brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

September 29, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 4:58 am

There Goes the Neighborhood

Filed under: General,global islands,nicaragua — admin @ 4:57 am

An avalanche-like noise on a recent rainy night proved to be an architectural metaphor for the fate of Nicaragua’s erstwhile elite: In a matter of 30 seconds, the front half of a grand colonial adobe mansion collapsed into the street in a pile of muddy rubble, revealing the wobbly structure that holds together the homes and social class of the country’s former oligarchy.

Though no one was hurt in the collapse, it served as a dramatic reminder that the noble facade of country’s former power structure is masking advanced decay.

“The Sandinista revolution in the 1980s diversified the quotas of power in the country,” said sociologist Cirilo Otero. “There was a displacement of the oligarchy; a lot of investment left the country, and what is left is the remnants of a class whose influence and power are almost nil.”

Like Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the remnants of many of Nicaragua’s traditionally powerful families live in crumbling mansions in a no-longer politically relevant city, clinging to memories of colonial grandeur. Their skin color is generally lighter than the rest of the population’s; their politics are conservative; and their last names are those that have for centuries filled the rosters of Nicaragua’s social clubs.

The country’s traditional oligarchy is made up of a dozen families that have intermarried for generations to, as they say, “keep the blood pure.” But as those families have grown, migrated and diversified in recent generations, their collective clout as a social elite has weakened. Today, an oligarchic last name no longer guarantees its bearer the influence or money once attached to it.

Where once they amassed fortunes from the bounty of the country’s traditional agricultural sector, many of the finer families now live off of what’s left of former fortunes, or on remittances sent from relatives in the United States. The younger generation, armed with college degrees from Texas A&M and Louisiana State University, have migrated to Managua to parlay their family names into middle-management or public-relations jobs, while the elders remain behind in their rocking chairs.

“The oligarchy is in a profound crisis; it’s in its final days,” says sociologist Orlando Nunez, author of the brisk-selling Oligarchy in Nicaragua.

According to Nunez, the decline of the oligarchy began even before the Sandinista revolution, when the U.S.-backed Somoza dynasty used its dictatorial power to strip the old-money class of its traditional military and political power. In fact, when economic power began to shift in the 1970s to a new bourgeoisie based in the cotton industry, some of the old landowning oligarchy even sided with the rowdy Sandinista rebels, hoping that the overthrow of the dictatorship would allow them to reclaim lost power. But the Sandinistas had other ideas: After seizing power in the insurrection of 1979, they systematically dismantled the power of the oligarchy in subsequent years. The coup de grace, Nunez says, came last year when the Sandinistas formed a political alliance with the Catholic Church, the oligarchy’s last institutional bastion.

“All the oligarchy has left now is its prestige, its values and some influence over the media,” Nunez says.

Now, they may be losing their stately homes, too. An influx of wealthy foreigners is swooping into Granada to buy up colonial mansions and build an economy based on tourism that has created many entry-level service jobs in hotels and restaurants — not exactly “suitable” employment for the grandsons of plantation owners.

The grim economic, political and social realties of a changing Nicaragua has prompted some to cash in their family’s last chips, selling their homes in a hot real estate market and thereby severing their last ties to past grandeur. Still, despite the hardships, old paradigms die hard, Nunez says.

“The oligarchy,” he says, “would still much prefer to sell their home to a white and wealthy Gringo than to a Liberal, a black or someone from the working class who has made money.”

September 28, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 4:51 am

‘Save bio-diversity of St Martin’s Island’

Filed under: bangladesh,General,global islands — admin @ 4:50 am

Environmentalists call to stop its use for commercial tourism

Expressing deep concern over gradual destruction of the bio-diversity
of Saint Martin’s Island, environmentalists yesterday demanded that
the government take effective steps to make it a ‘marine protected
area’ based on scientific researches and stop its use for commercial

They recalled that the island, one of the finest coral islands of the
world, was already declared an ‘ecologically critical area’ and
projects were undertaken to protect its marine resources. But
implementation of the projects was impeded as the officials concerned
lacked knowledge and skills required for this and in absence of proper
monitoring by the government, they said.

The environmentalists spoke at a seminar in the city on “Saint
Martin’s Island is on the verge of destruction: what is the way to
save it?” organised by Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa).

The government should consider if the entire island could be brought
under conservation schemes, speakers said.

People from other areas are buying land and constructing buildings in
the island threatening its bio-diversity, they pointed out at the
seminar held at Women’s Voluntary Association auditorium at Dhanmondi.

“We destroy our natural resources like hills, forests and rivers in
various ways without realising the consequences of destruction of
bio-diversity. We must be careful that we do not destroy Saint
Martin’s Island in the name of eco-tourism,” said Bapa President Prof
Muzaffer Ahmed.

