Showing posts from November, 2012

The ones who pay for cheap t-shirts; or How Bangladesh's textile barons undercut their rivals

Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories and earns about £12.5bn a year from clothes exports, mainly to the US and Europe. A week after Bangladesh's worst garment factory fire left at least 112 people dead, Western consumers are being asked to weigh what the true cost of a T-shirt is. Campaigners say that Bangladesh, the world's second-largest producer of clothes, has secured this position only by offering workers the lowest wages in the world and having some of the worst safety regulations in the industry. Before last week's disaster, more than 500 garment workers had died in fires and accidents since 2006, campaigners say. "We think that the West can do more to help the workers of Bangladesh and improve the working conditions," said Kalpona Akter, a labour rights activist with the Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Centre.  Since last Friday's blaze at the Tazreen Fashion factory, which took 13 hours to control, a picture has emerged of an establishme

Israel to build new Jewish settlement homes after UN Palestine vote

The Israeli prime minister,  Binyamin Netanyahu , has ordered the construction of thousands of new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories in what will be widely interpreted as retaliation for the United Nations vote to recognise a Palestinian state  on Thursday.  Israeli officials said the construction would expand existing West Bank settlements and build more homes for Jews in occupied east Jerusalem, where the government is attempting to diminish the proportion of Arab residents. Netanyahu also ordered the speeding up of planning to link Jerusalem with a Jewish settlement, Ma'aleh Adumim, in a move that would cut deep into a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. The US and Europe have long asked the Israeli government not to build there. The announcement is a reflection of  Israel 's anger at the vote, and the Palestinian leadership at pushing for it. The Israeli move drew strong criticism from Europe. "If Israel confirms these decisions of

Indian Journalist Arrested After Covering Vigilante Attack

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins partners and affiliates in India in condemning the arrest of Naveen Soorinje, a journalist with the Kasturi TV news channel in Mangalore city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Soorinje is accused of being involved in an attack on a group of teenagers by a right-wing political group on July 28.  The attack was one of a recurring series carried out by a group that has earned notoriety for its moral vigilantism. Reports received by the IFJ indicate that Soorinje was arrested late in the night on November 7, when he was returning from a reporting assignment for his Kannada-language news channel. He has been charged under provisions of the law dealing with rioting, unlawful assembly, criminal trespass and intent to inflict violence on women.  According to inquiries made by local journalists, Soorinje’s telephone records from July 28 indicate clearly that he was tipped off about the attack that day by somebody in the vicini

Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? A beautiful article..

In recent decades, the immortal jellyfish has rapidly spread throughout the world’s oceans in what a biology professor at Notre Dame, calls “a silent invasion.” The jellyfish has been “hitchhiking” on cargo ships that use seawater for ballast. Turritopsis has now been observed not only in the Mediterranean but also off the coasts of Panama, Spain, Florida and Japan. The jellyfish seems able to proliferate in every ocean in the world. It is possible to imagine a distant future in which most other species of life are extinct but the ocean will consist overwhelmingly of immortal jellyfish, a great gelatin consciousness everlasting... After more than 4,000 years — almost since the dawn of recorded time, when Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that the secret to immortality lay in a coral found on the ocean floor — man finally discovered eternal life in 1988. He found it, in fact, on the ocean floor. The discovery was made unwittingly by Christian Sommer, a German marine-biology student in his ea

A Chinese village on the edge of time

Untouched by modernisation, the rural Chinese village of Dimen has managed to preserve many of its thousand-year-old traditions. Situated in southwest China’s Guizhou province, Dimen is home to five clans and more than 500 households of the Dong minority, but their distinctive culture is being threatened as an increasing number of young people are leaving the community and moving into urban areas for work. The Facing the Sun bridge (pictured), one of five such structures in Dimen, is known as a flower bridge for its pleasing design. It offers shelter from the rain and seats for contemplating the scenery..

Giving new life to vultures to restore a human death ritual

Fifteen years after vultures disappeared from Mumbai's skies, the Parsi community here intends to build two aviaries at one of its most sacred sites so the giant scavengers can once again devour human corpses.  Construction is scheduled to begin as soon as April, said Dinshaw Rus Mehta, chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet. If all goes as planned, he said, vultures may again consume the Parsi dead by January 2014.  "Without the vultures, more and more Parsis are choosing to be cremated," Mehta said. "I have to bring back the vultures so the system is working again, especially during the monsoon." The plan is the result of six years of negotiations between Parsi leaders and the Indian government to revive a centuries-old practice that seeks to protect the ancient elements - air, earth, fire and water - from being polluted by either burial or cremation. And along the way, both sides hope the effort will contribute to the revival of two species of vulture that

Book review: Stalin's Student in Beijing by Frank Dikötter

Mao: The Real Story , by Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine Alexander Pantsov, a Russian-born professor of history at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the few to have gained exclusive access to the personal dossiers on Mao Zedong and other top members of the Chinese Communist Party. He teamed up with Steven Levine, a respected historian of modern China, to distill this new material in  Mao: The Real Story .   Along Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, about half a mile north of Red Square in Moscow, an austere, cavernous building houses the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History. The premises were originally occupied by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism. In the 1930s it was renamed the Institute of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, but—following Khrushchev’s 1956 Secret Speech, which acknowledged some of the dictator's crimes—Stalin's name was dropped. Above the entrance, portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin cast in concrete peer into the distanc

