Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Japan’s worst snowstorms in 5 years killed 3

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura speaks during a press conference

Japan’s worst snowstorms in five years killed three people in an avalanche at a hot springs resort and caused power cuts and transport disruptions in the northwest.

“Snow has covered the northwestern side of the main island of Honshu in the past three days, including some areas that have already received twice the average annual snowfall, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. At 9 a.m. local time, there was 22 inches (55 centimeters) of snow in Iyama City in Nagano prefecture, and 13 inches in Akita City in Akita prefecture,” the agency said.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency’s website, warnings of strong winds and heavy snowfall for 12 of the nation’s 47 prefectures, all facing the Sea of Japan, are in effect as of 3:42 p.m.. “Three people were killed yesterday at a resort in Semboku City in Akita, Kazuto Sato, a police spokesman,” said by telephone. More than 100 cars were abandoned on a highway in Aomori prefecture after heavy snow made driving impossible, public broadcaster NHK reported.

“We have already issued a request to the Self-Defense Forces, and the government will work together and work hard to follow through on these steps,” said Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura at a press conference today in Tokyo.

“The government will meet later today to discuss further steps,” Fujimura said. “There have been 56 deaths reported due to snow-related incidents so far this winter,” the Cabinet Office said.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'Finding Sayun' documents Atayal’s yearning for home

Laha Mebow, director of “Finding Sayun,” says she found her roots in an abandoned village where her ancestors used to live. (Staff photo/Chen Mei-ling)

“Finding Sayun” is the first Taiwan feature film on indigenous culture shot from the perspective of an aboriginal director—Laha Mebow of the Atayal tribe.

The film, which interweaves the past and the present, portrays Taiwan’s rich indigenous culture and speaks of the Atayal people’s desire to return to Ryohen Village, their ancestral home.

Representing the past is an Atayal girl named Sayun. In 1938, the 17-year-old Sayun was helping her Japanese teacher carry his luggage across the Nan-ao South River in Yilan County, when she slipped, fell into the river, and drowned. Her teacher continued on his course to fight in what the Japanese called the Great East Asia War.

“I’ve seen many aboriginal movies produced by other directors, and of course I thank them for drawing attention to our people,” Laha Mebow said in a Dec. 9 interview with Taiwan Today. “But those movies mostly portray aborigines as miserable and underprivileged, or as leading unsuccessful lives while they struggle to make a living in the city.

“In those films, our people never smile, when in fact we are quite happy, despite our lack of material goods. I wanted to make a different indigenous movie that allows the world to really understand our people and culture.”

According to Laha Mebow, Sayun’s story received very little coverage in the Taiwan Nichinichi Shimpo, a Japanese-language newspaper then circulating in Taiwan, with little more than a matter-of-fact headline stating “Aboriginal woman missing after falling into river.”

The story of Sayun became more widely known only one year after the incident, when a welcoming party was held in Taipei for Kioyoshi Hasegawa, the Japanese governor of Taiwan in 1940.

“During the reception, my grandmother, who had been Sayun’s classmate and who witnessed the accident, performed a song in memory of her childhood friend,” said Laha Mebow. Upon hearing the song, Hasegawa thought it was the perfect story to promote the Kominka Movement, which aimed to turn Taiwanese into loyal and devoted subjects of Japan.

In 1943, the story of Sayun was given a touch of romance and made into a patriotic movie called “Sayun’s Bell.” “It was shown around Taiwan and mainland China to instill loyalty and encourage the people to serve and fight for the Japanese emperor,” said Laha Mebow.

Ryohen Village, the tribe where Sayun lived, also became famous for a while following the successful screening of “Sayun’s Bell.”

During the last 70 years or so, however, the legend of Sayun has gradually been forgotten. Indeed, much of the original Atayal culture, in which Sayun was raised, has been lost as well, according to Laha Mebow.

The director said that when the Nationalist Government first arrived in Taiwan in 1949, it followed a policy of “concentrated management.” In order to control the Atayal more easily, it forced the tribespeople to leave Ryohen Village, their ancestral home located high up in the mountains, and to move to Jinyue Village by the foot of the mountain.