Legal and administrative steps should be taken to save the island, and
public awareness has to be created in this regard, he said.
“Commercial use of the island should be stopped.”

Dr Khandkar Rashedul Haque, director general of the Department of
Environment, said eco-tourism is possible in the island but it must be
regulated keeping the nature unharmed by travellers.

“Political will is the main factor in this regard,” he said.
Influential people using their links with political high-ups buy land
and do things arbitrarily in the island.

Difference of opinions among various ministries and departments on
environmental issues is a hurdle for the appropriate authorities in
taking proper steps concerning projects on environment and

Former marine official and researcher Saiful Alam Paikar said most of
the recommendations of the National Conservation Strategy
Implementation Project–Phase -1 taken up by the Ministry of Forest
and Environment in 1992 were not implemented.

A Tk 15-crore project on conservation of bio-diversity ended on June
30 this year without setting up a marine park and a sanctuary, badly
needed for marine resources.

There is still lack of long-term planning and steps for alternative
livelihood of the local people, he said, adding that commercial and
unplanned tourism has put the island in a risky situation.

Syeda Rizwana Hassan of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers’ Association
said there is a realisation that Saint Martin’s Island should be
conserved but effective steps for this are yet to be taken.

Tourism should be regulated there, she said.

Speakers included Dhaka University teachers AQM Mahbub, Kazi Zaker
Hossain and Nurul Islam Nazem, Bapa Vice President Qazi Modina,
General Secretary Dr Abdul Matin, former marine official Khorshed
Alam, and Abdus Salam, who hails from the island.

September 27, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 6:23 am

Koh Si Chang

Filed under: General,global islands,thailand — admin @ 6:22 am

Koh Si Chang, or Sichang Island, has a special place in the history of the Chakri dynasty. Three former kings vacationed there. Its remaining link to royalty can be seen in the names around the island where almost everything is named after members of the royal family, and some high-ranking officers, of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. Some of the roads, buildings, bridges, parks and temples are named after high-ranking officers who contributed to their construction. Other sites were named after precious stones.

King Mongkut, or Rama IV, admired the island for its fresh and clean air, which he believed contributed to the long lives of the people who lived there. But even though the King made periodic trips to the island in the mid-19th century, he slept on his ship and didn’t build a permanent residence there.

The face of Sichang Island changed considerably during the reign of King Rama V as it became a busy port and one of the gateways to Siam. After Prince Vajiravudh (who would later take the throne as King Rama VI) stayed on the island for over eight months to recover from an illness, Sichang became the most popular place for convalescence for members of the royal family.

Chudadhuj Palace :

Still, it was not until 1892 that the royal summer residences took on the formal status of a palace. When Prince Chudadhuj Daradilok was born to Queen Sri Bajarindra on July 5, 1892, at Chudadhuj Throne Hall on the island, and a traditional ceremony was held a month later to bless the new-born prince, and the Sichang summer palace was bestowed with the name Chudadhuj Palace.

The summer palace compound boasted four mansions, 14 halls and a pavilion surrounded by many ponds, brooks, cliffs and caves. The palace’s architecture reflected the social and political climate of the time it was built. The Western influence is evident.

The pagoda-church of Assadang Nimit Temple for example. It’s a true East-meets-West building with a traditional Thai pagoda built on top of the Western domed church. The floor was made of marble and the windows were decorated with stained glass, he added.

Regrettably, it was the rise of Western colonialism that forced the royal family to leave the island. The Franco-Siamese conflict regarding sovereignty over neighbouring Laos led to aggression by French gunships which blockaded the Chao Phraya River. The French also stationed their troops along the eastern coast of Siam, and Sichang Island was no longer considered safe for royal sojourns.

Though the Franco-Siamese treaty relinquishing land on the left bank of the Mekong River to the French was signed in 1893, the French did not pull out their troops until a decade later. The palace was left vacant and some mansions under construction in the compound were left unfinished.

In 1901, however, King Chulalongkorn realised that Munthat Rattanarot Mansion was still not finished, and he ordered the golden teakwood building to be dismantled and brought to Bangkok. By royal decree, the mansion was brought to Dusit Palace and rebuilt as the renowned Vimanmek Mansion.

The octagon stone base where the original mansion once stood can still be seen at the compound of the Chudhadhuj Palace on Sichang Island.

Wat Thamyaiprig :

Wat Thamyaiprig started in 1970 a spartan, solitary abode at a limestone cave up the mountain on Si Chang Island. The temple grew as the abbot’s fame as a meditation teacher attracted the religious-minded to enter a monastic life and learn meditation under his guidance. The temple now accommodates 23 monks and 22 nuns from various professional backgrounds.