Supreme Court asks Maharashtra to explain Facebook arrests

The Supreme Court has asked the Maharashtra government to explain why two young women there were arrested for their posts on Facebook last week. The arrests were made under a contentious internet law whose vague wording makes it easy to misuse -  it allows for up to three years in jail for "annoying" and  "offensive" messages sent electronically.   The law - Section 66 (A) of the IT Act - has been challenged by a law student named Shreya Singhal in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and violates freedom of speech.  Attorney General GE Vahanvati told the judges today that the law is "well-intended."  They disagreed.  "No, the wording is not well-intended. It can be abused," said Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, who yesterday shared fierce criticism of "the Facebook arrests."  Outside court, Ms Singhal said today, "You don't get arrested if you air your views on TV or write in newspapers. Why should

Giant black hole in tiny galaxy confounds astronomers

Astronomers have spotted an enormous black hole - the second most massive ever - but it resides in a tiny galaxy.   The galaxy NGC 1277, just a quarter the size of our own Milky Way, hosts a black hole 4,000 times larger than the one at the Milky Way's centre.  A report in Nature shows it has a mass some 17 billion times that of our Sun. The surprise finding is hard to reconcile with existing models of black hole growth, which hold that they evolve in tandem with host galaxies.  Getting to grips with just how large black holes are is a tricky business - after all, since they swallow light in their vicinities, they cannot be seen. nstead, astronomers measure the black holes' "sphere of influence" - the gravitational effects they have on surrounding gas and stars. In the Milky Way, it is possible to observe individual stars as they orbit Sagittarius A, our own local black hole, to guess its mass.  But for the 100 or so far more distant black holes whose masses have

Peru Bans Monsanto and the rest..

Peru has officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere within the country for the next ten years In a massive blow to multinational agribiz corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, and Dow, Peru has officially passed a law banning genetically modified ingredients anywhere within the country for a full decade before coming up for another review. Peru’s Plenary Session of the Congress made the decision 3 years after the decree was written despite previous governmental pushes for GM legalization due largely to the pressure from farmers that together form the Parque de la Papa in Cusco, a farming community of 6,000 people that represent six communities. They worry the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will compromise the native species of Peru, such as the giant white corn, purple corn and, of course, the famous species of Peruvian potatoes. Anibal Huerta, President of Peru’s Agrarian Commission, said the ban was needed to prevent the ”danger

Naga IAS officer builds 100-km road in Manipur without govt help

IMPHAL: Villagers of Manipur's Tousem sub-division in Tamenglong district are a busy lot these days. At least 150 of them on a daily basis are clearing away a thicket with their machetes and daos. Some are lugging away heavy branches of recently felled trees; and others are operating bulldozers and earthmovers to give themselves the "best Christmas gift ever". Theirs is one of the remotest corners in the country, where the India shining story has not yet reached; but the villagers are part of modern India's most ambitious road project embarked upon by one man, a young Naga IAS officer, without any funding from the government. A 2005 graduate from St Stephen's College in Delhi,  Armstrong Pame  is the sub-divisional magistrate of Tamenglong, his home district, and the first IAS officer from the Zeme tribe. He has, of his own volition, begun the construction of a 100-km road that would link Manipur with Nagaland and Assam. Incidentally, the Centre had sanctioned Rs

Global economic woes prompt soul-searching on capitalism

Hope springs eternal: China's manufacturing sector has perked up a bit; there are encouraging noises coming out of Washington about avoiding the fiscal cliff; the euro is still in one piece – could it be that recovery is coming at last?  After all the false dawns, this could be the point at which capitalism shows its resilience and regenerative powers. Since the birth of the modern industrial age more than 250 years ago, there have been only brief deviations in the upward trend of production. The Great Depression looks like a mere blip on the upward sloping graph of UK or US GDP. Even so, the depth and length of the crisis has led to a degree of soul searching. While policymakers insist publicly that vigorous recovery will eventually arrive, there is private concern that deep structural problems are blunting the effectiveness of a stimulus unprecedented in its scale, scope and duration. These concerns are well founded.  To understand why, it is necessary to look at the basic in

Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world's food crisis?

The scrubby desert outside Port Augusta, three hours from Adelaide, is not the kind of countryside you see in Australian tourist brochures. The backdrop to an area of coal-fired power stations, lead smelting and mining, the coastal landscape is spiked with saltbush that can live on a trickle of brackish seawater seeping up through the arid soil. Poisonous king brown snakes, redback spiders, the odd kangaroo and emu are seen occasionally, flies constantly. When the local landowners who graze a few sheep here get a chance to sell some of this crummy real estate they jump at it, even for bottom dollar, because the only real natural resource in these parts is sunshine. Which makes it all the more remarkable that a group of young brains from Europe, Asia and north America, led by a 33-year-old German former Goldman Sachs banker but inspired by a London theatre lighting engineer of 62, have bought a sizeable lump of this unpromising outback territory and built on it an experimental gre

Vidyadhar Date: Bal Thackeray, The Capitalists And The Working Poor

Bal Thackeray was essentially a man the capitalists liked and they were very comfortable with him. That is why he was always boosted by much of the media as a larger than life figure and after his death there is more gushing praise of the man. `The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with the bones,’ said Mark Antony in his famous funeral speech in Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar. Mr Thackeray has no such problems and this is not to suggest that he did evil. In his case there is no shortage of people going out of the way to write in support of him. Mr Thackeray’s father Prabodhankar Thackeray was an avid Shakespeare fan, he spent so much from his scarce resources on books that this alarmed his mother and he devoted a lot of time researching in libraries. Mr Thackeray was so unlike his father in many many ways. Prabodhankar was a rationalist, activist, supporter of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Ambedkar and social reformer Jotirao Phule, he wrote several books. But how m