“We had to leave behind all our possessions, forsake the homes our ancestors had built, and move to a place we were completely unfamiliar with,” Nolay Piho, an Atayal hunter and priest, said at a movie symposium hosted by Taipei-based Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture Nov. 23.

Nolay Piho is also best known for his role as the elder Mona Rudao in the recent Taiwanese blockbuster film “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale.”

“The wisdom of our forefathers was destroyed and replaced by a new government system, with laws and norms completely different from our own.”

To explain what he meant, Nolay Piho mentioned current laws that make it illegal to hunt certain protected species. “For the Atayal people, hunting is an essential survival skill; and though we hunt these animals, we also know how to protect them,” he said, noting that the Atayal hunting season runs from November to February, and that during the remaining eight months the animals are left alone to breed and multiply.

“The new systems and norms are cruel to us, as they do not take our culture and habits into consideration. Moreover, the government did not even bother to notify us in advance of the new laws,” he said.

Yukan Basan (left) and Wilang Bonoy, who played grandchild and grandfather respectively in “Find Sayun,” go on a root-seeking trip from Jinyue Village to Ryohen Village. (Courtesy of Sky Films Entertainment Co. Ltd.)

According to Nolay Piho, even today many unemployed indigenous people rely on hunting to make a living and support their families. Yet when they are caught shooting protected species such as the Formosan goat or the Formosan barking deer, they are fined and sometimes put in jail.

Noting that many aborigines struggle with alcoholism, Nolay Piho said this affliction can be attributed to the sense of frustration felt by his people. In addition, many of them feel lost, because the old norms and former ways of life have been destroyed, and there are no ancestors and fewer and fewer elderly tribesmen left to pass down their ancient wisdom, he said.

“We are facing a civilization and development that we cannot keep up with, since these things were not a part of our lives before. There is no way back and all we can do is to try to fit into the new system.”

According to Laha Mebow, her tribesmen began to organize annual trips back to Ryohen Village starting about 10 years ago, an event that is also a root-finding trip. “Every year, more than 10 hunters, young and old, as well as students who have left to study in the big cities, carry tools such as grass cutters to participate in the half-month activity.

“The routes back to our old village are either damaged or covered by overgrown plants and creeping weeds, as no one has maintained them during the past 70 years. So we have to clear our own path and build temporary bridges with logs and branches along the way.

“Before we start on our journey, we pray to God and our ancestral spirits for a safe trip, since difficult trail conditions can make the journey quite dangerous,” Laha Mebow said.

She explained the Atayal believe that whenever a tribal person passes away, his or her spirit remains in the mountains to look after the descendants.

“Usually, it takes about two days to get to our destination on foot, and no matter the weather is rainy or windy, we continue onward, stopping only for brief periods to check on trail conditions.”

Recalling her first experience with the root-seeking team, Laha Mebow said she silently asked herself why they had to visit the old village, and walked until she wanted to die. “I only knew I was going on a trip searching for my roots, but lacking the experience of living in the old village, I did not have any strong feelings toward it,” the director pointed out.

“During the journey, I often had to jump over landslide areas without hesitating, although I was scared. At that time, I thought, ‘Why does the way back home have to be so complicated? I do not mind it if the trip is long, but why does it have to be so difficult as well?’”

Nevertheless, all her efforts paid off after she reached her destination. “When we got to the village, many hunters including the elders and my father began to look for their homes covered in overgrown plants,” Laha Mebow said.

“Atayal males are very manly,” she added, “but once they located what used to be their homes, and began talking to the spirits of their parents or ancestors, they started to cry. It was only then that I gradually began to have feelings toward the old village, the sense of home.”

Nolay Piho added that there is an important scene in “Finding Sayun” concerning 77-year-old Wilang Bonay, an Atayal senior at Jinyue Village. Worried about his health, Wilang Bonay’s family forbids him from going on the long and arduous journey. So he goes in secret, accompanied by his grandson, played by 18-year-old Yukan Basan.

“Wilang Bonay always wanted to revisit his native land, as he thinks that is where his soul and real home are. Although he is in bad health and leads an inactive lifestyle in his concrete house at the foot of the mountain, he started to sing along the way, as if everything he saw was giving him a warm welcome,” Nolay Piho said.