“Some are experienced electricians, others are builders and carpenters,” said Mae Chee Srisuda, who herself is a former teacher. “Our diverse skills have made it possible for our temple to be relatively self-sufficient.”

Apart from a praying hall, meditation pavilions, and monks’ living quarters, Wat Thamyaiprig also has large fruit and vegetable gardens to support its monks and nuns. It also boasts as many as 37 huge underground water tanks.

Si Chang is a rock island with no natural source of spring water. Therefore, they need huge water tanks to store the rain water for use all year round. Water tanks, for example, are built under every building in the temple. When it rains, the water will flow from the roof down the rain pipes to the tube which flows directly to the water tank underneath. When the top water tank is full, the water will flow over to a pipe which goes to the one below, until all water tanks are full. Then the excess water will be released to the sea.

The stored rain water is used for all water needs, from drinking to watering the vegetable gardens. But thanks to the temple’s frugality, the temple is able to distribute excess water to villagers nearby.

The villagers need to pay about 90 to 100 Bahtfor one cubic metre of water in village stores, which is very expensive. However on water distribution days, the villagers bring their own containers to take the water from the temple for free, she said.

Water is not the only thing Wat Thamyaiprig offers the Si Chang inhabitants. The abundant vegetable gardens on the 19-rai temple generously yield all sorts of vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines, lettuce, water mimosa, cow peas and pumpkins, among many things. The yield is more than the monks and nuns need, for they only have one meal a day. The surplus is given for free to the villagers.

Although monks and nuns at Wat Thamyaiprig must chip in their labour at the temple, the nun said they never consider it a life of hardship.

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 5:53 am

Persistent corruption in low-income countries requires global action

Filed under: General,global islands — admin @ 5:52 am

Concerted efforts needed in rich and poor countries to stem flow of corrupt monies and make justice work for the poorest.

The divide in perceived levels of corruption in rich and poor countries remains as sharp as ever, according to the 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released today by Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption. Developed and developing countries must share responsibility for reducing corruption, in tackling both the supply and demand sides.

“Despite some gains, corruption remains an enormous drain on resources sorely needed for education, health and infrastructure,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International. “Low scoring countries need to take these results seriously and act now to strengthen accountability in public institutions. But action from top scoring countries is just as important, particularly in cracking down on corrupt activity in the private sector.”

The 2007 results

The 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index looks at perceptions of public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories – the greatest country coverage of any CPI to date – and is a composite index that draws on 14 expert opinion surveys. It scores countries on a scale from zero to ten, with zero indicating high levels of perceived corruption and ten indicating low levels of perceived corruption.

A strong correlation between corruption and poverty continues to be evident. Forty percent of those scoring below three, indicating that corruption is perceived as rampant, are classified by the World Bank as low income countries. Somalia and Myanmar share the lowest score of 1.4, while Denmark has edged up to share the top score of 9.4 with perennial high-flyers Finland and New Zealand.

Scores are significantly higher in several African countries in the 2007 CPI. These include Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland. These results reflect the positive progress of anti-corruption efforts in Africa and show that genuine political will and reform can lower perceived levels of corruption.

Other countries with a significant improvement include Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominica, Italy, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Suriname. Countries with a significant worsening in perceived levels of corruption in 2007 include Austria, Bahrain, Belize, Bhutan, Jordan, Laos, Macao, Malta, Mauritius, Oman, Papua New Guinea and Thailand.

The concentration of gainers in South East and Eastern Europe testifies to the galvanising effect of the European Union accession process on the fight against corruption.

At the same time, deeply troubled states such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, and Sudan remain at the very bottom of the index. “Countries torn apart by conflict pay a huge toll in their capacity to govern. With public institutions crippled or non-existent, mercenary individuals help themselves to public resources and corruption thrives,”

September 26, 2007

Filed under: Film,General — admin @ 5:54 am


Filed under: airlines,General,media — admin @ 5:53 am

Advertisers aiming to reach high-flyers with no alternative distraction will soon
have a new method: adverts the size of three football pitches seen by plane
passengers coming in to land. UK-based Ad-Air launched its new service in London on
Tuesday, offering brands the chance to place huge adverts near the runways of some
of the world’s busiest runways. Ad-Air, backed by GBP 5m (EUR 7m) of private equity
finance, said it had spent five years securing sites around the world’s busiest
airports including London Heathrow, Paris, Geneva, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Tokyo and
Abu Dhabi. The first advert will appear in Dubai next month. Paul Jenkins, managing
director of Ad-Air, said the adverts would appear in ‚”clutter-free environments
and moments free of any other commercial messages.” Operations Director Haakon
Dewing said that the adverts could develop to produce a moving image that starts
each time a plane comes into sight. The adverts, which are low to the ground and
20,000 square meters in size, will only be illuminated where local legislation

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