of Pakistan.

Calling themselves “stranded Pakistanis,” about 500,000 Urdu-speakers decided to depart for Pakistan rather than join newly independent Bangladesh. But in 1993, Pakistan halted the repatriation process, saying it did not have the money or land to house them.

That left some 250,000 refugees and their descendants to languish in 70 government-run camps across Bangladesh. They are not citizens and cannot vote or apply for government jobs.

“I’ve been dreaming of going to Pakistan for years,” said Mosammat Rahima, 50, standing outside the tiny hut she shares with seven other family members. “There they speak my language, Urdu.”

Rahima’s camp has become another sprawling slum in the capital of Dhaka, a city of 10 million people. Many live without electricity, water or adequate health care. Illiteracy, unemployment and malnutrition are rampant.

“Can you imagine, we have only 150 toilets for 25,000 people of the camp?” says Abdul Jabbar Khan, who has led protests and a media campaign for repatriation to Pakistan.

“Nobody thinks of us, not Bangladesh, not Pakistan,” he added. “We know there’s no hill of gold for us in Pakistan. But still we want to try our fate there. We aren’t accepted here, we’ll never be.”

Barred from applying for government jobs, many in the camp eke out livings as day laborers or cleaners.

Rahima and her 60-year-old husband often sleep outside when their shack becomes too crowded on muggy nights.

“Do you think we’re human beings?” she said. “Even dogs at many homes in this city live in better places.”

Bangladesh and Pakistan say they are looking for a solution, though it appears remote.

“Both governments believe that we need to resolve this issue,” Iftekhar A. Chowdhury, foreign affairs adviser to Bangladesh’s interim government said. “On a recent visit to Pakistan, I raised the issue with my Pakistan counterpart, and he was of the same opinion.”

As the years pass with no solution, however, the dream of Pakistan grows increasingly less appealing to younger generations. Many youth now speak Bangla and feel accepting Bangladeshi citizenship would give them a chance at a better life.

“Why shall we call ourselves Pakistanis? This is absurd,” says Sahid Ali Babul, 25. “We should be given Bangladeshi nationality, since we were born and brought up here.”

8/14/2007

Battered jeans earn big bucks for Sri Lanka

Filed under: General,global islands,sri lanka — admin @ 6:46 am

The denims look tattered and frayed, but shoppers in Europe and the United States are prepared to pay good money for “distressed” jeans and Sri Lanka is cashing in. In the industrial town of Avissawella east of the capital Colombo, it takes workers around 13 minutes to cut and sew basic five-pocket denims. They then spend another four days torturing the pants by dying, bleaching, and sandpapering them to get a “distressed” look. “Each garment is dyed or dipped around 16 and sometimes as many as 30 times to achieve the proper torn, tattered look,” explains Indrajith Kumarasiri, chief executive of Sri Lanka’s Brandix Denim. “We earn more money by making denims look dirty and torn, the classic clean look doesn’t bring us much,” Kumarasiri said during a visit to the 10-million dollar plant, which can make over three million pairs of jeans a year. Basic denim jeans cost around six dollars to make, but the shabbier “premium” ones cost twice as much. “In many ways, premium denims are replacing the little black dress as the wear-anywhere fashion staple,” he said. Overseas buyers such as Levis, Gap and Pierre Cardin are now regular buyers of premium jeans from Sri Lanka where they can be made for as little as 12 dollars a pair, and often sell for over 100 dollars. Buyers have been gradually shifting production out of Europe to low-cost countries such as Sri Lanka, explains Ajith Dias, chairman of the Sri Lanka Joint Apparel Association Forum. “Retaining the business and growing the order book is tough with India and China competing with us on price and quicker lead times,” Dias said. Sri Lanka’s three-billion dollar garment industry accounts for more than half its annual seven billion dollars of export earnings, and it provides jobs for nearly one million people. Nearly all the garments are shipped to the United States and the European Union. But Dias said casual wear, including jeans, are they key to Sri Lanka’s success in the price-sensitive global apparel market, and now account for 16 percent of total garment export earnings. “We have invested millions to install high-tech plants, develop a sound raw material base and design garments, to ensure we remain competitive, by doing everything from fabric to retail hangers,” Dias said. Brandix, Sri Lanka’s biggest exporter with annual sales in excess of 320 million dollars, and MAS Holdings, are also expanding overseas. In an attempt to get an advantage over the competition, Sri Lanka is trying to position itself as an ethical manufacturer in the hope of getting greater access to the US and European markets at lower duty rates. “We have high labour standards. We don’t employ child labour, we provide rural employment and we empower women. There are no anti-dumping cases against us on trading practices,” said Suresh Mirchandani, chief executive of Favourite Garments. While eco-friendly and ethically-made clothes are becoming increasingly fashionable, their manufacture provides challenges for Sri Lanka. Big-name brands are now adding organic-cotton clothes to their collection. “The joke is that one day we’ll have a shirt we can eat,” said Prasanna Hettiarachchi, general manager of MAS Holdings. He said Levis recently launched eco-jeans using organic cotton, natural dyes, a coconut shell button on the waist band and a price tag made of recycled paper printed with environmentally friendly soy ink. The price tag is a cool 250 dollars. “We are also working on an eco garment,” said Brandix Denim’s Kumarasiri. And when asked what made a perfect pair of jeans, he had a quick answer. “Same as always. It comes down to how your behind looks when you wear them,” grins Kumarasiri. “No matter how good the wash, the detail or the label, if it doesn’t look good on your behind, it won’t sell.”

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