Later in the movie, Wilang Bonay dies when he was almost half way down the mountain, an arrangement Nolay Piho explains as “the grandpa’s wish to die where his home and ancestral spirits are, as well as a demonstration of family love and the yearning for home.”

“Every existence is a culture, a memory,” Laha Mebow said. “Our old home is where our grandparents and ancestors lived. Without them, we would not be. This, I think, is the meaning of root-finding.” (HZW)

Monday, June 4, 2012

BJP steps up demand for Chidambaram’s resignation (Lead)

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday demanded the immediate resignation of Home Minister P. Chidambaram after the Supreme Court left the decision of a probe into his role in the 2G spectrum scam to the trial court.
Top BJP leaders spoke out in chorus against Chidambaram, who was finance minister when the 2G licences were allotted, and sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention.
“The finance minister is the custodian of the public exchequer. It is the prime responsibility of finance minister to ensure that there is no loot of public money,” Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley told reporters in Lucknow.
“It was not a person’s decision, it was the government’s decision. Telecom minister and finance minister had special role,” he said.
BJP general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad added: “He has no moral right to continue… we have demanded his resignation earlier as well.”
“The BJP would like to ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh… would you now take some action against Mr. Chidambaram or would you continue to express your confidence in him in spite of so much evidence,” Prasad asked.
His colleague Balbir Punj echoed him and said: “If the government has any standards left, they should ask for the resignation of Chidambaram immediately.”
“Prime minister should ask for Chidambaram’s resignation immediately and, if he refuses, he should be sacked,” he said.
The main opposition party’s reaction come after the Supreme Court ordered cancelling of 122 licenses granted to telecom companies during the tenure of then communications minister A. Raja. The order cme on a plea of Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy.
Another petition by Swamy is with a trial court seeking an investigation into the role of Chidambaram, who was finance minister at the time of 2G spectrum allocation. The apex court has left the matter to the trial court, adding that the CBI is free to investigate if it chooses to do so.
“The CBI has elaborately argued for days together that the role of Mr. Chidambaram need not be investigated. Therefore, the upfront of today’s order is that his role has to be investigated. The special court has already taken up the matter,” Prasad said.
He also said the verdict had made the nation proud.
“We believe India’s reputation has grown after this verdict, the common Indian is full of pride today,” he said adding that several crucial policy decisions of UPA government lacked transparency and credibility.
“…Therefore the Supreme Court has been constrained to take these decisions which have been found to have severe and massive irregularities.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Drag China to WTO on currency issue: Senators

Washington: Two top American Senators have asked the Obama Administration to drag China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the currency issue.

Addressing China's currency policy in a multilateral manner holds the greatest promise for an effective and meaningful solution, Senators Max Baucus and Dave Camp wrote in a letter to the US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, and the US Trade Representatives, Ron Kirk.

"The Administration's efforts at the G20 have helped to develop an international consensus about how important it is for China to rebalance its economy and allow its currency to more accurately reflect market forces," the letter said.

Baucus is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, while Camp is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

China will not end its currency undervaluation unless the US seizes opportunities like this to insist it does, the Senators felt, adding that expanding and intensifying discussions at the WTO can further this effort and bring significantly more pressure to bear on China.

"Today we write to focus on one aspect of this issue: the opportunity in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to discuss the role of exchange rate practices in trade policy," they said.

Supporting the ongoing efforts at the WTO to understand the impact on trade of exchange rate policies, the Senators said the WTO Secretariat's recently concluded literature survey is a positive first step towards understanding the relationship between trade and exchange rate policies.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

State bill to legalize gay marriage approved

OLYMPIA, Washington: The Washington state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, setting the stage for the state to become the seventh to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The measure now heads to the House, which is expected to approve it. Gov. Chris Gregoire supports the measure and has said she will sign it into law, though opponents have promised to challenge it at the ballot with a referendum.

The packed public galleries burst into applause as the Senate passed the measure on a 28-21 vote Wednesday night after nearly an hour and a half of debate. Four Republicans crossed party lines and voted with majority Democrats for the measure. Three Democrats voted against it.

Democratic Sen. Ed Murray, the bill's sponsor, said he knew same-sex marriage "is as contentious any issue that this body has considered in its history."

Lawmakers who vote against gay marriage "are not, nor should they be accused of bigotry" he said.

"Those of us who support this legislation are not, and we should not be accused of, undermining family life or religious freedom," said Murray, a gay lawmaker from Seattle who has spearheaded past gay rights and domestic partnership laws in the state. "Marriage is how society says you are a family."

Nearly a dozen amendments were introduced, including several that passed that strengthen legal protections for religious groups and organizations.

Sen. Dan Swecker argued that the proposed law alters the definition of marriage and "will lead to the silencing of those who believe in traditional marriage."

Even though a referendum clause amendment was rejected, opponents have already promised to file a challenge, which can't be done until after it is passed by the full Legislature and signed into law by Gregoire. Opponents then must turn in 120,577 signatures by June 6.

If opponents aren't able to collect enough signatures, gay and lesbian couples would be able to be wed starting in June. Otherwise, they would have to wait until the results of a November election.

Before last week, it wasn't certain the Senate would have the support to pass the measure, as a handful of Democrats remained undecided.

But after the first public hearing on the issue Jan. 23, a previously undecided Democratic senator, Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, said she would be the 25th and deciding vote in support of the bill, all but ensuring its passage.

Gay marriage opponent Jane Sterland, 56, stood outside the Senate gallery before the debate started. Sterland said she was disappointed by the light turnout of same-sex marriage foes.

"It saddens me that there aren't more Christians here tonight," she said. "I'm just very grieved about this whole thing. I want to be here for prayer support against this issue."

Alex Guenser, a 26-year-old engineer, drove down to Olympia from his Redmond home with his boyfriend to watch the Senate debate.

"I feel like this is the hill, the crest of the marriage equality fight. And after this passes (in the Senate), it's all going to be smoother sailing from now on," Guenser said. "I'm really excited to have Washington pass this. I'm excited for my state."

Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Maryland are expected to debate gay marriage this year, and Maine could see a gay marriage proposal on the November ballot.

The debate over same-sex marriage in Washington state has changed significantly since lawmakers passed Washington's Defense of Marriage Act in 1998, which banned gay marriage. The constitutionality of DOMA was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2006, but earlier that year, a gay civil rights measure passed after nearly 30 years of failure.

The quick progression of domestic partnership laws in the state came soon after, with a domestic partnership law in 2007, and two years of expansion that culminated in 2009 with the so-called "everything but marriage law" that was upheld by voters after opponents filed a referendum to challenge it.

Under the measure that passed Wednesday, the more than 9,300 couples currently registered in domestic partnerships would have two years to either dissolve their relationship or get married. Domestic partnerships that aren't ended prior to June 30, 2014, would automatically become marriages.

Domestic partnerships would remain for senior couples where at least one partner is 62 years old or older. That provision was included to help seniors who don't remarry out of fear they could lose certain pension or Social Security benefits.

Friday, June 1, 2012

And At Last There Was Water

BIR EL-BASHA, Occupied West Bank, Jan 31, 2012 (IPS) - Only days ago, turning on the tap was cause for concern. Would there be running water? Now, it’s reason for celebration.

"Thank God, the installation works!" rejoices Muhammad Dakka, the village Imam. "For the first time in our lives there’s running water!" his mother Rasmiyeh, 71, revels, serving sage tea and nut-filled dates to a party of Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegates.

In association with both organisations, the villagers recently inaugurated a unique water project. ICRC engineer Abed Al-Jalil Rimawi explains: "The village wasn’t connected to any network. Our objective was to build an integrated system by installing connections to each household, thus making water available to everyone."

A painted jar adorns the Dakkas’ door. Symbols are often a measure of what’s lacking and most in need. As far as daily life is concerned, for the people of Bir El-Basha, there’s ‘before’ the arrival of running water and ‘after’. And, with it, saving money.

Until now, trucks supplied water to the villagers. The essential utility was pumped electrically at a cost into private wells up into rooftop reservoirs. "You’d order a tanker two-to-three days in advance. It was expensive," recalls Abdullah Qawadri.

"Before, water cost 4.20 dollars per cubic metre. With the network, the fee is cut by four," notes Hosni Al- Qadri, the village council head.

Water is a precious commodity here. The rainy season lasts three months, if there’s no drought. In a nearby field, boys puncture lines of plastic sheets covering zucchini buds that evoke water-filled trenches glistening under the sun.

"From rains only!" exclaims a farmer watching his sons. The villagers don’t own the land they work on. Fields are leased from wealthier landowners.

Here, water isn’t only the water of life. Use of it, access to it, is source of pressure. A French parliamentary committee recently reported that Israel's water policies in the Palestinian territories are like "apartheid" for they discriminate Palestinians from Israeli settlers.

Brothers Kifah and Hussein Ghawadri would have bitter arguments over water consumption and how much their respective households should pay. "We’d suffer from family tensions," recalls Kifah. "It’s over. Now each household has its water meter," adds Hussein.

Bir El-Basha was founded by Bedouin Palestinians. Refugees of the 1948 war belonging to the same extended family, they settled here, living in tents for over a decade.

The now dried Hafira well was their only available source of water. According to tradition, it’s the pit into which the sons of Jacob, the Biblical patriarch, threw their brother Joseph. "Life was tough," Jihad Ghawadri reminisces. "We’d walk two kilometres to the village with water carried on donkeys."

Though the villagers are modest, it isn’t poverty per se which has hindered them from having direct right to water, but who rules the land, and who controls its resources, its sources. In the early 1960s, the Qawadris built their dwellings with neither master plan nor permits. Temporary to this day, the village exudes a sense of everlasting.

During the 1990s, territorial agreements divided the West Bank into three zones: "Area A" (under Palestinian Authority); "Area B" (under Israeli security control and Palestinian municipal authority); and "Area C" (under full Israeli rule).

Dug by Israel in the 1970s deep into the aquifer, connected to the regional transmission pipeline, the Arrabeh well is monitored by the PWA. It feeds over 20,000 people living in three neighbouring villages in "Area A".

Eleven kilometres away from the well, adjacent to the water pipeline, the 1,700 Bir El-Basha residents were left without running water, enclosed in limbo in "Area C".

Seven years ago, the village applied to the Israeli authorities for authorisation to be connected to the network. Then, it contacted the PWA, presented the project to Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad. "Everyone helped," says Al-Qadri.

"The PWA investigated the village’s needs, created a filling point operated by the council. Afterwards, it contacted the ICRC," explains PWA project manager Ziad Drameh.

"Giving services in general – water, electricity, waste collection – is a way for the Palestinian Authority of asserting responsibility for their people’s lives," notes ICRC geologist Jean-Marc Burri.

But the project lingered. "We had to obtain Israeli permits to proceed with laying the network lines inside the village," says Drameh.

"Our role was to understand why the project wasn’t implemented. There was an authorisation. We realised politics didn’t interfere. Yet, nobody really pushed, we still needed to bring everybody together," Burri stresses. "We acted as catalyst," chimes in the head of the ICRC Water and Habitat, Ikhtiyar Aslanov.

Partnership and cooperation were keys for success. The PWA contributed with expertise and design. The ICRC donated 400,000 dollars. The beneficiaries themselves demonstrated rare ownership.

"Usually, we explain to people what to do to implement a project. Here, the village council told us what their needs were. If the population’s involved, it works; if not, you’re blocked by a judicial process. Here, all decisions were taken at village level."

Each resident was required to contribute 130 dollars to the PWA. Everyone paid. More than 25,000 dollars was collected. "When you pay for a service, you expect quality to meet your requirements," says Aslanov.

Once Israel gave its final approval, connecting people with water took less than four months. "People, authorities, can get together to respond to the needs of the people," concludes Aslanov. The local filling point connects the 257 homes with 11 kilometres of pipes. Bir El-Basha enjoys three cubic metres of running water per hour for 12 hours three days a week – no miracle. Still, it dramatically improves the villagers’ lives. "This model could be applied to other villages," confidently foresees PWA engineer Ala El-Masri.

In 2011, PWA water infrastructure projects funded by the ICRC benefited 775,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the West Bank only, 72,000 people benefited from such projects, including the people of Bir El-Basha. (END)